Art Free Time Activities & Ice Breakers
"I'm finished, now what do I do?" is a frequent topic of discussion on the art education list serves. Below are suggestions from art educators all over the country.
FOR MANY GRADE LEVELS
From Marty Reid: Drawing Drawer Add some of your own ideas.
From Barbara Rhodes: Bell Ringers, short lessons at the beginning or end of the period.
From Michal Austin: List of Drawing Ideas Save the file and print your own to post in your room. Add your own ideas for number 16 and 68.
One Day Project Ideas - Many levels
Many of these activities are good for middle school students, too.
From Lin Altman: When someone finishes early, I check their work to make sure they didn't rush through, then they are allowed to "practice draw." I've found that if I call it "free draw" they tend to not produce quality work. I keep a large supply of photos from stock photography books and the kids (2nd-5th) pick what they would like to work on. This is on going and the drawings are kept in the art room until finished. K through 1st get "draw starts."
"Draw Starts" - First, I demonstrate on the white board. I choose a child to come up and make a random mark on the board, then I make something out of it (i.e. an animal, face, etc.). We do this when there is extra time and the kids love to stump me. After they have the hang of it, I give the a piece of paper and I make the mark. They must elaborate and no snakes, worms or letters.
From Roberta Dunkel: I too do this but have used the term "free draw" but put a tag on it that it has to be something in the room - not a rainbow (ho hum) or their name written over and over etc. They have many drawers of magazine tear outs on animals, people in sports, landscapes etc. to use for research. I am a "saver" of all kinds so the classroom is a great place to store my "research file". I will start calling that "practice draw" - a much more "professional term". Also I have art history books to read and write paragraphs for those who always rush and have nothing to do but pester me and the kids in the class. This "opportunity" seems to slow them down a bit.
From Barbara Rhodes: Beginning Assignment
• Take a piece of the large yellow paper at your table and fold it in half length-wise (two short ends meet). Run tape down the short edges and fold it over onto the other side. Be as neat as you can be.
• On one side, write your name in large “fat" letters. These can be bubble-type, graffiti-type or any other type you like as long as they are “fat."
• Begin filling in your name with TEXTURES and PATTERNS.
TEXTURES: things that have a “feel" to them or look like they have a feel to them.
Textured items include things such as cotton balls, sand paper, brick, pebbles, feathers, animal skins, etc. I DON’T want you to actually glue items to your folder. I want you to draw textures.
PATTERNS: things that repeat over and over again are considered patterns. Things such as stripes, checks, polka-dots, etc. Wallpaper patterns are also good examples.
BE NEAT! DON’T DO ANYTHING TO THE OTHER SIDE OF YOUR FOLDER----WE WILL DO THAT TOGETHER IN CLASS!!!!
From Sandy Bacon: I also have drawing books available. I have some art games, puzzles and during are medieval lessons, wooden blocks for building castles; even the older kids loved this. I have loads of books in my art room library. If you have a computer, perhaps some students could work with art software or cool interactive website. I found a great one for Leonardo during our visit to the Renaissance. I also have a chore list for kids if I need help. I also have my archaeological dig site research info, found objects, fossil rubbing plates, real fossils, magnifying glass and little brushes (tons of stuff related to the dig) available for the kids to look at and explore.
From Linda Woods: We call those days when they can draw anything they want all period long "free draw." My kids love those days, but I don't do it very often. I love to see what they do when they are free to draw what they want, but some kids just don't have the motivation to stay busy all period long, especially in 5th and 6th grade. It works best with younger kids, in my opinion. I have free art days, rather than free draw days, I suppose, as I have that magnet sculpture game that is so awesome that a bunch of them love to play. Some kids draw, some play with architecture games (stamp set and magnet architecture from Metropolitan), some play my "who, what, where?" game, which is a box filled with cards of three colors. The pink ones are people, animals, or things, the green ones are action or verbs, and the purple ones are places. So, if they draw a card of each color, they get a wacky idea to illustrate, such as "A hula dancer (pink) on a subway (purple) telling fortunes (green)." Other things I have are "scrap monsters," where they use scraps off the scrap cart, pretty much in the shapes they find them, to build monsters or animals or people. Some kids like to build with paper, but NO WEAPONS or airplanes. I have an origami box with instructional books in it and paper. I have a Pictionary game. I have bins with various things to draw in them, such as seashells, and lots of little sculptures from the dollar store. I have a calligraphy bin with pens in it. I have a bin with modeling clay that gets recycled. And I have a huge list of suggestions for things to draw on the inside of the cabinet door where these bins are stored. I know we all try to keep them going as long as we can on what the assignment is, sometimes repeat the assignment in smaller ways.
