3 Ways to Motivate Your Students on Tough Days

Motivation and engagement are two things we are continually striving for in our art rooms. If students don’t like being in our rooms, we can expect less-than-stellar work and a host of classroom management issues.

Whether you provide a rich choice-based atmosphere or slam-dunk lessons, there are still days where engagement and motivation can wane, especially at the high school level.

For me, days before break, early dismissal days, or special program days come to mind.

Here are 3 ideas to combat those tough days.

1. Plan Something Big

art history carnival

If possible, it’s nice to think ahead and plan your most fun activities for days students may be inclined to zone out. Why not hold your Art History Carnival that day? Or, try throwing some things at your students. Having something to look forward to is sure to make your students more excited about being in class.

2. Play an Engaging Game

The Art Game

My students recently had the chance to try out a game that surprised me in more ways than one. TAG the Art Game or just TAG for short, was developed by a professional artist and teacher, Mollie Thonneson. Mollie says that her goal with the game was to get individuals thinking creatively and make sure that “all participants, regardless of age or ability, have a rewarding experience.”

You can see how to play the game by watching Mollie’s video below. Basically, participants take turns drawing, painting, and collaging, within parameters, to create a collaborative artwork.

I tried TAG with my students on a shortened Friday, and I was amazed. My students were focused and engaged, which is saying a lot for high schoolers on a day school was being dismissed early.

My favorite part of the experience was overhearing the conversations students had during play about the artistic decisions they were making. The work they produced as part of the game had nice qualities, especially the layering of media, but the process of group creation was the highlight.

students collaborating

I could also see using TAG as a first-day icebreaker, at an open house or field day, to teach specific concepts like color theory, layering, or composition, or even as a center. I’m even excited to try it out with my family. The possibilities are endless.

3. Change Your Location

chalk tessellation

If you don’t want to plan something huge, sometimes these kinds of days just require a change of scenery. Take your class in the hallway to practice perspective. Or, try moving outside if it’s nice out. Chalk tessellations or an (almost) legal street art project are a few simple, engaging ideas to try.

Although motivation can sometimes be a struggle on days before a break or early dismissal days, there are things you can do to help. Try planning for an extra-exciting lesson that day, busting out a new game, or getting outside. Your students will thank you, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable day.

How do you deal with days where your schedule is tough? 

What other ways do you motivate your students?

Melissa Purtee

Melissa teaches at Apex High School in North Carolina and is the author of The Open Art Room. She’s passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.

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  • Lee Ten Hoeve

    Changing the location of art class works every time! I also love creating an extra fun lesson for those abbreviated or alternative schedule days, something to keep kids engaged and shake things up. Recently, my art period was up against a dance party for students that read a certain amount that month. I had several kids say, “I’d rather go to art class.” Excellent, right?