Classroom Strategies and Cool Ideas From Marwen Teaching Artists

From a Pre-Term Professional Development Activity

Assistant teaching artists and teaching artists divided into 6 groups according to the session they were teaching. Each was presented with several topics to discuss and share strategies, solutions and cool ideas. Each group was asked to take notes. The topics they addressed were:

  • Icebreakers/getting to know each other
  • Demos
  • Showing artwork examples
  • Field trips
  • Fast summer pace- different than the other terms
  • Wrap up /reflection- the end of the course
  • Any other topic of interest to the group (see below)

Ice breakers

    • Question of the day
    • Show images with specific prompts
    • Share answers
    • Set up situation where everyone has to say something or share something
    • Games
      • Physical and/or non-art related
      • i.e., Take a Stand, Human Knot
    • Just talk to your students
    • Learn their names
      • When taking attendance have them raise their hand and acknowledge them
      • Try to use all their names early and often
      • Try mnemonics, etc.
    • Begin with a question every week that all groups answer
      • Have the early students pick a question
    • Students say names every week—could make a game out of it
    • Use peer to peer activities as a way for students to build rapport too
      • One TA shared an activity where students “modeled for each other”,  in pairs students created contour line drawings of each other for 15 minutes
    • High-5
    • “Ball throw” name game
    • Begin with an artist talk about yourself and your work. Why are you teaching this class? Show your students who you are as an artist
    • Introduce what the class will be and they will be learning but then ask them what they would like to learn
      • Take notes
    • Have a worksheet with a series of questions that students will fill out as they come in. When they are all present you can go around and have students pick one to share with the class
      • This allows them to reflect on the question so they don’t feel put on the spot- also avoids students repeating each others’ responses and gives them choices of what to share with the class
    • On index cards write/or have students write down questions (like what’s your favorite book?) then as you share them with the class be sure to answer them yourself
      • Sharing more about yourself allows your students to make connections with you and feel more comfortable
    • Bowl with questions- write a bunch of “would you rather”s, fun questions and scenarios and throw them in a bowl. Students go around and pick out one and answer it but then the question is open to the whole group
      • This generates fun conversations/discussions/debates
    • Advice- do not only do icebreakers on the first day! It is just as fun and productive to do them mid-way through the term when students are losing steam or getting frustrated with work
      • It can bring laughter into the class and re-energize them
    • Questions for students and take notes
      • Let them go around and find common interests
    • Quick warm up contour portraits of each other
      • Have students pair up and interact
    • Pair up interviews then share facts they learn about the other with the class
      • Give them some guided questions
    •  Remember names
      • Take a picture of each student
      • Have them do a quick artwork
    • Print out a map of Chicago
      • Have a photo of each student on display during class
      • All can learn who and where we all are
    • Talk about students commute with them


    • Keep it short
    • Stand and scope the room
    • Work together to pay attention to students level of attention
    • Go table by table
      • More personal
    • Ask them to rephrase what’s going on
    • Show and share projects that they can relate to
    • Try small groups while others are engaged in another activity
    • Varies depending on type of demo
      • Try letting students learn then teach each other
      • Let students experiment first then share ideas
      • Demo only as much as need so there is no desire to “copy” what you’ve done
    • Same amount of time for demo as grade level
      • i.e., 8th grade = 8 minutes
    • More individualized and/or small group instruction
    • Get to class early to work out demo together as a team (assistant and TA)

