5 Hints for Helping Young Students Generate Artist Statements

As an elementary teacher, do you ever feel pressured to fit everything into short class periods? Seeing my classes for only 40 minutes a week, I used to struggle to fit quality reflection time into my lessons.

Because I teach 600 students each week, written artist statements seemed beyond reach.

There just didn’t seem to be enough time.

Still, I felt nagged by these questions:

  • How can I incorporate quality reflection time in my lessons?
  • How can I help my students learn to communicate about their artistic choices?
  • How can I make sure that my expectations are developmentally appropriate for my students?

I decided that reflection was important and that I had to make time for it in my lessons. I started to work with all of my first through fifth-grade students on writing artist statements. Today I’m sharing what works.

Here are 5 guidelines to help your young students write successful artist statements.

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1. At the end of each project, stop the class 10 minutes early to allow time for writing artist statements.

Allowing time for writing can be tricky at first. However, soon it will become part of your process and you and your students will come to expect it.

2. Have students write one sentence per grade level.

In my room, students write at least as many sentences as their grade. For example, my first graders write at least one sentence, and my third graders write at least three. This is a way to assure that expectations match students’ writing abilities.

3. Having sentence stems and word banks available helps.

In first and second grade, I often give my students the first 2 or 3 words for their sentence. It is also helpful to provide a word bank on the board including words students might need. You can see an example below.

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4. Have students write in complete sentences.

Students must use complete sentences to tell me something that I cannot see in the artwork. I am looking for something deeper than description. This rule helps their statements be more detailed and clear. This is also a great way to support their writing skills.

5. Provide older students with a list of prompts.

Students can sometimes get frustrated while working on their artist statements. “I just don’t know what to write!” is a common complaint. To help them, I provide this list of prompts to my older students. Each student has a copy glued into the front cover of their sketchbook. That way, they always have a place to look when they are struggling with their writing. You can download a copy to use with your students below.

Artist Statement Prompts

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I include these statements with the artworks in my displays. I have found that teachers and students take more time looking at the artwork in the halls. I often see people looking carefully and reading the statements out loud. Other teachers have told me how much they enjoy reading the statements. Administrators love them as well!

If you’re looking for even more tips for writing artist statements at the elementary level, check out the article The Key to Helping Your Students Talk About Art. And, if you’re looking for information about writing artist statements with older students, be sure to save a copy of this handy flowchart.

Do your students write artist statements?

What tips do you have to make the process easy for you and your students?

Anne-Marie Slinkman

Contributor

Anne-Marie teaches elementary art in Virginia. She is a life-long learner who is passionate about providing relevant and meaningful art experiences for all students.

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  • Ms. C

    This is awesome! My fervent wish is that every elementary art teacher do this, so that when I ask my high school artists to do this, I’m not back at square one! Additionally, this stuck with me: “…tell me something that I cannot see in the artwork.” Seriously, my high schoolers tend to struggle with this one sometimes! I use prompted reflection along with their grading rubrics in my upper level classes, but the leap to writing a statement for college acceptance, their senior show or the AP portfolio still terrifies them and I need to spend SO much time with them on writing statements. Your post has given me an idea for my colleagues and I: to write at least something at the end of every session, i every level class, and not just at the end of a unit. Thank you!!!

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      I am so glad that you found the article helpful, Ms. C!

  • Vicky Siegel

    Great article. I just started having my students upload their own work to Artsonia. I have the one iPad mini from Artsonia, and then I check out 5 more from our library – one for each table (usually classroom teachers get the whole cart of iPads!) So far I’ve been having them “skip” the artist statement on Artsonia. I’d love to try this, it’s just that I’m almost spending another week to add the Artsonia photo part. There is so much to do and only seeing them once a week is so hard. I tell them that they can add the artist statement at home, but so far only 22% of my parents have even made an account to log on to Artsoinia. So much to do- so little time as an elementary art teacher!

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      Vicky, I totally understand this struggle. It took me a long time to integrate this type of writing into my curriculum. It can be overwhelming thinking about fitting it all in when you only see students for 40 minutes each week. The process, once begun, was slow. Over time my students have become accustomed to the process, and it has become much smoother.

  • Mel

    I’ve just started having my K-5th grade students write artist statements this year.. and it’s been a real eye-opener for me as a teacher. There is so much my students include in their statements that they don’t discuss in class or in critique. This year I’ve gotten to know my students as artists on a whole new level, it’s been fascinating to finally see why they made their choices.
    I created my own artist statement flow chart based on the AOE one, utilized with great success. I love your sheet too, and I think I’ll offer students both.. some need that flow chart guidance, where as others find it too confining.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      Mel, I agree that it can be eye-opening to read their statements. Students have so much going on in their artwork that would go unseen without this opportunity to share. I think that the prompts and flow chart are key to the success of this process. Artist statements are not easy to write, but these tools can help a great deal.

  • Vickykiwi

    Hi the prompt sheet looks great. While I agree this is helpful for older classes, (3,4,5) I don’t think I will be trying it with the year 1 classes I teach. They are only 5 or 6 years old and struggle to write in their classrooms as they are very young and just developing their writing skills, and I feel this could turn them off coming to art class. In my opinion art class is for doing art and perhaps talking about it at that age but I don’t agree with having them write about it. Just my opinion :)

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      Thank you for your comment, Vickykiwi. Every group of students is different, and it is important to know what is right for your students. My current first graders do fine with writing, but I have taught other groups of students for whom this might be too much.

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