From Linda Woods: (From a different post -some ideas repeated)- On those days when kids are finished early, I have a lot of centers for them to work in if I can't get them to work further in the medium we are using. My favorite by far activity is a huge box of metal scraps from the hardware store, as well as 4 sets of a scrap metal sculpture set that I dumped in with the hardware store stuff... it's a magnet sculpture activity... Endless creativity has come out of that box of junk. It's about 100 bucks worth of metal junk, but it occupies kids happily for hours, and I like that they aren't always doing "free draw" for an activity when they are finished. I always see about 4 to 6 kids who are DYING to share that box when they finish... not always the same ones, either. I also keep modeling clay that must be recycled throughout the year for an activity. What they make can go on display, but when the clay in the free box diminishes, the sculptures that have been on display get recycled. I have architectural stamp sets from the Metropolitan, Architecture magnetic shapes boards, computer architectural activities, and lots of other kid sites that they can venture into... Switch Zoo, Super goo, Animated tessellations, tons of books with great ideas to use with paper, etc. So, my kids' free time is free choice, but there is a lot of meat to the choices. Some choose to draw, others work 3-D, some are on the computer, I have a courtyard with flowers and lots of trees right outside my room, so a few kids might even be in the courtyard with Drawing Boards. (I can watch them through the glass). There are lots of other activities in my activity cabinet I have not mentioned, as well as a LONG list of "what can I do when I'm finished" posted inside that cabinet on the door. Note: Linda also has materials on hand for sewing and friendship bracelets.
"Who? What? When? Where?" Game from Linda Woods: Another thing that you can have for your kids to do when finished is the "who what where" game. Cut strips of paper in three different colors. My strips are pink, green, and purple. My pink strips have nouns or subjects on them. The green strips have action. The purple strips have places or locations on them. Kids draw one of each color strip to construct a wacky sentence. Then they draw the sentence.
Pink: A polka dotted penguin
Green: Square dancing with hippo
Purple: in a submarine
You can add adjectives to your noun choices, you can add details to any of your choices to make it more fun.
So, a list of pink choices might be:
A lazy lizard, A wild-eyed elephant, An affectionate alligator, A sleeping frog, etc.
A list of my green cards or strips might be:
waltzing with a whippet, standing on his head, shaking off drops of water, eating a triple decker ice cream cone, etc.
A list of purple choices might be:
on a cruise ship, At a baseball game, in a toy store, on a beach at sunset, in your bedroom, at a summer camp, on a diving board, etc.
Kids love this, especially younger ones. Sometimes they just want to make up LONG strings of sentences and not draw anything. I always try to push the drawing aspect of it. Some kids make a book of silly stuff. Another thing to do with this is to encourage detail. Kids can add anything else they wish to their drawing or use it as simply an idea starter and not even use all of the words in the sentence to draw their pictures. Some kids laugh so much at the silly sayings that they want to rush their drawings to keep making new combinations.
From Michal Austin: I have several centers for my elementary students - they are listed on my site under Art Teachers' Pages.
From Michal's site: I have several different centers on my cart. I store these in plastic shoe boxes that students can take back to their desks.
Stamping Center: Contains an ink pad and several different stamps. Some are from cheap children's kits found at the dollar store, some are higher quality. 4 ½" x 6" (11.5 x 15.25 cm) paper is included in box.
Collage Center: Various types paper, stickers, sequins, ribbons, etc. 1 ¼ oz. (3.7 cm) glue bottle and 4 ½x6" (11.5 x 15.25 cm) white Drawing Paper included in box.
