That cool thing you saw on Pinterest that you want to try with the kids……

Art Quote #10 of 20

How to Present a New Art Lesson

It can be scary as an Art Docent when you are considering a new project for your class.  What worked for your second grade student may not be easily adapted to the fifth, but you’re going to try. If you’re modifying or making one from scratch; new lessons can be the best mistake you might make. Let’s take a look at some of the precautions and considerations that you can take to make sure that your new art lesson will be as fun as possible for the kids.

All Art Docents, at some point in their volunteer experience,  have presented a project or lesson that completely bombed. It’s part of the learning process.  And it’s part of becoming a great docent.  When you’re volunteering as a docent, you don’t have a lot of time to perfect your teaching technique. So, don’t stress! You will get a feel for the kids you are teaching, mostly through your own child. Mistakes are hard to avoid, do what you can to understand what doesn’t work and what does.  So how do we prevent total chaos when we present a new project, maybe a risky project, to a group of students?


Begin with A Purpose

The first thing that you need be sure of when designing a new art project or lesson is that there is a purpose. Decide what it is you want the kids to learn (Notan).  Make sure that the project  you are presenting to your students is concrete enough for them to understand the purpose.  Usually this can be stated in one or two sentences.  An example of a purpose statement may be…”The purpose of this lesson (project) is for you to learn about positive and negative space; The Japanese art of Nōtan involves the play and placement of light and dark as they are placed next to the other in art and imagery”. Once you have a destination, every other aspect of the lesson planning should smooth out.

Create a Plan
Most docents moan and groan at creating lesson plans.  But creating a definitive and clear lesson plan will not only help you; but it will help other docents. You can use whatever structure that you like but there should be: (a) a clear objective, (b) outlined procedure, (c)  a list of required materials.   If you’re nervous about the lesson, write down everything that you want to say.  During my first year as a docent, I leaned on other docents who shared their plans! Using a Template, I did a write up, I got artists bios and typed up synopses of the artwork I was showing; and then I’d highlight points that would keep me on track with a glance. Sticking to the plan helped me ensure that I didn’t leave out anything that I wanted the students to learn.  Don’t be afraid to look at your lesson plan while you are presenting the lesson to your students.

Create an Example
You saw it on Pinterest, and it looked pretty cool….  Do the project first. This can be  fun (and helpful) to do at home with your own children. Making an example isn’t merely so you have and example to show the students. You might decide that using colored pencils will be much better than oil pastels, or that your child thought it was “kinda dumb”. There is also the aspect of education that you have to consider. Do your best to incorporate an element or art or a principle of design. Teach them about an artist, a medium or culture.  During the creation process, ask yourself some questions…

  • “Is this project age appropriate to the grade I’m teaching?”
  • “What are some possible mistakes that students could make?”
  • “Is this too hard or too easy – will they finish fast or will we need another day?”
  • “Will this assignment help my students grow artistically – how many times have they worked with watercolors this year?”
  • “Am I incorporating the principles and elements of art?”
  • “Is there a work of art that I can share with them to reinforce the purpose?”

As you create your example project, these questions should be answered.  You may even want to jot down the answers.  Use these answers to create your lesson. Knowing the process and outcome of your lesson will help you be aware of any pitfalls the children may encounter so you know when to jump in.

Prepare a Visually Stimulating Presentation
Now, it’s time to figure out how you will capture the children’s attention and make them excited about the art lesson and the product that will result.  Many students respond to visual stimulation. There are a variety of platforms for doing this. You can bring in a work of art and lead a discussion about it and the artist with the kids.  You may choose to do a PowerPoint presentation.  PowerPoint allows you to roll through slides and present your lesson in way that can keep students attention visually.  Another option is to record on video your creation of the example piece.  I haven’t tried this myself – yet… You will find many examples of teachers doing this on YouTube.

Even with all of these ideas, lessons still bomb. Everyone will have a lesson that doesn’t click with a certain set of kids every now and then.  Don’t sweat it. Take notes and learn from your mistakes. If it can be improved, or if you modified it during class because of student dynamics; make sure you took note of that in your lesson plan – it could be a handy mistake to lean from for another docent.

Above all, Have fun! The kids love having you come in and teach them. I love coming in to the classroom to hang up paintings or samples… there’s a hush that comes over the room and some of the kids come and ask – is that for today!? Share their joy – it will help you remember what you love about volunteering.


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