Showing art examples

    • Keep it simple, 1-2 images
    • Books work well (can also be used as a break from work)
    • Making work can be tedious so it’s nice to show them artist’s works that can give them inspiration to move forward and give them an idea of the kinds of things they can achieve to get them excited and spark new ideas.
    • It also helps to show different artists that are using the language of working that they will be learning and using
    • Looking at works of art and then having class try to figure out the techniques that have been used
    • Teaches them to analyze a work of art and to better understand it
    • Look at art and talk about why it is successful or not. What they identify as “what they like” can become the standard by which their own work is evaluated
      • That way students don’t come to you as the authority figure because you can direct them to the criteria they have identified as “successful” and discuss with them the degree to which their work achieves that
    • Use a laser pointer so you can walk around the room as you present work. Also helps to clearly identify what part of the image you are referring to
    • After showing work, allow students to go online and look for more work. Explain that the examples were selected by you to demonstrate what you want them to learn but you want them to look for images that interest them
      • This also reinforces the key points of your presentation my having them look for images that are relevant
      • It can be a good way to gauge their understanding of your presentation
    • Have books on hand
      • Students can gain agency not only by looking at the work but by spending some time reading about it, looking at their own pace and learning more
      • Although you may highlight works you want them to see, they can also explore other work that they may find really compelling but that you had not discovered or considered
    • In tech/Intermedia have a folder for each day to store all the images that are shown
      • Students don’t have to come to you to see the work again
      • Easy way to allow students who missed class to be updated
    • In Painting & Drawing or Mixed Media- Instead of projecting work on the screen where students can only see it once for a limited time, make color copies of the images, pin them up for discussion and keep them up or make copies for each table as a reference for both you and the students
      • The images’ presence will continually reinforce your key ideas and inspire different ways of approaching ideas and work
    • Share work of the teaching artist and assistant
      • Timing is important so as not to make students think they have to emulate
    • Good way to break up class time
    • Make discussion interactive!
    • Allow time to work afterwards

Field Trips

    • Go outside
    • Have quiet time
    • Take notes
    • Focus on writing and observation
    • Take advantage of warm summer and local museums
    • 2 extra sessions = good opportunity to take a trip

Fast summer pace

    • You can easily pick up where you left off the previous day
    • Recap previous class at the start of each day
    • Easier to get to know students
    • If you encounter behavior issues
      • Stop the cycle asap
      • Be personal
    • Don’t use computers if it’s not needed
    • Assistants can be the eyes and the ears
    • Help students stay focused
    • Give students time to be honest and share
    • Interact with students
    • Let them know you’re there for them

Wrap up/ Reflection

    • Celebrate the work!
    • Always make time to critique and choose work for the exhibition
    • Put up all the work to reflect at the end of each class
    • To encourage each student speaks up
    • Give each student 2 popsicle sticks (or pennies, or stones, etc.) and one should be given back after they talk about someone’s work etc.


    • One-on-one student critiques with prompts to prep and give confidence to students for larger critiques
    • Try critique before the second to last day of class
    • Gives students a chance to utilize the feedback to improve the work
    • No need to rush to finish on last day

Introducing artists to a class

    • One group focused a lot of the conversation about problem solving this challenge with 6-8th graders.  Some ideas for this age group:
      • Keep the class focused on the fundamentals of the subject matter & their process, then build up to introducing another artists’ work (day 3 or after)
      • Consider starting with a demo first, then sharing about an artists’ work
      • Avoid Slide lectures
      • Let students explore, introduce work little by little
    • General Tips:
      • Keep it simple, maybe introduce one artist rather than a whole series and let students ponder their work for that session
      • Avoid lecturing, “talking at students” we all have our own “cannon of art history” that we relate to/come from so it’s easy to get into lecture mode when introducing the work of other artists we admire, etc.
      • Make it interactive:  consider printing out the works of art, selecting pages from a book & passing those around

Last 5 Minutes of Class

    • Focus on Clean Up
    • Pair students who finish with other students who need more support so no one is standing around
    • Start cleanup earlier!
    • Then the last 5 minutes can be an a mini-class reflection—questions that are inspiring/looking forward to next step
      • What do you look forward to doing?
      • One thing about my work that surprised me
      • One thing I hope to try/do tomorrow
    • End with an artist’s work or a visual that is telling about what they can expect for tomorrow


      • Play music!
      • Take requests from students
      • Head phones can be distracting- or can focus individuals


Kate Adams About Kate Adams
Kate Adams is an artist, teaching artist, and mom. As a Marwen staff member she oversees Marwen’s teaching artist professional development, student assessment, and program evaluation. Through her artwork she explores concepts of home, generations and change. You can reach her at

Add your comment



© 2012 Marwen Foundation
Powered by WordPress, Endless & Sneek