Draw, draw and draw some more!

Being able to draw is a skill. Like any other area of the curriculum children need time to develop  and practice basic skills. We wouldn’t expect children’s writing to get any better without them having any experiences of writing and drawing is exactly the same.

Here are ten simple drawing activities that can be used in the classroom to support and develop children’s drawing skills.

  1. Quick one minute sketch.

Place the object in front of the children. Give them 1 minute only to draw it; time this strictly. All need to start and finish at the same time. Some children will say they have finished before the time – encourage them to look further at the item and begin to look at shading, texture and any other added details. These drawings are always a useful starting point and I recommend using this, along with exercise 2 and 3 as warm ups to drawing. Often with this drawing the children will draw what they think they can see. Their brain will fill in the gaps of what they ‘know’ the object looks like.

  1. Swap hands.

This frees up the ‘I can’t draw’ attitude and forces concentration and control. This works best again with a strict time frame. This could be a minute or longer. I would not recommend doing this for a sustained time. It is about freeing up the flow of drawing. Also some children will get frustrated by the fact it won’t look ‘perfect’. However, if you model this with the children and they all see the drawings look different, it can be quite good fun. The children might need to slow down their drawing in order to have greater control.

  1. Look, look again… just keep looking.

One of my favourite drawing activities to do with a class, but one of the most challenging as it takes a great deal of self-control and discipline. This again is best as a warm up activity and works well with a time limit. For this the children are forced to look at the object they are drawing. This makes them see it for what it really looks like as they are not allowed to look at their paper other than to place their pencil (or whatever) on their page. They are only to look at the object. Some children will desperately want to look down at their page as it’s a natural reaction but again its great fun. This does take practice as you will get some children who in a bid not to be caught looking at their page will stare you out in a ‘look I am not looking at my page way’ rather than looking at the object.

  1. Mix it up. 

Children need to learn that different drawing materials will produce a different kind of line. They will not be able to control the materials in the same way so will have to alter the way that they draw in order to produce the desired effect. It is interesting to give the children a range of drawing materials and ask them to draw the same object (again forcing them to look) and get them to draw it but using different materials. Materials I would suggest are pencil, biro, fine liner, charcoal and a graphite stick. They should soon realise that the biro will behave in a similar way to a pencil and you can build up areas of light and dark. They should realise that they will have to up the size of their drawing with the graphite and that the fine liner felt tip will produce a very flat solid line.

  1. Nature’s tools

Who says that the children have to draw with something that is found in the art cupboard purchased from YPO (other suppliers are also available)? Why not take the children outside and get them to collect a variety of sticks, you want a variety of lengths and thicknesses. These can be dipped in Indian ink and used to create some really interesting and beautiful drawings.

  1. Make it big.

Many children really find drawing on a large scale quite a challenge. We have all seen those tiny drawings in the centre of a page which need a magnifying glass to see the details. This activity will encourage the children to experiment and push the boundaries of scale. You will need large paper for this; the best way to do this is to join large A2 sheets together with masking tape. Tie a graphite stick to a stick and then get them to stand and draw on the paper holding the stick at length. The paper could be pinned to a wall or on the floor (shoes off). This activity would be best carried out in smaller groups than the whole class.

  1. Working in negative.

This activity makes the children realise that every line, every mark needs to be considered. It needs to have thought and purpose. For this the children will draw on white paper with a candle or a white oil pastel. They will complete their drawings without being able to see the finished result. Once they are happy they and have considered shape, form, texture and tone the drawings are painted with a colour wash – this could be tea, thinned down paint, watercolour or even inks. This can produce some very beautiful effects especially when a wash of tea is combined with drips of ink.

  1. Make your mark 

This is about experimenting with different types of line and how they can create texture and tone. Like activity number 4 a range of materials are needed. However, rather than drawing an object the children experiment with making different marks on the page and working out what you can do with the materials – e.g. cross hatching, turning the graphite on its side, holding the pencil in different places etc.

