Saturday, December 13, 2014

One word Connections

A few years ago I just couldn't leave Target without this Thought Bubble White Board, and I finally found a use for it that I like.

Now I can display artworks and allow students to choose appropriate descriptors. The more they search for words that work the more they will see in the artwork itself.

This ties in nicely with a little game I like to play called "Tell Me what You See".
I often play this with my students when looking at a new work of art. The First phase of art criticism is Observation. In this game students are asked to tell me what they see in as close to one word as possible. For the artwork above students might call out words like "rain", "buildings", "dark", "glow".... I think this is a fun way to get students to notice something new in art without having to point it out to them.  Ultimately the more words they come up with the more the students SEE.

Above Post From Olive Art! Do You??? Monday, August 19, 2013

I now keep this board in my Free Art Station for a fun activity for students to do when they finish a project early.

New Idea:
These magnets could easily be made larger for use on a white board. 
Before presenting a new work of art, give each student a few magnets. They can un-code the work by sharing words that connect, do not connect, and why. 

This would take a little more preparation but once the cards are made, they could be used over and over again in any lesson.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Artist Who?

A while ago I saw a post on Pinterest where a mother made her children their own "Guess Who? " game using pictures of family members. I was inspired to make my own version using artists and their self portraits.

Warning: This was not as quick and easy as I had hoped, but I think it will make a great addition to my Free Art Station. Students will be working through art criticism without even knowing it.

By looking at the works and playing the game students will look at the elements and principles of design, details, styles, materials, ect.

While having fun, they will be participating in art criticism and gaining familiarity with a variety of artists and styles.

Playing with Lines

While presenting art to a group of students, give each student a piece of yarn.

Instruct students to use the the sting (line) to try to convey the way the painting feels.

This is great for looking at artworks that show strong emotions.

When the Art Starts to Move

Select or assign a work of art to interpret (each groups artwork could be different or the same)

Have students look at the work and discuss what would happen if the work suddenly started moving.

This brings up topics of discussion such as, a moment in time, story, personal connections and feelings, ect.

students pose as the artwork and then perform what they feel would happen if the artwork suddenly started moving. 

Pair Interviews

(Compliments of Dr. Marilyn Stewart)

Students should get with a partner.
They should decide who will play the role of the reporter and who will one of the following…

-the artist
-a character or object in the artwork
-the artwork itself

The reporter will interview their partner (acting in their chosen role) and the partner will answer using movement, gestures, and body language.

These interviews could be shared with other groups.

Topics of discussion might include… was it believable and how did it change/influence your view of the work.

Partners could switch roles and do it a 2nd time assuming different roles.

Strike a Pose

When looking at a work of art that has a lot of action, but little detail, it may be difficult to interpret feelings and emotions. This is when I play Strike a Pose.
Students simply assume the position of the character in the artwork to get a better understanding of/ relate to what the character is doing, thinking, or feeling.

Green Screen News Report

Similar to the radio show and another option with the Green  Screen would be to do a “live””breaking” news report calming that a famous work of art has been stolen from its home museum. In this report we will learn about the art, it’s history, value, relevance, and why it is so important that it be returned safely

Art on the Radio

 (Compliments of Dr. Marilyn Stewart)

With a partner or 2 have students imagine that they are the hosts for a “live” radio show that takes people to local galleries and museums [or to look at specific works of art].

The “listeners” cannot see what you see so you will have to be very descriptive. Make them feel like they are there. Offer interpretations of what it might mean/ be about,  and ultimately make them want to come see the show/work.

Don't forget to name your show!

Green Screen Tour Guide

Using the Do Ink Green Screen app, students could insert themselves in front of a work of art and take viewers on a tour highlighting key parts.

This would be really great for exploring a landscape or something like Monet’s garden. Students could practice describing in detail and making up feel like we are in the space

Quick Questions

These questions could be asked or put together on cards or a worksheet to be answered in writing. It’s all about asking the write questions. I have been teaching long enough to know if I ask what do you know about Edgar Degas? Someone will surely raise their hand and say” he’s an artist”. Yep, you’re right (It’s kind of like asking “how was your day at school and expecting an answer other than good) now moving on to better questions...

Artist Questions:

If the artist we’re to walk in the room right now, what would you want to ask them about this artwork?
How is this work similar/ different from other works you have seen by this artist?
What can you learn about the artist from this work of art?
If the artist invited you to help with the painting, what suggestions would you make?

Historically Thinking: (Many questions adapted from questions compliments of Dr. Marilyn  Stewart)

When do you think this artwork was created, why?
Where in the world do you think this might have been made?
How was life different then from now?
How might this painting be different if it were painted in the United States?
What do you think this work would have meant to the people who lived at the time it was made?
How is this different from how we view the work today?

Critically looking:

What are the physical characteristics of the art?
What cultural traditions are depicted?
What might this artwork be about?

Higher Order Thinking as Encouraged by the Common  Core:

How would you rank the importance of these artworks?
How would you improve this artwork?
How is this artwork connected to ____________?

