Classroom Management

5 Innovative Methods for Maximum Motivation

A die hard artist can find inspiration in the smallest things. Perhaps you are one of those people who becomes fascinated by the folds in the drapery, the slight color variations on the skin of an apple, or the texture of a shoe. Most middle and high school students however, aren’t usually that easily motivated.

Every teacher has experienced the class of students that seem disinterested. You try to light the fire by presenting art history and fun projects but your students just don’t seem to care. Here are five innovative ideas to spark your students’ motivation.



Use Group Brain Storming
You’ve heard it before. “I don’t know what to do.” No matter how many inspiring posters we hang on our classroom walls, sitting at a table in a school building doesn’t help spark ideas. Set your students in small groups and provide a large sheet of paper and a marker. Give them a question or theme and tell them they have five minutes to come up with 20 ideas. They don’t have to be good ideas, just have them write down anything anyone says. More people generate more ideas, and more ideas generate more ideas.

Let Students Choose Materials 
When the students are told to use a particular material, they tend to look to the teacher for instructions on to how to use it. Though this is a good way to teach a technique, it doesn’t allow the students the freedom to think for themselves. When students are allowed to select the media, they subconsciously are already thinking about how they might use it. By selecting the material, they have already demonstrated intrinsic motivation.

Assign Collaborative Projects
Most art projects are completed alone, without much input from other people. If a student is not motivated to continue, there is no one, with the exception of the teacher, to encourage the student to work. Middle school and younger high school students can be very social. Working in teams on collaborative projects can be an exciting way to increase individual motivation.

Get Off Your Butts
It sounds strange but sitting for long periods of time can be exhausting. Sometimes we need to get up and move around in order to get motivated. If your students have become lethargic, it might be time to get them our of their chairs. One of my most motivating activities is a stencil project. As part of the project, each student has to create a wooden frame. Though the students enjoy using the spray paint, the most excitement comes when they have to physically measure, saw, hammer and staple their frames together.

Change Your Plans 
Words like “repetitive”, “expected” and “the same” are not the ones that correspond with inspiration and motivation. Those attributes are more often associated with words such as “spontaneous”, “unexpected” and “variety”. Perform an honest assessment of your lesson plans. If you would describe your lessons using the first set of words, consider making some changes. I recently took my own advice with a portrait lesson. I changed the material from the expected drawing pencil to non-traditional materials. The ho-hum lesson became instantly exciting when my students learned they could use toast, jelly beans or mud to create their art.

Have you had success using any of these motivational ideas?

What techniques have worked to motivate your art class?



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.


Ian Sands

Ian Sands, a high school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. He is a co-author of The Open Art Room and believes art teachers shouldn’t make art—they should make artists.

More from Ian