  1. Grid it

This activity is about composition and understanding space. We have all seen sketchbooks or pieces of paper where there is one small drawing right in the centre of the page and then they turn over and do the same on the next page. For this the children are to create different sections to draw in on their page using making tape. Some areas might be larger or smaller than others or even different shapes. The only stipulation is that their drawings fill each section. This helps them to see how a series of drawings can work together on one page and how best to arrange/compose a series of drawings.

  1. Change the surface

Who said that drawings have to be done on white paper? If anything drawing on a piece of perfect white paper is rather scary. Why not experiment with drawing on different papers and different surfaces. Cartridge paper is different to draw on than photocopier paper and will react to the drawing materials differently. Try drawing on newspaper, pages out of an old book, envelopes (the blue patterned inside is especially lovely), wall paper (anaglypta , lining paper), sandpaper, brown parcel paper and hand-made paper. The children could even bring in materials that they would like to try drawing on.

These are all very simple ideas which need very limited resourcing and are relatively easy to set up. So go on, have a go. Get your drawing on.

When the magic happens

Sometimes you have those magic moments in the classroom when everything comes together perfectly and something beautiful is created. Something so beautiful that you can only hope to create anything quite so magical ever again; and even if you did pull off something half as successful again you would be a very happy teacher.

Recently I have had one those moments. This moment actually lasted a term, yes there were peaks and troughs – the magic wasn’t there are all of time, but as I reflect back now as a whole it was quite a term.

And what was it that made the magic – it was quite simply a book. A book that challenged thinking, addressed initial misconceptions, explored characterisation, pathetic fallacy and the art of great story telling. The book was Frankenstein. In my 12 years of teaching I have had moments of magic but seldom has anything rivalled this. It was a pleasure to see all the children in my class hang on to every word as I read them the story. To hear their cries of disappointment when I put the book down – leaving it on a cliff-hanger. It gripped them in a way I never imagined it would. The added bonus of such immersion in a story was that their writing has exceeded my expectations.

So what did we do?

The hooks

My first hook started with my learning environment. I would like to point out I am not in any way suggesting everyone should do this, I do it because I love it and it’s important to me and my teaching. During the last day of the autumn term my class saw me painting glass jars with black paint and sticking labels to them. Many questions were asked. The intrigue had begun.

Before we started to read we created a hook. We always knew we wanted to hook the children in with something dramatic, something that left them with more questions than answers. The hook was simple but effective.

‘You are on a ship in the artic (pictures of the landscape displayed on the board). Your ship is surrounded by ice. The landscape is bleak and harsh. You see a man travelling at speed on a sledge pulled by dogs. The speed the man is travelling at is phenomenal. However as the figure draws closer you realise he must be around 8ft tall – who is this mysterious creature and what is he doing in such a hostile environment? The following morning you hear shouting out on deck. You walk out of your cabin to see the men pointing to a man on the ice. He is a wretch of a man, barely alive. You realise this man can’t possibly be the same figure as the one you saw the previous night. This man is dying. With him he carries a bag.’

This was the script read to the children; in addition to this I had purchased a small brown leather suitcase. I had filled it with objects or photographs representing objects that the man had in his possession. These included bread, a notebook, a map, paintings of a boy and a woman and surgical equipment. Discussions were then held in groups about who the man was what the objects told us about him and led us to wonder why these two ‘men’ were in the Arctic and how they could possibly be linked.

This simple staging of the hook did exactly what we wanted it to. The children wanted to know more. They wanted answers.

We continued to use hooks at different parts of the story in order to refocus the children or symbolise a shift in the story. The first hook was linked to Captain Robert Walton’s story. A very different hook would be needed for Victor’s story.

The hook into Victor’s story came later. It did not come before he started to tell Walton his story, but came when he had left his home in Geneva and travelled to Ingolstadt.

‘You are newspaper reporters and you have been sent to report on a gruesome crime. There have been a number of grave robberies in the area over the past few weeks. Graves have been left desecrated and items have been stolen. At this most recent atrocity the perpetrator was disturbed as he left some equipment behind. He left a shovel and a leather bag containing surgical equipment and a notebook.’

