What tried and true themes, projects, topics do you find middle school kids (or any grade level) have a lot of motivation to do? This ideas page was started by a post by Marcia Lavery. Send in your favorite lesson idea motivators. Image of student work can be included.
Middle School Motivators
From Marcia Lavery:
Logos: a short project, but kids loved to make a symbol for themselves or for their pretend company. We talked a little about graphic designers.
Animals: Kids loved the animal painting project we did (choosing an animal picture from a book or photo to paint). I showed them how to make it look more realistic by using the fan brushes to create textured fur or feathers. We also made animal clay sculptures in the style of Pre-Columbian animal vessels.
CD covers: Always a good sub project. The CD covers is a simple lesson I leave for the subs. I cut a stack of paper into squares the size of CD covers and leave a description of the assignment for the sub. It's simple. Create a CD cover for a real or imaginary band or maybe a compilation CD Make sure to consider the lettering. Usually bands have a logo or a particular way of writing their name, so they need to make sure their band's name is written in creative letters. They also need to have some image on the cover. They color it in colored pencils. If they have time, they can flip it over and list "school appropriate" song titles for their CD I usually have some blurb the sub can read about how art is all around us; it is a part of our daily life. Everything from CD covers, to magazine covers, to the packaging on your cereal box has been created by an artist.
End of the year woes? Here's one the kids loved - they worked in colored Plastilina Modeling Clay (plasticine), creating scenes of the best vacation they ever had. The first class consisted of making a detailed face, including 3-D eyeballs and properly mixed skin color. They had to use only red, yellow and white or tan to create the skin, adding brown if they were quite tanned! This is a good one for elementary and middle school. Tie in the Children's book illustrator: Barbara Reid
From Barbara Yalof
How I Will Spend My Summer Vacation? - Relief Sculpture:
Op-Art: The 8th graders loved the op-art designs of Bridget Riley and we made our own.
Funky Fish paper mache puppets: the 8th graders made an imaginative, unusual fish puppet sculptures. They especially liked using the Paint Markers to make patterns and designs on their fish.
Toys and flowers: I just started a still life project with my 7th grade class. I had a box of stuff they could pick from and drawing toys seemed to be a hit! My brother had a bunch of old action figures and other toys that the boys enjoyed drawing. Many of the girls picked the plastic flowers to draw. We are going to start painting them with watercolor tomorrow.
From Linda Woods:
Mixed Breed Drawings- Prismacolors on Black: My kids LOVE drawing with Colored Pencils on black Drawing Paper - See Mixed Breed Animals. We are just finishing up this year's version of the Mixed Breeds, and I'll put them on our site soon. My kids always get motivated to work hard when they make their geometric mandalas (see Incredible Art Department Lesson Plans). Mike Sacco adds: I also do a few projects using color pencils on black. The kids really like it. They were dull for me at first until I got a hold of some Prismacolor Colored Pencils and some Prismacolor Colored Pencils. Both have better colors for this kind of project with the Prismas being the best. I also tell my 8th graders to "Frost their colors" whenever possible. Meaning to take a white Prisma that I keep in their cans and overlay white on top of the color. When I walk around the room I will keep reminding them to frost their colors. It becomes the buzz word for the project. From Maggie White: I adore Prismas, too, but if it's in my budget next year I will order Sax's new Ultra line of colored pencils [NOTE: Sax was bought out by School Specialty and they no longer offer the Sax Ultra brand of colored pencils]. I tried them out at NAEA last year and was very impressed. I haven't really compared the prices of student-grade Prismas and the Ultras, though.
From Mike Sacco:
Foil tooling with Prismacolors: 8th graders created non-objective, relief foil designs that focused on line, shape and pattern. Using the Repousse method, students created their metal relief by burnishing the metal foil on both sides. Completed foil designs were then "antiqued" using black India ink and steel wool. Next, students matted their artwork and were presented with the challenge of continuing their 3-D design onto the 2-D surface of their matte using color pencils. *Adapted from a lesson that appeared in Arts and Activities Magazine.
From Betty Bowen:
Weaving drawstring bags is the easiest project (for me) towards the end of the year. They weave and visit once they get the hang of it, for almost 3 weeks. I require they include three or four patterns - joining a color, vertical stripes, blending from one color to another gradually, and for extra points, Egyptian knots. I have a sample loom with those on for them to study. We have fun the first day talking about where cloth comes from, check to see who is wearing an actual denim weave, (and usually end up look at each other's labels to see if anybody is wearing anything made in the US). See Weaving lesson and Handout on Incredible Art Department.
From Sandy Jahnle:
Values Skill Builders: You could have heard a pin drop in my 7th and 8th grade classes recently. They were concentrating so hard! Pencil value studies: Took a black & white magazine photo, cut it in half, and asked the students to draw the other half in Ebony Pencils. Another day they used Watercolor Paint washes of one color (black, brown, and blues worked best) to recreate their B & W photos. In both cases, we did value gradation scales first. Even had them use Tempera Paint (only black and white) to see how many shades of grays they could mix.
From Pam Stephens:
Value landscape from magazine photo: I just observed a value study lesson that one of my student teachers presented. This was to a group of high school Art I students. After making value charts with Pastels, students then applied the concepts they'd learned by creating an ideal landscape. First a photographic landscape was located in a magazine. The photographic landscapes had to demonstrate how colors make objects appear to advance/recede. Students then picked the most interesting portion of the landscape photo and cut it into a square or rectangle of no more than about 4" x 5" (10 x 12.7 cm). The cut-out was glued to a larger piece of drawing paper and students completed the image in an "ideal" way while also showing value ranges of key colors. The finished products were amazingly beautiful and inventive while still being a value study. From Judy Decker: Extend the lesson. Do the square or rectangle on black paper (quality paper if you have it) - and extend the composition using Prismacolor Colored Pencils and those Metallic Colored Pencils. What if the new scape becomes Surreal?