Chalkboard Center: Colored Chalk, Magic Rub Erasers, and 2 small chalkboards.
Markers Center: Assorted types of markers - Overwriters, tropical, stampers, etc. 4 ½x6" (11.5 x 15.25 cm) white paper included.
Origami Center: 6" (15.25 cm) square colored paper and origami books. Students may trade me for true origami paper after they have demonstrated mastery.
Imagination Station: Variety of coloring sheets such as Optical Illusions, Famous Artworks, etc.
Art Games: Art puzzles, Tangoes, Izzy, Architecture WonderBoard, etc.
Art Toys: Mini Etch-a-Sketch, Magnetic faces (the ones with the face enclosed in plastic and you add "hair" with the magnetic wand), optical illusion games (separate the rings type games) etc.
Art Library: Books on several topics: Variety of "How to Draw", Optical Illusion, Artists, I Spy, Related books of interest
Not shown: Texture Center: Various textures for rubbing including sandpaper, screen, mesh, texture rubbing plates. 4 ½x6" (11.5 x 15.25 cm) paper included.
Modeling Center: Plastilina Modeling Clay, various tools including mini rolling pin, "Crayola" tool kit, plastic table cloth (approx. 2' [61 cm] square)
Modern Art - In Modern Art, players compete to gain the most money by buying and selling paintings at auctions and reselling them for profit.
Art Memo Game - Try your hand at a memory game with a twist. Art Memo has 72 cards depicting 36 different pictures. All 36 of the pictures are fine art from museums around the world. Made in Austria by Piatnik.
Prof. Noggin's History of Art - The History of Art card game, from Professor Noggin's series of educational games, encourages kids to learn interesting facts about art, one of their favorite subjects! Each of the thirty game cards features a great work of art from Michelangelo, Hokusai, Leonardo Da Vinci, and more of history's famous painters
Masterpiece, The Art Auction Game - For years families have thrilled to the excitement and fun of the MASTERPIECE game. Now you can join the tradition and make your mark in the high-stakes world of an international art auction, where the excitement is in the bidding.
From Tracey: I have the old tried and true "How to draw" book pile. I also have a pile of "Anti-coloring book" type worksheets ready. Cleaning for extra credit works with some kids (some of the extra-squirrelly students are wiz-bang cleaners/organizers). Also I'm lucky enough to have 4 computers in my classroom, so I use the interactive Sanford Artedventure site or Painter 6 or Goo. The trick is to have something that is absorbing but not more interesting than the project you are doing, so they won't rush through to get to the extra stuff.
From Susan on Long Island: I have a small table in my room and a small bookcase nearby. Both are labeled "On-My-Own". On the shelves are a wide variety of art activity books, art puzzles and games, non-firing clay, books about famous artists, Drawing Paper, markers, watercolor paint and brushes, building sticks, and a bag of those colorful foam sculpture pieces. When a child is truly finished, or sometimes when there's 10 min. left in my 40 min. session, and I've finished a lesson, I tell the child(ren) that he or she may go to the "On-My-Own" table. The kids seem to love the independence and freedom to choose whatever art activity they want to do.
From Ann Gray: I have many activities in my room that the students can do when they are finished. They have to show me their project first so that I can verify that they have completed the rubric that I made for that activity.
I have a laminated manila envelope with 60 ideas for drawings - a student may pick 2 without looking, and choose their favorite. Years ago, a teacher in another district gave us another idea. I have 2 more laminated manila envelopes. One has nouns, and one has very creative adjectives. A student picks one card from each, then has to illustrate the phrase. My favorite example is a student years ago who drew the words "frightened pickle." He drew a large bumpy dill pickle with a frightened expression and brought it to show me. I asked him what it was frightened of. He added a menacing looking upright vacuum cleaner with a face where the light is, and said that the pickle was afraid that the vacuum cleaner would suck him up! I have used these 2 envelopes when I was doing cartooning, also.