Again more questions, some possible answers and finally a link. A possible clue…

Our final hook took us away from the story of Frankenstein a little. It was used just before we read the monsters story. We watched the video ‘Little Freak’ on Literacy Shed. It fitted perfectly and set the tone for the monsters story wonderfully.

The Writing

One text – so much writing and even now as I am reflecting on what we did I am thinking of new directions we could take the writing if we were to do it again.

We wrote letters from Robert Walton to his sister. We wrote newspaper reports on the spate of grave robberies that took place and wrote diary entries as Victor when he was carrying out his experiments.  We wrote agony aunt letters from Victor pleading for advice on what he should do after the death of his brother William and the conviction of Justine for his murder and finally we wrote the creature’s story.

Children who had struggled with writing or lacked motivation with writing had found a voice. Those that were gifted writers already excelled further. Weekly they were compelled to write. It compelled them to tell the story of Frankenstein but in their words.

The art

The art was a bonus – a Friday afternoon need to do something purposeful, engaging and yet free. We all know the pressures year 6 teachers feel and art is a subject that falls to the bottom of the pile when results are on the line.

We stuck with the theme of Frankenstein and focused on the idea of death and decay. In a moment of what my class would call madness I was struck with the idea that we would look at and study mould. So we did!

The Bonus bits

The bonus bits were the conversations that we had. First of all challenging the misconception that Frankenstein was a green monster with bolts in his neck that walked around with his arms stretched out in front of him. Moving on to what a monster really was and whether the creature was born or made a monster.

These conversations led to a level of understanding and connection with the characters that I could only have imagined.

What I suppose I am trying to say with this post is that magic can be found and made in something incredibly simple. Know your class and what will excite them, then think about how you can make that even more extraordinary. Explore the endless possibilities that it could give you in your classroom. Think about how you can immerse them so deeply into the learning that it drives them and in the end they drive it. It turns them into artists, writers or whatever they want to be.


Write like a writer

I am a teacher. I have a passion for the arts. Using creativity and encouraging a passion for the arts is an important part of my teaching. I am also a year 6 teacher. I am well aware that the arts and year 6 are essentially two antonyms. They set warning lights and alarms off everywhere, although they really shouldn’t.

This year hasn’t been my first year 6 experience. I last taught year 6 in 2009 and escaped relatively unscathed. This year I was thrown back into the year 6 maelstrom with the responsibility of getting writing up to the expected standard in my class and what a challenge that is. At this point I would like to clarify the obvious – yes it is my responsibility to get writing up to ARE, as it is any teacher’s. However I class share and I teach English and my partner teaches Maths (brilliantly I might add). Anyway, I digress.

When I embarked on this journey into year 6 I had the firm opinion that the interim assessment framework was ridiculous. We are now into the start of April and nothing whatsoever has happened to change my opinion. If anything it’s made me more convinced my opinion is an accurate one. Don’t get me wrong I have no issue with the fact that the children need to have a good grasp of punctuation and grammar in order to be successful writers. It’s part of the package. My issue with it is that it’s ridiculously prescriptive. Some of its statements also range from the ludicrously simple (prepositional phrases) to just pointless (passive voice).

When I teach writing my aim is always for my children to develop a love of writing and to be able to write like a writer. To develop the ability to communicate effectively with their reader using the devices they feel say what they want to say best. If they can say it perfectly in a simple sentence then that’s what they should use. Sitting down writing this I am not concerned with how many modal verbs I have; whether I have used fronted adverbials, subordinating conjunction; or even whether I have used a semicolon. I can’t imagine many other blogging teachers or professional authors do this either. However when I sit and write a model text example for the children to look at I spend ten minutes scratching my head trying to desperately get in a colon for my more able children working towards greater depth.

I am fortunate to have some excellent writers in my class. They think about their reader. They write in a way that hooks you in and transports you into their story. They think about the vocabulary they use, every word chosen for impact. They think about the structure – using short sentences to create tension and repetition to add drama. They are greater depth writers because they write like writers. They write as well as some published authors. I cannot give them higher praise than that. However they won’t get greater depth. They might not even get ARE. Why? Because they write for their reader, not to complete a tick list of grammatical structures.

