Create Art on Day One With This Fool-Proof Lesson

I used to agonize over the first day of school: Who wants to hear a thousand rules and procedures from every teacher? Who wants to go through his or her classroom rules eight times? UGH! Getting kids to make art on the first day is so much more fun for everyone, and can be a much more memorable way to teach art studio habits and procedures.

Here is my fool-proof lesson.

1. Have students make mini-self-portraits.

Cut pieces of paper to 4” x 6”. This will keep the lesson short and make it possible to display the portraits (see Step 5 below). Have students draw their self-portraits on the paper with no instructions. Think of it as a pre-test for the whole year. As the year goes on, you can have students make more of these. Finish up the year with a final portrait as kind of a post-test. That’s right! We just planned your last lesson too!

2. Teach some color theory.

Assign each table a different color for management purposes. Set out crayons or colored pencils in analogous color schemes that match the colors of the tables. By doing so, you can teach a little color theory and some great vocab words like analogous and monochromatic right away.

This lesson is a great way to start the year. If you’re wondering what other activities you might do, you’ll want to take a peek at the First Day Activities PRO Learning Pack. Lindsey shares specific ideas to excite students on day one through choice, simple routines, and organized stations.

3. Talk about art room choices.

Kids invariably will groan a little about their limited color choices. This is the perfect time to talk to them about choices in the art room. Sometimes they get to make choices and other times you will make choices for them. The better they get at art skills, the more choices they can make on their own. Highly motivating!

4. Practice art room procedures.

Rather than just telling students about the rules during work time and clean up, you can have them actually practice these procedures right away. Having them model appropriate and productive behavior in an authentic task is much more effective.

5. Create an awesome display.

Once all of the portraits are complete (we usually use two to three class times, depending on the age of the students) display them as one giant ombre school portrait. It’s a great opportunity to discuss community and collaborative art practices!


I’ve found this lesson to be totally fool-proof and a ton of fun for everyone involved!

What are some other lessons you use to kick off the year in the art room?

Do you jump right into art making or spend time going over the rules first? 

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Sarah Dougherty

Sarah Dougherty, a visual arts curriculum coordinator, is a former AOEU Writer and elementary school art educator. She loves working with diverse populations to bring art into students’ homes, communities, and everyday lives.

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