Tying it All Together: A Short Guide to Cross-Curricular Planning

I am totally, head-over-heels in love with cross-curricular planning. Here’s why.

Cross-curricular planning is one of the best ways to make what you do in the art room visible to others. Because of this, it’s a great way to build support for your program.


Tying your curriculum to other content areas benefits everyone involved. Classroom teachers love that their content is being reviewed in the art room. I love that my content is being reviewed in the regular ed classroom. Most importantly, the students love it because it allows them to dive deeper into interesting subjects. It’s a win-win-win situation! I suppose we could throw one or two more “wins” in there, because administrators and parents love it, too!

When I first started at my current school three years ago, the classroom teachers had never collaborated with the art teacher before. If you’re in a similar situation, here are a few ideas to get you started.

5 Simple Steps to Start Cross Curricular Planning

1. Make Your Intentions Known

Ask your administrator for 5 minutes at a staff meeting. Give a short speech about how you’d like to collaborate with other teachers to enrich students’ experiences in the art room. You might say something like, “Hello staff. I’d love to try something new this year in the art room. To help our kids make connections, I will be tying some art projects to concepts you are learning about in the classroom. To do this, I need your help. I will be asking for a basic outline of what you teach during each month of the year. Please look for an email coming soon.”

2. Gather Information

The last thing I wanted to do was overwhelm classroom teachers. During the first year I implemented my plan, I only asked for 3 months of information at a time. In addition, I had only one contact person for each grade level.

So, for example, in the fall I emailed one of the second-grade teachers and asked what second graders were studying in October, November, and December. When the beginning of December rolled around, I sent another email asking about January, February, and March. You get the idea.

3. Organize as You Go

As my information began to roll in, I started compiling it in a simple chart. One column contained what the students were learning in their classrooms, and the other contained possible projects I could do in the art room. At the end of the year, I had an awesome resource! Below is the document I use for my second graders.

You can download your own blank Cross Curricular planning matrix. Click right here to grab your copy!

4. Keep Your Documents Updated

Now, about three times a year, I just send out the cross-curricular planning documents and ask for feedback. Anything new? Anything different? If so, I update the document.

5. Start Slowly and Keep the Door Open

Last, but not least, remember that you don’t have to tie everything the students are learning into your projects. (Wisconsin Lumber Industry? No thanks.) If you are just starting out, trying one project per semester per grade level might be a good goal. Do whatever feels manageable for you. In addition, remind classroom teachers that you are always open to suggestions. Creative classroom teachers have initiated some of my most successful cross-curricular lessons!

Have you tried cross-curricular planning?

What has your biggest obstacle been? What are your successes?

Amanda Heyn

Learning Team

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • Lschmittin

    Hi Amanda! What a great idea. You write so well! I will enjoy your next art education addition. So proud of you, Lynn S.

  • I  have been doing cross-curricular for years and it does build a great connection between your program and the regular ed programs. I try to  create at least two projects a year,per grade level that connects somehow to what the students are learning in their general ed class .  Many times I will have a teacher come to me and ask if we can work together on something. They know if they give me enough heads up and it works with my curriculum it’s a go! Art is connected to everything in so many ways that there are times the classroom teachers will say”hey, we were just talking about that in….”  The best feeling is when the students mention the connection! :)

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience with cross-curricular planning! I love when the kids see the connections too! 

  • Vmholmes

    I really enjoyed reading this fabulous blog post!  Now the world knows what a great treasure we have at our school! ;)

  • One thing I really like is how you didn’t necessarily change your entire art program in order to collaborate, but you find art projects you probably would have done anyway and plugged them into the schedule to make more sense for kids.  

    • That’s exactly it! I would do a lot of these projects anyway (batik, origami, symmetry, advertising, etc…) so I just change the subject matter to fit what the kids are learning about! 

  • Heather Carr

    Hi Amanda, I teach at an IB-PYP School and our program strongly encourages that I tie each lesson and activity into the classroom curriculum. It’s been a challenge and I use a similar matrix as you to keep organized. But I have seen amazing student results in their art and in their critiques and reflections. Looking forward to reading more of what you have to say on all things “cross-curricular!”

    • I agree, a planning matrix is key!  Planning this way definitely takes a little more time, but I’m so glad you are seeing results in your classroom! Seeing the kids light up when you introduce a topic makes it all worth it. 

  • I have collaborated on several projects and the key is definitely plenty of lead time. I think that the project works best toward the end of study in the regular classroom. That way, you’re not teaching the regular-ed content and are able to focus on the art vocab and connections. In 5th grade, we worked on face jugs by Georgia potters and tied in the early connection with the slave trade. The students were so excited after returning from a Civil War field trip to share that they had seen face jugs in some of the slave quarters. That certainly made all the clay prep, firing and glazing worth the time and effort.

    Having cross-curricular projects (even if only once a year per grade) helps everyone see art as part of the curriculum and not apart from.

    • Laura, thanks for the great comment! I agree that these projects work best near the end of units. Students come into the art room  ready to share background knowledge and excited to learn something new. I popped over to your blog and I must say, those face jugs are priceless! Some of the expressions made me laugh out loud! 

  • Wow!  This is so well-written!  Awesome work Amanda!!!!

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  • Libyad

    That pdf is completely logical!   Wish I’d thought of it years ago.  Thank you.  Just modified it a bit.  I inserted tables for each month that say Social Studies, Science, Language Arts, and Math.  It all fits on one page.

    • Great idea breaking it down even further into subjects! 

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  • Liz

    Love this idea! I took a 2 day session on this a few summers ago although it was more geared to teachers bringing art into their classrooms. I have done a little bit of this over the last year particularly, but I love your process of gathering and organizing the information!

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  • Berit Massman

    I really like the chart you made to collect information. Thanks for the idea. This is my first year teaching art and it is a goal of mine to make cross- curriculum lessons.

    • Absolutely! It will be incredibly rewarding for you, your students, and your staff. Good luck!

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