This makes me incredibly sad. Again I want to reiterate I am not in any way saying the teaching of grammar and spelling is not important – it is. It’s fundamental. However, knowing which structures to use to communicate meaning and understanding how to manipulate these structures to suit the genre of writing is what makes a writer. That’s what we should be assessing. Can the children communicate their ideas succinctly in a range of genres using appropriate features? If the answer is yes then they are writers. They are at the expected standard. I have done my job.

It’s all about the people

Disclaimer – this post contains mild banter and soppiness

After taking a few days to digest and recover from the day (and the evening after) I am jumping on the post #PrimaryRocks LIVE blog bandwagon. Many of the amazing recounts of the day I have seen talked about the CPD that was on offer from a host of wonderful speakers. However, this post won’t do that. So if you want to know what Paul Dix said about fantastic walking or what Michael Tidd said about marking or why the Primary Heads had a carrier bag filled with post it notes you are reading the wrong post.

For me the biggest and best thing about #PrimaryRocks LIVE, both this year and last year is the people. It’s that sense of community that it brings. Something that I haven’t felt to the same extent at other teachmeets or education conferences I have been to. Yes similar faces are there and it’s great to catch up but it is simply not the same.

I have thought about this long and hard: What makes #Primaryrocks different? Is it because I am lucky to be a member of the #PrimaryRocks team (how this happened I have no idea! I am still waiting for them all to realise they were mad to let me get involved) or is it something else? There is no denying the fact that speaking to someone on a daily basis will bring people together as it has with the #PrimaryRocks team. Those of us in Manchester get to catch up during holidays but the LIVE event is really the only time the ten of us are together in one room.

I have come to the conclusion it is the weekly chats that really make #PrimaryRocks a community. The fact that people come together via their laptops, phones and ipads in order to become better teachers. That week in week out teachers leave their endless to do lists (that one is in there for you Brynla!) in order to share good practice and encourage others to question and think about their own pedagogy.

The LIVE event enables those who join the chat to meet face to face. For us to know that @mrlockyer  really  is that funny and does look like Archie from Balamory, that @WatsEd really does love a tweed cap and that even though its March @TeacherStarr will still wear his Christmas jumper. The fact we get to do this with an ice cream, even in not so sunny Manchester is a bonus! Negativity was left at the door and only warmth, the sharing of a common goal and more laughter than you can imagine prevailed throughout the day.

Being part of #PrimaryRocks first through the chat and then as one of the organisers has changed my life. It has reignited my passion for teaching, given me some confidence back, has made me question my practice and showed me ways to make it better. I have made some great friendships. Some of the people I have met through #PrimaryRocks have become some of my best friends: they have been there in good times and in bad and for that I can’t thank them enough. (Gaz, Ang, Bryn, Rich, Jenna, Leah, Rob, Tim and Graham)

Much love, chat Monday and see you next year x

#Paintingstalk – What the Water Gave Me by Frida Kahlo

I found choosing a painting this week incredibly difficult for a number of reasons. The paintings we have had so far have been so rich in possibilities and so varied. Each painting has had its own story for us to unpick so what would be my choice this week? I went backwards and forwards between works by the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, stunning works like Autumn Leaves, The Hireling Shepherd and Ophelia. I also considered the monochrome works on MC Escher, the surreal and melancholic paintings by Edvard Munch and one of my favourite paintings Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent Van Gogh.

None of these seemed quite right though. I love them all but they didn’t fit for #paintingstalk , well for me anyway. Then it hit me; Frida Kahlo. Her work tells her amazing story. A story of tragedy, strength and passion. I love her work. It’s so vibrant yet at times melancholy and macabre. I shared her work and her story with some year 6 children recently linked to work on portraits and they were enthralled. Her work captivates and draws you in totally. They are like windows into her life.
In 1925 Kahlo was travelling on a bus which collided with another vehicle. She suffered serious injuries which included a broken spine, a broken collarbone, a broken pelvis, fractures to her legs and a dislocated foot and shoulder. A handrail also pierced though her abdomen leaving her unable to have children. She was 18 years old. These injuries would plague her for the rest of her life and are reflected in many of her paintings.