Mini Saga

 (This activity compliments of Dr. Marilyn Stewart)

When looking at a work of art, investigate it thoughtfully, looking at the detail, subject, materials, space, ect.

Next write a story (an epic tale) about how the work came to be in exactly ___ words.
Some themes for the saga might be…
-how did it get to where it is?
-how it was made?
-why it was made?
-who it is of?
-how it affects our life?

The "Art" of Poetry

Select an grade level appropriate poetry style and have students write a poem or riddle that explains what the work is about.

Some poem styles to choose from might be…


                Use the name in the artwork or artist to tell the reader more about it / him or her.

                Ex.  based on Georgia O’Keefe

                                Girl painting in the desert
                                Enlarged and Exaggerated
                                Opening of a flower
                                Gross bones no more
                                In full bloom
                                Abstracts of nature


Write a word or statement, or descriptor, for each letter of the alphabet, based on a work of art. 

*This could make a great art making lesson where each letter is translated into a page of an alphabet book based on the artist or artwork.

EX. based on Roy Lichtenstein’s "Mermaid"

Photo taken by Michele Comp: Storm King, 2014

                A shore it sits
                Boat out of water
                Colors glistening
                Dancing on the water
                Eager to swim away …


Looking at a work of art or a body of work describe and interpret it using the five line cinquain poem format…

Title (noun) - 1 word 
Description - 2 words 
Action - 3 words 
Feeling (phrase) - 4 words 
Title (synonym for the title) - 1 word

Ex. based on the sweet treats of Wayne Thiebaud

Sweet Delicious
Timing Tempting Tasting
Melts in your mouth


Looking at a work of art or a body of work describe and interpret it though the 5 senses describing what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like, and tastes like.

Ex. Based on Rene Magrittes “The Postcard”

                The Postcard looks like a gloomy shadow cast over a dull mountain landscape
                The Postcard feels like clammy hands in my pockets
                The Postcard sounds like an eerily still day only hearing the ringing of my own ears
                The Postcard smells like sweet like apple
                The Postcard tastes like the dry inside of my mouth

Explorer Poems:

Inspired by “In 1492…” students will write their own poems using rhyming to explore a work of art.

Ex. Based on Hanri Matisse's "Harmony in Red"

In 1908 a woman did not stay up late
early to bed early to rise,  setting the table each fruit by size
Trees of white, chair in the light
Prepared in advance, so that she might be able to dance.

Photo compliments of:

Shape Poems:

Looking at a work of art describe and interpret it though  a simple shape. For example if looking at Munch’s “The Scream” one might write around the head, hands, and body describing the emotion, feeling, and meaning of the painting.

These poem forms and more, fit for elementary students can be found at Poetry for Kids:

Making “Sense” of Art

While looking at a work of art or a body of work have students connect the work to their 5 senses.

 This could be done on a note card, handout, or on a device. Have students write what the artwork looks, smells, sounds, tastes, and feels like or if you wish have the students pretend they are the artwork and write what they see, smell, hear, taste, and feel.

For this one I used the ArtSet App.

Original photograph from:

Art in the Classifieds


Students will write a classified add to sell a work of. The add can old be 20 words long, so students will have to edit and think carefully about what words will best describe the painting/ work of art.

This could be great for studying art of function, pottery, or art collections. 

Post Card Interpretation

Photocard or another post card app (or traditional postcards) have students write a postcard describing and interpreting the work.

The writer could write as themselves telling a friend about a work they saw or write as if they are the artist telling someone about their work.

The recipient should share a postcard back highlighting personal connections, wondering, and questions that they have to what the friend/artist who shared.

In creating the initial postcard the student should make the work the image on the card. The return postcard could have an artwork that the recipient creates in response to the original work, a new work that somehow relates, or a close up of something in the artwork that stood out to them. 

Sing About It

Have students write a song or rap about the work to the tune of a popular song of their choice or your choosing.  This time of year singing/ writing to the tune of their favorite Christmas carol might be fun! 

Change the words to tell the listener about the work of art, the artist, how it was made, and more.

Students can then perform for the group or use a voice recording or video app to present their song.

I was inspired for this activity after some of my 5th graders wrote me this song, 
about their coil vessels, to the tune of Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass". 

Art Criticism Infographic

If the words don’t come easy, the pictures might… There are infographis for everything from how to make a PB&J to how to cut back on your carbon footprint, why not make one based on a work of art. They are a great means of visually sharing information and a fun way to learn.

Have students create an infographic breaking down a work of art, an artist's body of work, an art style, ect. Using a combination of pictures and words and the style of a graphic designer, students should draw the viewers attention to what one should see when looking at a work of art, make some interpretations, and give it a value. 

This activity could be done alone or in groups. 

image compliments of:

Token Response

(Adapted from the game shown above by Mary Erickson, Ph.D. and Eldon Katter, Ph.D.)

Using symbols or tokens have students place them with certain artworks based on personal preference and ascetic connections.

This game can be purchased but really it is quite simple to adapt and make your own.

