How To Run A Critique Battle In Your Art Room!

Are you looking for a way to make critiques more fun and engaging for students? Why not make a game of it? In fact, maybe it’s time to turn your next critique into a battle! This idea takes an experience students may find boring or intimidating and turns it into an engaging, meaningful, enjoyable activity.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Mix Up the Seats!

On the day of the critique, students need to know something different and exciting is going to happen. Switching up the seating is an easy signal. Having students sit in different seats also gives them the chance to work with peers they are not used to interacting with.

One way to keep the fun factor alive is to have an engaging way for students to get into their temporary new seats. I like to have students draw cards as they enter the room. Each card corresponds to a table in the classroom. You can put signs on the tables or project a seating chart map so students know right where to go. Students like choosing a card and tend to argue less about their new seats because it was their own “luck of the draw.”

card system

2. Create Two Teams and Set Up the Board

Divide the room into two teams. Set up a T-chart that is visible to the class and ask each team to shout out a random team name. Explain there is going to be a battle. Points will be kept and only one team will prevail…

Clear a large space on a board or wall and divide it into two sections. Label the T-chart and board with the team names.

3. Put Student Work Up In Team Sections

Have each team bring up their work and hang it on their side of the board. Give each piece of art a number.

art up on board

4. Introduce the Critique Sheet

The critique sheet will guide students through the critique process with prompts. Below is the sheet I use in my classroom. It asks students to choose a piece of art then indicate what they like about it, as well as a way they think it could be improved. I like to have students work in pairs, so two students fill out a sheet together.

You can download the sheet below if you’d like!

critique sheet

Download Now

Each pair walks up to the board together, chooses two different pieces from the other team, and comes up with ways to fill in the blanks on the critique sheet.

One way to help the critique become more academic and meaningful is to include a specific vocabulary list to use. You could print this directly on the sheet, or display it somewhere else in your room.  The vocabulary list is a word bank for both the aspects students like as well as the suggestions for improvement to help drive the critique. It can be a list of vocabulary terms that have already been studied in class, as well as other concepts yet to be applied.

Here is one example of a completed critique:

We like the complementary colors in piece number 13 because they create dynamic contrast for the viewer.

One suggestion for improvement is to focus on the line quality because it is a bit broken and could use more fluidity.

Generally, this process takes between five and ten minutes.

5. Have Students Present to the Class

Once you have explained the sheet, it’s time to drop the next component of the battle: students will be presenting their critiques to the entire class! When students have to do something in front of their peers, more often than not, they will step up their game. The partners and table groups are another support system for this.

Tell students when they present, their entire table will come up (roughly 4 or 5 students) together.  Each student is responsible for presenting one critique, which includes what they like and why along with one suggestion for improvement and why. Points are given based on the entire table group doing those two tasks. If everyone presents one thing they like and why from an opposing team’s art piece, the team earns five points. If everyone presents a suggestion for improvement, the team earns another five points. One last way to ensure the most student work possible gets discussed is to make sure students from the same table group all critique different work. Take points away if the same piece is discussed by students who sit at the same table.

Of course, you can score in other ways, too. You could give extra points for using words off the vocab list or for pulling in a former artist or concept students have studied. Just be sure students know the scoring guidelines up front.

students at the board

In Case of a Tie…

If there’s a tie, or if you have some class time left, you can play a review game using the vocabulary words. In my classroom, I choose a student piece to describe using those vocab words. The first student to guess which piece I’m describing gets a point for their team. If they answer incorrectly, I move on to the next team. It’s a great way to pick a clear winner or fit a bit more learning into class time!

It’s your choice if you want to offer prizes to the winning students. Bragging rights are a pretty big deal, so you may choose to have it all be for fun. However, you may want to add a small incentive like a piece of candy or special privilege to create higher stakes.

Critiquing can be a chore and students may shy away from meaningful engagement. Luckily, as educators, we have a knack for creativity and thinking in productive ways. Turning the critique into something fun involving teamwork helps build student capacity, understanding, and peer review culture.

How do you run a critique with your students?

What questions do you have about turning a critique into a battle?

Matt Christenson


Matt is a high school visual arts and mural design teacher in San Francisco, CA who strives to cultivate maximum creative potential in all students.


  • Tracy Mathys

    I would love to know more about the typograph/ hand lettering lesson you have posted above!

    • Matt Christenson

      Hello Tracy! Sure thing. What would you like to know? Please feel free to hit me up on my AOE email address as well…

      • Madeline Wright

        I am interested in the typography as well! What was the overall concept? In addition, I cannot wait to do this critique! Thank you so much!

        • Matt Christenson

          Hello Madeline (and hopefully Tracy too)! So this typography piece is what students do in their second or third week of school. Visual Arts is mandatory for all 10th graders where I teach, so many of them come in not liking art and having little confidence/skill levels. I start with a graffiti-inspired unit to engage all students and build their skills. The main concept is to get students to design each letter of the alphabet and each row of the assignment asks them to use different artistic conventions. First row is warm colors, second is cool, third is neutral, fourth with complementary colors, fifth is shifting values, and sixth is one-point perspective. And since we are studying graffiti, all the letters must be “throw” letters (they must be able to fill them in) as opposed to “tag” letters which are line only. Let me know if you have any further questions!

          • Madeline Wright

            What a great assignment! I just tried the critique battle in my class this morning. It went pretty good…Probably not as smooth as your class, but that was more on me than the kids. On the bright side, the students were engaged, used vocabulary and were interested in the feedback! Great first try. I think I may try the typography lesson with my 6th graders. Thanks Matt!

          • Matt Christenson

            Hey Madeline! Alright! That’s exciting and great to hear! You’ll get it more smooth the more you try it out…glad it worked well for you!

  • Elizabeth Harper

    I totally love this idea–and the one for randomly assigning by the draw. Thank you soooo much for sharing this!!!

    • Matt Christenson

      That’s great Elizabeth! So glad it was a useful article!

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  • VSM

    We did our first critique of the year last week in my 2nd -5th grade classes. I supply sentence “frames” similar to the one you give to your students. The one I used last week also stated: Your artwork is similar to mine, because we both have_______. Students place their work in the center of each table (even if it is not finished, because that motivates them to get things done…)and then students rotate around the room and choose 2 pieces to critique. The students leave their critique sheets under the artwork after they have filled in the blanks in the sentence frame. A third critique occurs as we take a “gallery walk” through the hallway display of similar works. The kids LOVE writing and getting messages from school mates! While my students have done critiques of famous works of art for years, I have to admit that I began having students critique each other’s work reluctantly…I jumped in 3 years ago, made it a fun “game,” and I will never stop–I control the parameters, guiding responses with the sentence starters, and when I teach how to write constructive criticism, everyone benefits!

    • Matt Christenson

      Hello VSM! Thank you so much for sharing! Your critique ideas are wonderful! Plus, the “gallery walk” critique style is something I wrote about for an upcoming October article. Seems like you and I have a lot going on in common…

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