I love a bath. Baths are healing. They are restorative. A place to lie and relax and feel the water heel whatever aches and pains you have, whether they are physical or mental. Sylvia Plath once said “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.” I get it, totally. I think Frida did too.

What the Water Gave Me
In this painting I like to think of her healing herself in the water. Thinking about the her life and the journey she has been on. Each symbol in the painting reflects a chapter of her life and has its own story to tell. Let’s try to read it…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=am6rArVPip8 – Florance and the Machine – What the water Gave Me

What makes a good primary sketchbook?

Sketchbooks are amazing things. They offer so many opportunities. They are places to think, research and collect, experiment, reflect, explore and most importantly be free! Sketchbooks offer our children opportunities to express themselves in ways that no other book or piece of paper can. I have a number of sketchbooks. I love working in sketchbooks. I often find that I love the work an artist has done in their sketchbook. It’s far more interesting than the final piece as it documents a journey. They are fascinating things and I could look at them for hours.

However, for the work in these spaces to be successful it must be meaningful. Have provenance, if you like, where the children feel safe and are invested in trying something new, pushing the boundaries of what they think they are capable of. This is where it is important to set up expectations as to what the children are to do in their sketchbooks.

Now before you shout ‘hang on that’s not letting them express themselves freely’ let me explain. It’s setting out opportunities, it’s setting our expectations of what they will achieve not how they will achieve it. Also it acts as a safety net for those who need it. This is where success criteria come in. For example mark making using paint linked to a theme on water would be:

  1. Use each tool at least 3 times.
  2. annotate each experiment to explain what you have done.
  3. Organise your work neatly in rows or columns.
  4. Try to keep your experiments the same size.

So what makes a good sketchbook?

  1. A good primary sketchbook shows a range of materials and processes.

This is all about opportunity. It’s the opportunities you give to your children in order to express themselves and develop skills. Thinking about the process and artist goes though here is key. A good sketchbook will show that the children have had access to a range of materials not just pencil crayon or paint. It will include collage, mixed media, colour mixing, mark making, drawing and designing etc.

  1. A good primary sketchbook shows that some of the work is linked or themed.

This is all about provenance. Making the children invested in what they are going to do in their sketchbook. If you are asking the children to do something that doesn’t link to their experiences or what they are learning the work will reflect that. In my experience linking art to the learning in other subjects to create a holistic curriculum results in the children being enthusiastic, invested, brave and ensures that the work is of a higher standard. If the children see links and are encouraged to make these themselves they are also more likely to take risks. I find that preparing sketchbook pages with pictures and words linked to the topic helps with this too. Especially when the children come to look through their work at a later date.

  1. A good primary sketchbook shows the thinking process.

This is all about the journey. How do we show what we are thinking? Well often this will be the experiments that the children make or the drawings they produce but I think this should be pushed further. It’s encouraging the children to make notes. Explain everything. Explain what they have done, their likes and dislikes, their achievements, their reflections on how to improve their work. These notes and annotations also will greatly support their creation of a final piece of work as they will have a bank of resources to select from.

  1. A good primary sketchbook will show research

This is all about context. This is where you show the children the work of other artists. For them to see the way others have responded to a particular theme. It is imperative that children have opportunities to explore the work of a range of other artists, craftspeople and designers, not to copy their work but to learn how they applied paint, how they mixed colours to create mood etc. This research might include extracts of text or poetry, photographs the children have taken or pieces of material.