Choose works based on the following…
                I like this piece
                I would like to have this in my home
                Best in show
                I dislike this piece
                That took a lot of time
                Interesting idea
                Worth the most

You could also add your own categories based on the lesson you are teaching.

For example in teaching about comic self portraits and the Artist Roy Lichtenstein my topics might be...

Best facial proportions
I like the facial expression
Goof text
best craftsmanship 

Show me!

Show me is a great app that allows white board animation in conjunction with uploaded images. Have students present an artwork through the show me app.

Show me’s should walk viewers through the artwork and the steps of the critical process. They could focus on observation and description, making interpretations, making judgments and placing value, or all there. 

Vine time!

Vine is a social media based video making app, where users create 6 second videos. 
One starts and stops the video clips simply by taping the screen. It is very easy to use and once students get the hang of it they can film in under 5 minutes.

Have students get into small groups of 2-4 students.
Select or assign a work of art to interpret (each groups artwork could be different or the same)
Have students look at the work for details and make observations and interpretations.
Next, have students create the vine video to share their interpretation.  

Based on Keith Haring's Dancing Figures 



Art Criticism in a Pinch
An Elementary Art Teachers Guide

Compiled by: Michele Comp

Why this list was compiled:
                We all want to be good at what we do and for me that is teaching art. As an elementary art educator, I pride myself in the artwork of my students; they are, after all, some of the most fabulous artists I know. I share my student’s creative successes with anyone who is interested, though social media, local businesses, art contests, and school displays. I encourage my students to work in a vast variety of mediums while I work hard to keep on top of new trends in technology and art education. I consider myself a well rounded educator with my student’s best interest as my top priority. However my world was completely rocked, in one graduate course, when I became haunted by one major question. “What do they know?” Sure, my students know a lot of different artists, styles, mediums, techniques, and skills but what do they really know? In taking criticism on the go, I couldn’t help but think about how my students will use this information in the “real” world. OK, I hate that saying, because for these kids, school is the real world and it will be until they are about 17 years old, and while life will change after graduation, it won’t be as if they were living in some la la land for the past 13 years. When I say the “real” world, I am talking about daily life, the world that surrounds you no matter what age or stage of life you are in. Every day we are bombarded with images. These images come at is though many means and may appear differently depending on our age, sex, race, religion, political views, and personal beliefs, ect.. While not every image will claim to be art, knowing how to interpret art will help us to interpret new images we encounter and to have a deeper appreciation for the world we live in. While my students may not find value in everything they see, they will be able to consider it, investigate it’s meaning or purpose, and possibly appreciate it.
                In asking myself this difficult question of “what do they really know”, I was forced to take a step back and evaluate the classroom experience I was giving my students. I like to think of my classroom as inquiry based, exploratory, and open to multiple points of view, and while I believe this is true when it comes to art making, I think it could be truer when it comes to looking at the art of others. I often teach about other artists and allow students to draw conclusions on common themes, make connections to things they know or care about, and look before they begin to tell me what it means or why. These are all great and I feel happy that I have these activities in place but want to make more of them, lots more, in every lesson I teach. I think my students would grow from the opportunity to interpret more freely.
                 In teaching about Matisse’s “The Snail”, 1953, I told a group of 1st graders that my favorite thing about art is that everyone can look at a work and see something different. I think this statement has become more true after exploring art criticism  more in-depth, and learning of the endless possibilities for art interpretation. No single interpretation of an artist’s work exhausts the meaning of that work (T. Barrett, 19) I want my students to have opinions, beliefs, and preferences, I want them to know how to use their own experiences to connect and interpret works of art and images in popular culture, and I want them to feel safe to share their own ideas while developing a respect and appreciation for the opinions and ideas of others. The world is ever growing and ever changing, as is art, and the interpretations. I want to to interject opportunities for deeper exploration and interpretation in every lesson. If it is true that nothing is new under the sun, then I should be able to find artwork that connects to everything my students create and if not they can always interpret their own work or the work of a friend. There are amazing lessons in interpreting art, those of tolerance, consequence, delivery, and acceptance. Art matters (T. Barrett, p.84), it’s everywhere we look. I believe that the more my students practice interpreting art and working through the critical process the more natural it will become, soon, they won’t even realize they are doing it and it will become a natural part of their daily life. This is why I compiled this list of resources, ideas, and activities for art criticism.

What you will find:
                In the following posts you will find a variety of games, activities, writing and acting prompts, questions, and more to encourage art criticism in your elementary classroom. Some will require preparation in advance while others will easy to use right away. The activities shared are compiled from course resources, the internet, and my own classroom experiences.  

How to use:
                Every time you plan a new lesson and see that is lacking the opportunity for interpretation, glance here, and see what ideas you could adapt to fit your lesson. Some ideas would also be great for emergency substitute plans, one day lessons, exit activities, and to inspire collaboration with regular educators.

To find an activity that works for you click the labels on the left. The Criticism activities have been divided into categories based on how you would like to students to explore the work.