Curriculum Design

10 Simple Ways to Spice Up and Streamline Your Art Curriculum

Writing curriculum can be a daunting and boring process, but it doesn’t have to be! Remembering that your curriculum is always a work in progress can free you to spice things up a bit and have a little fun. Here are some of my favorite tips to design a sound curriculum that is also fun and engaging for your students.

spice up and streamline

1. Design Your Own

I believe every art teacher should design his or her own curriculum. You know your students best: their needs, their demographics, their interests. Best of all, designing your own curriculum is a fun and challenging puzzle that will always be a work in progress! 

2. Know Your Why 

As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Before you dive into the “what” (nuts and bolts) of your curriculum, consider your “why.”  Why do you teach art? What do you want your program to stand for? How do you want your students and school community to view what you do? 

3. Think of Everything

Be sure to jam pack your curriculum. Consider: Technology Integration, Linking to Standards, Common Vocabulary, Cross-Curricular Connections, Assessment Plans and more.

4. Plan the Big Picture

I advise planning your entire year at once. A yearly map is helpful because it allows you to see everything on one page. Yes, your plan may change over time, but it feels so good to have a solid starting point. Plus, you will be less likely to leave something out.

5. Spiral Your Curriculum 

Traditional subjects, like math, spiral the most important concepts. This means they revisit them strategically throughout the K-12 experience. Are you revisiting concepts or teaching in more of a “one and done” style? Make sure you spiral within a grade level and/or throughout the years. We can’t count on our students to remember the color wheel from years past. In fact, they often don’t.

6. Don’t be Selfish

Just because you are a printmaking wiz doesn’t mean you should totally forget about clay. Don’t be selfish! Be sure to teach your strengths and your weaknesses to give students a wide breadth of media in the art room. My weakness was weaving, but I managed to get out of my comfort zone and my students thanked me!

7. Listen to Your Students

Consider an Emergent Curriculumone that allows student interests to drive the overall direction you take. For example, maybe a new wing is under construction at your school, and your first graders can’t stop talking about it. Use that interest to move into an architecture unit!

8. Balance Long and Short

If you put two long projects back to back, you may wear your students (and yourself!) out. Andrew McCormick likes to throw some short, creative one-day projects in between longer work periods to keep his students interested.

9. Show Your Strange 

A friend of mine, amazing public speaker Mike Wagner (see his TEDx Talk here), recommends we all “Show our Strange” once in a while, as it will disrupt the norm and wake people up in new ways. Do you play the guitar? Bring it to school! Do you love to dress up? Show up in costume! We ARE art teachers after all, so we automatically qualify as strange, right?

10. Tell Stories

Don’t forget how powerful a good story can be. Take your toughest lesson, craft a story around it, and watch your students understand in new ways. 

In a world where everything seems out of our control, your direct interactions with students and the curriculum you teach is something you CAN control. You are the number one influence. It doesn’t matter if you teach in a hallway, or in a beautiful studio, there is one thing that remains the same – YOU! So share your passion and you will shine! 

Tell us, what’s your biggest struggle with curriculum planning? 

How do you keep your curriculum manageable? 

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.


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is AOEU’s Founder and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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