  1. A good primary sketchbook is organised.

This is all about whether the children can access the information in their book and use it to inform later work. Creating a theme for pages by preparing them as mentioned earlier will help here, as will dates and titles. I never write LOs in sketchbooks. Waste of time. I would rather the children wrote a quick title to explain what they are doing and then get started. For younger children you might print these out and stick them in. Older children might start to think about the way they write the title. Whether they write it on masking tape or select the font they might use. Presentation expectations come in here too. Handwriting is to be at a high standard and the work well organised. This might be columns, rows, dividing the page in to sections or creating frames to work on with masking tape or different coloured papers. This is NOT about children working on a piece of paper and sticking in their ‘best and neatest’ piece. There should be things that have gone wrong, there should be accidental splashes of paint or water, these are all part of the process.

Sketchbooks are special. They are a safe space to reflect upon the world around you. They are personal. They are fascinating and beautiful things. They offer so many rich opportunities. Go for it – Get your sketchbooks out!

As featured in the first issue of Primed Magazine : https://primedmagazine.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/issue-1-september-2015/

A visual classroom

A new school year beckons and teachers across the land are heading into school in order to set up exciting, engaging learning environments for the young fresh faces that will pour though the doors next week. I love displays. I love planning them, sourcing things to go on them and creating them. I find it therapeutic and also exciting. I also know that I sometimes put unrealistic expectations on myself when it comes to doing displays. It is at this point that this blog is not me saying you should…it is me sharing my approach to display and if you take something from it, great!

For me displays are very personal things, like your classroom. I believe they should reflect you, your professional ethos, the young people that spend their days in that space and the learning that goes on. I want my classroom to make an impact. I want the children to walk in a go ‘wow!’ I want to create excitement and awe about what they are going to learn before a word has been spoken. I want someone to walk in my classroom and know without any shadow of a doubt that the children are learning about Macbeth or Titanic or Ancient Greece.  I also want my classroom to look like my classroom, not like every other primary school classroom across the country; there are those unrealistic expectations again!

But how do I do this? What does my classroom look like?

  1. Working walls

I am a big fan of a working wall. They are useful, immediate, easy to maintain and very flexible. I would only have working walls for Maths and English as my other displays would be more permanent but I will come on to this later. A literacy display might include a copy of the cover of the text, pictures of the setting, characters, key vocabulary, text features and post it notes with comments from the children. In addition I might included story maps, annotated bits of text, shared, guided or modelled writing and character maps to name but a few that I have done in guided sessions or direct teaching.  Working walls should be fluid and changed/updated regularly. I know  displays are time consuming but if these are done with the children it saves a job. Why not occasionally use big pieces of newsprint instead of the interactive whiteboard?  Works just as well and you have a display at the end of it. This also gives you opportunity to model handwriting  and presentation expectations.

  1. Other subject areas

I believe in a holistic approach to the curriculum. I feel that if subjects are linked and tied together within a theme the learning will have greater impact. This also helps when setting up your classroom as your classroom then gives itself over to that theme. My main theme display usually fills an entire wall. It will contain key vocabulary, lots of pictures and key questions. I have often also created a large painting to form part of the display too, but I will discuss that more later. This display also works like a working wall as things are added to the display as the learning develops. Timelines, new questions, photographs of drama, samples of writing, art etc might be added to the display to document the journey that the children have been on. This display is the one that always has the most impact as it is what the subjects feed into, whether it is English, science, history, geography or art. I know that not all subjects will necessarily fit together but I have always kept a separate display area free for this or used my windows.

Backing paper

What’s the big deal about backing paper I hear you say? Well display paper I find can be very garish. The colours are often intensely bright and can give you a headache when you look at them for too long. I am a big fan of black backing paper but this can make for a very dark and dingy classroom. So whats the alternative? Well, I love brown paper (kraft paper YPO) this comes in very large sheets that can cover a whole board. Its neutral and works well for pretty much any theme. Its also a great surface to work into, in the past I have painted on to this to form the background to the display. I have painted lions as part of a theme on Africa, a skull, dagger and crown linked to work on Macbeth, a galleon as work on discovers and explorers and an industrial landscape as part of work on the Victorians. Now I know not everyone thinks they are a ‘skilled’ painter, but there is a way around this. Find a simple image/silhouette on Google, blu-tack paper to the IWB and project image the size you want. Easy and very effective, also guaranteed to be different to anyone else. On a theme on Titanic I printed out passenger lists, tea stained them and used these as backing paper. Simple and effective. Old maps would work brilliantly as display paper, maybe print them off a little bit lighter and off you go! I do think though you should think carefully about your colour palette. Match the colours to whatever the theme is.