I have many drawing books that I have collected over my 21 years of teaching. There is always recyclable paper on a shelf nearby. THEY MAY NOT TRACE! I have 2 crates of activities that I believe use skills needed in art and across the curriculum. I have several puzzles that range from easy to more difficult (I teach 1-5). I have several building sets: Zoobs, plastic straws with connectors, and shapes that connect on edges and in their centers. I have several sets of shapes that can be laid out to make a picture, and then a rubbing or a drawing can be made by copying the shapes. I have 2 tangram sets in plastic boxes that came with sets of cards to show how to put the shapes together. I have 2 magnetic sculpture sets. And, the favorite of almost everyone, I have many bags of modeling clay. Three years ago one of our grade levels donated plastic tote trays with low edges that they no longer used. I have 20 of them, and the students must work inside of them with the clay.
All of my activities are divided up so that more students can use them (I usually have 40 in a class at a time). I used to keep them in Ziploc bags, but they always tore and quit "zipping," so I'm trying plastic containers with lids that I got from the dollar store this year. Occasionally, if one group finishes an activity before the other groups in their grade level, we will have a day where we all use these activities.
A lot of these have taken me years to accumulate. I have a very small budget, so I have either purchased them myself, or used money from our PTA.
Alphabet Books From Susan Michael: (Elementary - middle school) The kids might enjoy creating alphabet books or number books for younger kids. I made small journals out of regular Construction Paper and used heavy weight construction paper for the cover (half a sheet for 1 cover.) I punched small holes along the spine, wrapped embroidery floss around and threaded through the holes and tied. The pages were just slipped in under the embroidery floss, but could also be strung through. A book about shapes could also be done. Some simple dot to dot pictures might be fun too. This could be tied in with a service project. It might also work to get the composition books, have them decorate the cover, and let them do word family reading books.
Origami - from Laurie Reber: (Elementary - middle school) I have found that kids love to do origami. I teach junior high school, so I am not sure how it would work with really young ones, but if you had instructions with diagrams for very simple designs for the really young ones and have the paper pre-cut, they can just grab the instructions/paper and take it back to their table to work on it. I am having my students make about 9 paper cranes each (will be over 1800 total) and we are going to thread them onto fishing line and hang them at the entry to our school on World Peace Day. The cranes will be a visual reminder as they will represent the number of US soldier fatalities in Iraq. The number keeps rising, so my students work diligently to represent each one with their paper cranes.
From Becky Thornton: I let mine do an extra credit replica of the art project (2D drawing) that we have just done. They do this about 8 ½ x 11" size. I give them extra credit and tape it in my lesson plan book. It is nice to have student examples there and they look good. Good for those who are looking at plans!
From Bill Sechler: I usually have the student do another drawing or painting either in the same assignment specifications or allow for a negotiated subject/medium choice provided their effort on the "finished early" piece was acceptable. I do not allow students to be off task or do their own thing instead of the assignment, if quality is not in their skill range, quantity usually is. I also explain that the time allowed for a project is for them to take full advantage of, to do excellent work.
From Robin Lea: I have students create their own Sketchbooks and for the last 12 pages or so I include drawing exercises. This way any early finishers know to work on exercises and not bug the others. You could have a folder ready with these exercise. I have all sorts of exercises- upside/down drawing, mirror image drawings, the Mona Brooks exercises "Drawing with Children". You get the idea any exercise that introduces or re-enforces their drawing skills.
From Heather Leal: I have a selection of how to draw books, some cartooning books and a couple of computers with a game - The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis ( a cool game that teaches/reinforces logical thinking and math processes, but without any math that is obvious). They also use it for drawing and I have an old copy of Kid Pix that some enjoy - they remember it from elementary. I also have lots of art books to look at. Usually if kids do have extra time, it is only 5 or 10 minutes, so they really enjoy looking at the art books. They also have sketchbooks to work in and I usually post some kind of drawing idea for extra credit- like when we returned from our vacation (we are year round) the extra credit was to draw something they did on vacation OR draw something they wish they could have done on vacation. I don't have any centers that are messy or have materials that can be ruined if I am not paying attention.
