Why You Should Demo Everything for Your Youngest Students

youngest students

In the art room, there is a time and place for vague directions, experimentation, and exploration. But, sometimes specific, detailed, and modeled instructions are necessary for certain projects. My curriculum is set up in a way that allows for my youngest students to explore a material before we use the material for a project. I am not solely product-driven. But, the finished product allows me to assess students’ understanding and application. I’ve found students achieve understanding and application when I do my part as demonstrator.

Today I’d like to share tips for creating a great demonstration, as well as why demonstrating even the simplest procedures works wonders.

When demonstrating, I try to do the following 5 things each time.

1. Provide clear, concise, and detailed verbal instructions.

2. Present a full demonstration for each step of the process.

3. Pause and check for understanding.

4. Provide a visual.
Visuals are helpful to refer to throughout the class and handy if a project continues for more than one class.

5. Re-demo for the whole group, small groups, and individuals as necessary.
In addition to getting started on the right foot, demonstrating things like procedures, material usage and clean-up skills can be a powerful classroom management tool.

In my elementary room, I demonstrate EVERYTHING because…

My students feel more successful when they have a clear path to get started. 

There is still room for my students to be challenged, practice problem-solving skills and think critically during work time.

I assume nothing. 

Young students especially may have little or no prior knowledge about materials. This includes opening and closing glue bottles, using scissors, putting marker caps and glue caps back on, and washing a brush between colors. It’s best to demo these simple skills, so students can become independent.

I see my students once a week.

That is a minuscule percentage of their time at school. Demonstrating helps to jog their memories from week to week, and takes the stress off remembering, preventing information overload!

Demonstrating, in addition to verbally talking through what I’m doing reaches most learners. We know that all students learn differently. A mix of verbal and visual is always a winning combination.

Once engrained and practiced, students will become familiar with routines for certain materials and less direction and coaching are needed. This means at the beginning of the year and after long breaks you may find yourself doing a few short demos each class period, but it’s time well spent!

How do you decide if something warrants a demonstration? 

Where do you most often demo? At a workspace? Using a document camera? With small groups? What works for you?

Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek


Alecia is an elementary art teacher in central Iowa who is passionate about teaching and reaching her students with an innovative and meaningful arts education.


  • I have recently been transitioning out of having a pre-made exemplar to doing a class-created one. The kids get SO excited giving their own ideas and seeing it come to life in front of them. We don’t finish the whole thing nor do I do every step at once. I found when I show a pre-made exemplar the kids–wanting to please me–copied what I did even when I told them they will lose points on their grade if they chose to do so.

    Two additional things I am considering is:

    1). Have students create a mini-version of the theme of the project (flowers, etc.) using the supplies we will be suing so they have a more hands-on experience with the materials. I figure it gives me an easy pre-assessment for later discussion.

    2). Create “How to…” sheets that I laminate and put on their tables (for my 2nd and 3rd graders who can read). These would allow them to look again at the directions and be more self-directed in their learning.

    Have you tried either of these ideas before? Did you find them helpful?

    Because I’m switching up my process, things are also slowing down a lot but, as a consultant who came in to work with our Art Department on curriculum reminded me, you have to let go of time and relax so you can enjoy your job. After all, I want the kids to enjoy the art-making process and not feel as though they are living in a Charles Dickens’ novel working in a sweatshop!

    Thanks for the reminder with this article … especially #2!

    • I also advocate for the idea of slowing down. I would rather cover less in my yearly curriculum, but do it well. This gives students a chance to breathe, and makes you feel less chaotic. Thanks for all the great examples from your classroom. It looks like you are finding an excellent balance.

      • Alecia Eggers

        I agree! It’s hard to know your are off schedule, but if the students are engaged and creating – who am I to rush them? :)

    • Sue Shapiro

      I started including material play days as part of student project planning in each unit. My sixth graders just finished Mesopotamian Art and I offered 3 options. They could create a clay tablet, an aluminum relief (jewelry), or a wax cylinder seal. Before they started their own projects, we spent a day rotating in 4 centers so they could get a feel for each material. Three centers were media based and they worked on the planning sketches for their narratives at the fourth. I made sure everyone knew that the materials were just for practice and not to keep. They had to turn in their planning sketches including the media they planned to work in before they could start their project. It worked out pretty well for this unit. I did whole group demos for metal tooling and wax carving, and then hung around the clay center to give small group slab rolling demos.

      • Alecia Eggers

        This sounds awesome Sue! I want to squeeze it into my year now!

    • Alecia Eggers

      I love “How to” sheets – especially for those processes that I seem to have to repeat and repeat. I sense a summer project brewing!

  • Chris Noel

    At the high school level, I used to demo each new technique, using various methods. In addition, we filled out planning sheets (Strategic Instruction Model) for anything complicated (like making a ring) so that each student had a list of their steps before they started. We started doing these with ipads last year. It’s art, so not everyone’s list was the same. That is also a way to put in some alternatives for high or low achieving students. I was in the process of making most of the demos into powerpoints so that students could use their ipads to check back on the demonstrations whenever they wanted.

    This year I am teaching lower elementary and I demo everything, including how to paint & take care of paints and brushes. My school does not provide ipads for elementary art or music, but I do make powerpoints whenever I can. I also find that Powerpoints or short videos about background information is helpful & makes the experience richer.

    I often have folders of laminated sheets at each table at the elementary. When we made Theibaud style cakes for example, I had the step by step for drawing the basic cake at each table in a folder. I also had a page of decorating possibilities. On the cover of the folder was a Theibaud cake. A number of teachers have posted great instruction sheets on Pinterest that I can use as is, or use as a starting point for my own guides. These are especially helpful when students have several days between art classes.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Chris, I also like the idea of small videos students can watch as needed. I’m thinking of making a few more for processes, but also routines and putting QR codes in locations that require certain routines – like washing brushes at the sink.

  • Vicky Siegel

    Great article and great ideas. I also find that after I demo and directions/pictures are on the board, it also helps to have students physically “point” as a review. For example, point to where you put your brush when you are done, point to which counter your clay goes after you are done painting, etc.

    • Jorena

      Thanks for this tip! We will be pointing soon.

    • I also found pointing really helpful, Vicky! Something about the movement cemented things into their brains :)

    • Alecia Eggers

      You’re so right! Students keep each other accountable after pointing too!

  • Lauren

    I use a document camera to project demonstrating steps onto the Smartboard for my k-3rd grade students. They can all see clearly and they think it’s magic!

    • Alecia Eggers

      Oh yes – the doc cam is my bestie!

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