Labels and Signs

I always think a mixture of handwritten and printed labels are nice. Again as I have mentioned before handwritten labels give you opportunity to model good handwriting in line with whatever policy is in place at your school. When it comes to titles or signs again a mixture of handwritten and typed work well. Handwritten banners can be very effective, especially when working on historical themes. I have also found an image I like, such as a poppy field and used this to cut letters out from for a theme on World War One. I once used portraits by Hans Holbein for a theme on the Tudors. Luggage labels are great for labels or key vocabulary on displays, especially as these are now  available in a multitude of colours.

Borders, backing and laminating

I rarely use borders, I also rarely mount or back work. I certainly never double back; a waste of time and waste of paper!  At my school we have our own way of backing. We call it the ‘Medlock rip’. Torn edges can look very effective when done carefully, particularly with a historical theme.  When it comes to laminating I will laminate the things I will use again, pictures, vocab, titles etc. English and Maths resources are usually laminated but for theme displays I don’t bother, it saves time and with laminated work you can get a glare so the children can’t see what’s on it anyway.

Like I said earlier I am not suggesting this is how you should set up your classrooms this September but I hope it’s given you some food for thought. Maybe there’s  something you might take away and try.


Getting to know you…through art

Well the time has come, the walrus said…Seriously though, the time has come again where teachers  like myself across the land are preparing to climb out of holiday mode, some more willing than others, and venture forth into school to get ourselves ready for the bright young minds that will come through our door in September.

It is these first few weeks where you begin to learn what makes them tick, what motivates them and gets them all fired up raring to go. It is also a time where you establish your expectations, your routines and your boundaries all in the name of creating a happy, productive learning environment.

This is where art comes in! It is a great way of working with children creatively and finding out about them. It gives them opportunities to work collaboratively and independently, to problem solve, to evaluate and analyse. It also gives them opportunity to dig deeply and express themselves allowing you to gain a greater understanding of each individual child. It also gives you the opportunity to establish routines for tidying up, behaviour etc.  ‘Yes but how?’ I hear you ask…

Well here is how…


Each child in the class can make a flag (size variable and this actually could be extended to them making a series of flags). The children are to collage the flags using words, images and drawings that are linked to them and their personal experiences. These images could be found during an ICT session, text might be typed during this time too. They might even want to collage photocopies -examples of work they are proud of or objects they have brought in from home. The children might add information about their families, draw pictures, patterns, symbols,  add colour washes or layer tissue paper onto the flags.

  1. Timelines/ life maps

I have done this recently with my year 5’s. We looked at journeys we have been on and thought about our life as a journey to create maps or timelines. When you think of these more as maps rather than timelines you open up a greater range of possibilities. These might be done on a spiral, like a tube map with different branches for different events and the stations marking feelings or people that were there. These could also be done like a mind map. The key with this is for the children to explore with different types of line or mark. They can create different lines and symbols to represent the events and the emotions they felt. For example a dotted line might represent a nervous time or a zigzag might be a time where they felt frustrated etc. Colour can be added to these also.

  1. The colour of emotion

Transition can be a difficult time for many reasons. Also our children have many things that go on in their lives external to what happens within the safety of the classroom. It is important therefore that children understand their emotions and are able to talk about them. This is a simple activity that I have found very successful. Create a list of emotions as a group and ask the children if happy was a colour would it be? Not everyone will have the same answer – good! On paper or in sketchbooks if you have them (children could always make transition sketchbooks) the children are to use the primary colours along with black and white to mix colours to match different emotions. The range in this is amazing. It is lovely to see personal responses; also everyone is right!

