5 Easy Ways to Add More Art History to Your Curriculum

Incorporating art history into your art curriculum is a necessity. Sometimes it can be difficult and overwhelming to teach art history because there is so much to cover and so little time. How do you choose what art is the most important? Sometimes teaching art history can be intimidating if you don’t feel confident in your art history knowledge. The more you teach art history to your students, the more confident you will become.

Here are five easy ways you can add art history into your art curriculum.

1. Use visuals.

When you introduce new art lessons, use visuals and reproductions of an artist or art period that relates to the concept you are teaching. The brain needs visuals to learn and the more visuals you can use, the better.

2. Read stories to your students about artists.

There are a plethora of children’s art history books available. I have also used the book, Art in Story: Teaching Art History to Elementary School Children. This is an excellent book to use when teaching art history to your students because it contains a variety of stories about art periods and artists. Even though the title says “Elementary School Children,” I have read these stories to students in 6th-8th grade. Sometimes I read a story at the beginning of class, and sometimes I read while they are working silently.

3. Teach art history daily.

Middle school students have art for 50 minutes every day for nine weeks. The first five to ten minutes of each class period is spent on art history. I put a piece of art on the whiteboard, and I facilitate a class discussion on the piece of art. Students observe and discuss what they like, dislike, and what elements and principles they see in the art. Students can get very wrapped up in art history, and you will find they create connections between different works of art and artists.

4. Allow students to research an artist or art period and create a presentation for the class.

If you have a projector or interactive whiteboard, have students create a digital presentation as well as a verbal one. PowerPoint and Prezi are two programs to look into using when presenting art history.

5. Create an art history choice board.

Choice boards are excellent graphic organizers to use with students. They allow the students to choose how they learn a concept. We know all students learn differently, and choice boards help students learn how they learn!

What other ways do you add more art history into your art curriculum? 

Cassidy Reinken


This article was written by former AOE writer and life-long learner, Cassidy Reinken.


  • Teaching art history is one of the motivations that got me into the profession of art education in the first place. When our school got a new curriculum, some of the concepts I previously taught went to the wayside. I spent 3 years trying weave them back in, but it just wasn’t the same. Kids need something to latch onto, and art history, artist and stories are a perfect hook. Thank you for the suggestions and reminder how important art history is to a good art curriculum. 

  • Cathy

    These are great suggestions for art teachers who may not be as well versed in art history as others. My kids love looking at other art and discussing it. I especially like #4 but am unable to do that since I have very limited time with my students (one day a week and the schedule varies – K-1 for 6 weeks, 2-4 for 6, then 5-8 for 6, then the rotation again so my students only see me on the average about 16 days a year…not great but at least they are getting a little art).
    To go a little further on this, I also show creativity that is used in other disciplines (book illustration, auto design, medical illustration, interior design, clothing, theater, etc. – the possibilities are endless!) This helps to show students that creativity is found EVERYWHERE and that art basics and foundations are good to know in many avenues…not just art.

    A website that I like to show every once in awhile and my students LOVE it is “Astronomy Picture of the Day” (apod.nasa.gov). I use this to show that art and beauty can be found in the skies above, plus it makes a great connection to science and engages my students that love that stuff!

  • Mrs. McC

    Most of these I already use with my students, but my spin on #1 & #3 is called “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down”. I have all the kids raise a hand with a thumb up or down based on their opinion of the artwork. Then I call on those who would like to share their opinion. They have been instructed in how to offer art criticism such as, “I don’t like it because the colors are dark and the lines are blurred.” Instead of, “It sucks.” (Yes, I teach middle school students.) I always choose a masterpiece that relates to our lesson and share the info on it, and any correlations it may have to other info we know. Sometimes I even use the power words (Larry Bell’s words most commonly used in testing) such as compare, contrast, describe, infer, etc. as part of my question to them and then take opinions that reflect on that line of thought. All in all, we spend about 5 min. on this at the start of each lesson. It’s a wonderful routine that also brings my class together as a unit that is focused, engaged, and ready for art class, and sneaking in some art history, appreciation, and critique. I’m all for the most bang for your buck! 

    • Mrs. McC,
      I totally related to this as I too teach middle school. It made me smile! It is important to teach students how to talk about art, besides the normal “It is cool” or “I don’t like it.”

      I love the idea that you and Cassidy shared of spening the first 5-10 minutes on art history! What a great way to start the class.
      Thanks for sharing!

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  • Mrs. Teacher

    I center my whole 9 week middle school art course around art history. I use that as the theme for the projects and work in the elements of art as well. I have units that have the major time periods and then short daily lessons featuring the major styles of that period. I think it helps them prepare for world history later and is a simple and enjoyable way for me to teach art.