From Kathy Douglas:
Color mixing: Here is one idea you might want to try, if indeed you want everybody painting at once. I used to use it to begin a long unit on painting. Each student had a palette, a sponge, and plenty of cheap (But thick) paper. Each table had trays of nice thick Tempera Paint which included in some trays red/ yellow/ blue/ black/ white and others which included magenta/ yellow/ turquoise/ black/ white (much better to use M-Y-T as primaries for mixing), plenty of coffee cans of clean water and an assortment of smallish brushes. Instead of slogging through Color Wheels my students were given a quick demo stressing use of Palettes: mixing there, while keeping colors in the paint trays fresh (washing and wiping brushes with each color change, changing water in coffee cans frequently.
The assignment? To mix as many colors as possible... and by the end of the period to create one fairly neat page with samples of "personal colors". What are personal colors? Colors that the artist might need for their greatest interest. Some students might be attracted to a cool Palettes; others, perhaps those who enjoy painting wildlife might go for an enormous range of neutral colors. So everybody is mixing, and interesting color recipes can be shared with others at the table or perhaps written on the chalkboard.
Students may wish to name some of the colors that they mix: tangerine? wine? chocolate? alligator? Brittany's lipstick? As you notice students mixing complements, you can point out the neutrals and grays that can result. If you are grading, you will be looking for a neat paper with at least x number of mixed colors. The students might be asked to explain what has attracted them to those colors. Color preference is an important aspect of being an artist and the colors which I love might not interest you at all. Color Wheels are important references and I would have them all over the place... but I think that to get people actually experimenting and mixing and loading the Palettes and making a page which will serve them as a reference when they actually begin a painting... I think that this is more valuable and a LOT more motivating.
Sometimes on those mixing days I have had students make really wonderful small paintings in the process of experimenting because they are relaxed and not trying to "paint the lighthouse or the puppy dog". Students should keep that paper for the semester and have it available as a reference and be invited to add to it as they progress in painting. Students who are advance will still be learning in this exercise (I still learn something new every time I do it...; Students with NO experience mixing colors really need this opportunity to make sense of colors' impact on each other. It is a bit messy, a bit noisy, but I do not think too many "slackers" will be able to resist it. Maggie White adds: I do it a bit more structured, though--first they mix several tones of each secondary, then a variety of tints, then they can experiment. They're required to label each swatch with the colors they used, so they can refer to their personal chart when they start painting for real. They also swap "recipes" for colors.
From Linda Woods:
"Giant Came to Town" My third graders are hip deep in a drawing project that they love. Wonderful drawings this year for "Giant in Town". This is a lesson that teaches rules of perspective - size - placement - scale - and students have fun doing it. They come up with all sorts of imaginative cities and towns.
From Linda Woods:
Self Portraits: Second grade is doing guided self portraits of them holding a favorite thing. They are turning out beautifully. I told them they can NOT hold a Game Boy - they must select something else that tells about their personality. They are thinking up some wonderful things to do, and many of them involve their grandparents or a baby sister or brother. Some are going to hold pets. Some will sit on their grandparents laps and hold something special. One girl is holding a locket that her grandmother gave her. One boy is putting his grandfather's portrait on the wall behind him. I think I'll tell them they can bring a photo of the grandparent if they wish, as they have worked so hard on proportion on their own faces and bodies. I taught it feature by feature, using a lot of the "right brain" techniques (Edwards ideas). Holding a pencil up for angles, not naming features, rather describing them.
We started with the eyes and measured every feature on the face in relation to the eyes, for example, the face is five eyes wide, the nose is one and a half eyes long, the nostrils fall under the tear ducts at the widest point, It's one eye from the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the lower lip, we drew the inside lines of the mouth first and then added lips and teeth if they show. They measured their teeth in the mirror by holding a pencil up vertically beside the front teeth to see how wide teeth actually are. Most drew the spaces between their teeth. Now we are measuring for the chin and drawing the cheeks. After that they will measure from the bridge of the nose to the chin and double that to mark where the top of the head is. Then draw the hair, neck, shoulders, and whatever they are holding, then their bodies and arms. Quite an undertaking for 2nd grade, but they are all getting it. I have seen kids who can't draw their way out of a paper sack from their imagination TOTALLY nail their portraits! Many of them actually look like the kids. Pretty exciting. We drew them in colored pencil lightly, but we'll color with oil pastel. I may let them use colored pencils on the eyes - Prismacolor Colored Pencils. Of course, we drew the sparkle!
From Denise Pannell:
Tie Dyed T-Shirts: We tie-dyed our arts festival t-shirts last year (500 K-5 students!). I had the t-shirts pre-rubber banded and soaking in the soda ash before they arrived. We made the large swirl- when you band it, it looks like a Color Wheels, so we talked about that before Cold Water Dye and I posted the diagram above each sink for reference (older student can select their own dying patterns) Make sure you put their names on the tags in Permanent Markers before banding them and make sure the tag is out so you can read it. I covered the counters with garbage bags & old towels to soak up the extra Cold Water Dye & called back 6 students at a time (I have three double sinks). I sent each t-shirt home in a zip-lock baggies with instructions for rinsing since I didn't want to wash them all myself. They placed the t-shirt in the baggies & then rinsed the bag off & the gloves before removing them. I had no complaints from the parents. We used the Sax kit [May no longer be available] and all turned out very nice.