  1. Selfies

In the age of the selfie the children could take selfies showing different facial expressions which match parts of their personality. They might pull funny faces, smile or look sad. These can range from between 4 pictures to as many as 20. These look great when they are all printed together on one page like a photographer’s contact sheet. They are also great fun to do! You could print some of these individually for the children to work into adding explanations or symbols to the images.

  1. Make it large

This is a collaborative session and is a great opportunity for the children to get to know each other, work together and for you to see who clicks and who doesn’t! This needs large paper, very large paper. This can be large brown kraft paper ( found in YPO) or smaller sheets of paper that have been joined together. The children are to lie down on the paper and a friend is to draw around them. Working in groups of 3 works well for this as they have to aim to get three figures on the paper. The children are to then fill in their own figure with things about them; collage, text, photos, paint, graphite, tissue paper, black marks  etc. The figure must be filled totally though for this to be most effective.

So there are a few ideas of how. Go on….have a go!

What can you do with a painting?

Recently I have been involved in weekly discussion on Twitter called #PaintingsTalk. It is still in its infancy but steadily growing each week with a wide range of paintings selected for discussion. The amazing thing for me about this has been that in the few weeks that it has been running I have already learnt so much. I have questioned, analysed, debated, commented and even discovered. It has been a great experience and I am so pleased to be involved with it. This has lead me to think more about what paintings and art in general can offer in our classrooms. So here are a few ideas of things you can do with a painting in your classroom.

  1. Cut it up

Choose a painting (go for something that has things going on in the background) and cut it up. Give each child a section of the painting and go! The possibilities here are endless. What can they see? What questions do they have? What do they think it’s a painting of and why? What information does it tell them? Draw the rest of the image etc. This is a great starting point for a theme as it presents the children with questions rather than answers. It sets the tone for discovery. You might reveal different parts of the image over time and build it up like a jigsaw. This works well if you give groups different paintings all linked to a similar theme.

  1. Use it to learn about the past

So many pieces of work tell us about life in the past. Greek pottery tell us about the Olympics and myths that were told. Paintings by Paul Nash tell us about the horrors of World War One. Drawings by Henry Moore tell us about life in London during the Blitz. Paintings by Hans Holbein show us the faces of prominent Tudor figures. Drawings and paintings by Ford Maddox Brown give us an insight in to life during the Victorian times. Arts and crafts by artists such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and William Morris give us a taste of fashions of the time in the home.

  1. Read all about it!

This might sound strange. Read a picture? But yes! What does it tell you? What is in that picture and what can you infer from it? Paintings are great for inference. Also what themes are in the painting, how do you know?  They are a way of developing key skills with children without giving them a load of text. I have developed a range of activities in my school around this and they are used in guided reading sessions.

  1. Developing literacy

I won’t go on too much about this as I have written 2 posts about this previously. Using paintings to develop literacy 1/2. Lots of opportunities for writing though.

  1. Turn up the volume!

Paintings offer a wealth of opportunities for drama and music. Children can recreate the sounds they would hear in the painting. Again this would support work in literacy as it would give the children opportunities for speaking and listening which can eventually lead to writing. It would also develop historical understanding as the children would need to think about sounds from different settings in the past. Role on the wall would also be a great extension activity here.

  1. Let’s get messy!

Finally paintings can be used to allow the children to explore colour mixing and mark making. They can be an opportunity for the children to explore how other artists have created different patterns and textures. The way that they have created a sense of light. The way they have created movement or drama. Artists draw upon the work of others to influence them, whether it’s to steer them in new directions or take techniques and replicate them. Asking children to reproduce their own version in a given material teaches them very little. However you could give them a painting and ask them to create a section of it in a different medium such as collage, mixed media or textiles. This teaches different skills and presents problems that the children would need to solve.

There is a wealth of drawings and paintings available to us as teachers that we can use in our teaching. Pinterest is a great way to start building up banks of images linked to particular themes. Paintings offer opportunities for us to equip the children we teach with a vast array of tools and skills that they need. So let’s get visual and #PaintingsTalk!