From Kara LiCausi: When the students finish projects early in my class I allow them to use the computer (Kid Pix and a variety of art games from the web). There is also a list of sketchbook ideas posted in my room that they can choose from... or they can draw whatever they like in their sketchbooks. A favorite is allowing them to make their own little sketchbooks... I provide all the materials and leave boxes of neat scrap materials for them to collage with. I also find that Middle School students are always very eager to help the art teacher... so whenever I need help displaying or labeling artwork... they are always willing to take on the task! We make Reference Binders in the beginning of the year (as a homework assignment) where they have to make 10 separate subject areas (such as flowers, cars, seascapes etc.) so that they have a constant source of inspiration for their work. When they finish early, the kids love looking through magazines or printing pictures off the computer to add to their binders.
Collage Portrait From Alanna Tait: At the beginning of the semester, I make a large silhouette of each student by having them stand in front of the board while the overhead projector produces a cast shadow and I trace their profile on a large sheet of paper. When there is extra time, the students make a collage of magazine pictures that represent them (IE. different foods, sports, expressions). They enjoy doing this and it works well for a quick fix for a substitute teacher.
From YR Brown
A. Interview teachers regarding their favorite artist or creative endeavors. Make posters and post around the building.
B. Create work that could be sold for fundraisers: greeting cards, wrapping paper, gift bags, gift tags, etc. You could advertise the items for each season and take orders and/or sell items at the school store.
C. Write books for primary age students that feature the students artwork and/or an artist exemplars work.
D. Create a deck of Artist Trading Cards.
E. Create a computer graphics version of a work completed. Scan the work in and use a computer graphics paint or Photoshop program.
F. Build in beginning, midpoint and end self assessment activities.
G. Use a reflective journal that would allow the learner to think about the learning objectives, how they will approach the lesson.
H. Require thumbnail sketches and/or mini-models per project.
I. Require medium test... creative play with a type of paint or drawing medium. Have the learner document in pictures and words what happens when using the medium.
J. Use WebQuest as a means of building knowledge on a theme, artist or movement.
K. Have the learner interview an art exemplar. This will build on the content delivered in class and offer a real world connection to the curriculum. For example I am planning a lesson where the learners will use egg tempera. Through and internet search I connected with the artist Don Jusko. He has agreed to be an expert that my students can contact via email to ask questions about egg tempera and painting. If studying a dead artist... have students write interview questions and other student do the research to answer them.
L. My son was a very active student and I suggested to his teachers that they allow him to read in class material that related to what they were studying. We also asked that he be able to interview staff about their experiences with certain material he was studying. In our case we could have learners ask other teachers who their favorite artist is or what art related activities do they participate in as an adult. The information gleaned from these activities could be used to publish a newsletter or a website or a series of posters, similar to the "READ" posters we see in libraries. These activities would be empowering to the learner and greatly advance the value of the visual arts program in your school and district.
See also Drawing Drawer and Drawing Ideas.
Most high school teachers have sketchbook assignments the students work on. Students write critiques of work completed or have research topics they are working on. Students generally have an idea what the next project will be and move on to the planning stages for that project.
Independent Project for High School - Grace Hall
This is a project that I've done for many many years. It has proven to be a great way to keep kids interested, motivated, and on task the whole time they are in the art room. This is what my students work on when they complete their other assignments early. This is a way of allowing the student to make choices about what and how they create art. The assignment is given at the beginning of the year. They are assigned to do 2 or more per term, the first one due at mid-term, the second at the final. Students are encouraged to work on this project during any free time they have in my class, because I say they have no free time. If they do, then they have chosen to use time they could be working on their project. There is also a space on my rubric about using time wisely while in class. The Independent Project takes care of all kinds of objectives! See the student solutions on Grace's Artsonia Site (link will take a while to load - well worth the wait)
Altered Books - from Pete Lopeman
This is a good 'free time during lesson' activity. Buy a few old paperback novels. On the first page of the writing (not the title page or frontispiece) you, the teacher, pick out a couple of words on that page from any lines which make some sense and circle them. Then students colour/shade/crosshatch draw a picture around the words leaving them readable. The page should be completely filled (apart from the few words chosen). The books must stay in class, and can be picked up by any student to work on. Eventually, the book is filled with drawings etc with oddly chosen words on each page. The work can be linked with Tom Phillips' work 'A Humament'.