Five Steps to Opening a TAB Drawing Center

One of the most common questions I’ve heard from AOE readers about Teaching for Artistic Behavior is, “How do I get started?” There are many resources out there for people who are interested in learning more about TAB and choice centers, (in fact, I’ve listed a bunch below!) but I wanted to demystify the process by sharing my experience. The first center that opens in my TAB classroom is the drawing center.

I wanted to share my five steps to opening that center.

1. Write Yourself a 5-7 Minute Script

I’m guilty of talking too much. There’s so much to say! But if you want to make time for student work, that means there is less time for teacher talk. Keep your demonstration under seven minutes by setting a timer.

When writing your script, remember you don’t have to tell students everything you want to say about drawing in one day. You can rely on one-on-one student interactions, your center’s lesson plan, and your resources to fill in the gaps.

2. Talk About how Artists Generate Ideas

The “grand opening” of the drawing center is all about how artists generate ideas. This will be a common thread students can come back to as they learn to be captains of their own artistic journey.


Discuss the question–What do Artists Draw?

  • Artists draw what they see (observation)
  • Artists draw what they remember (memory)
  • Artists draw what they imagine (imagination)
  • Artists draw what they feel (expression)
  • Artists make marks (experiment)

You may want to show famous examples!


3. Introduce the Space

I begin by introducing students to the layout of the center. I discuss the parameters, available resources, and opportunities my students have. It might sound something like this:

“Here is where small paper lives. The limit for small paper is two pieces per week. Next to it is large paper. The large paper is for art that will last two or more weeks. Over here are drawing books, and here is where you can find reference images. Things you can use for observational drawing, or drawing where you look at an object while you draw it, are here. Everything needs to be returned to its correct place when you’re done.”

4. Demonstrate Materials and Tools

Using an easel and chart paper, I introduce drawing materials with a visual diagram. In the large center circle, I write DRAWING and each line points to a material.


I quickly demonstrate each material’s unique attributes while showing how they work. For example:

“Oil pastels are creamy and blend together when you overlap them.”

“Colored pencils can be dark or light depending on how hard you press.”

“Don’t forget to snap on the marker caps, click.”

5. Make the Center Part of Your Lesson Plan

Because you are only giving five minutes of instruction, your center needs to fill in the gaps.


  • Make the materials and tools accessible and organized.
  • Label materials with photos and words.
  • Create menus of available tools and materials.
  • Display famous artwork for inspiration.
  • Create “how-to” posters or anchor charts for concepts you want students to try.
  • Create a space for observational drawing objects, an image file, and drawing books.


I hope these ideas show you one way to open a drawing center. However, this is not the only way! There is a huge community of TAB teachers sharing out there, so browse TAB resources for drawing center ideas. I’ve listed a number of my favorite resources below. Each provides ideas other teachers have shared that you can adapt for your classroom. And remember, this is just a part of the process–you don’t have to have everything you want on the first day of class!


More Drawing Center Inspiration

Do you have any ideas to share about drawing in a TAB classroom?

 How do you teach drawing?

Kelly Phillips


Kelly teaches elementary TAB in Hopkinton, MA . She strives to create an environment where all students can become independent, self-directed risk-takers.


  • Bowen

    Great job, Very logical.

    • Kelly Phillips

      Thank, Bowen! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Do you teach TAB or choice in your classroom?

  • Amber Bergmann

    Are how to draw books really teaching kids how to draw? I know kids love them but they really aren’t helping to teach students how to take their own observations an break them down into shapes. So often students don’t think about what they’re drawing and if it makes sense (or what requires erasing at later steps) because they’re too focused on following the steps presented. Drawing requires careful observation and reflection to be successful.

    • Kelly Phillips

      Hi Amber,

      Thanks for your response. Yes! My kids who start with drawing books are able to grow in confidence and their ability to notice scale and shapes in objects. Most students who begin with drawing books move to drawing from images and then to objects. It’s amazing to witness the natural progression!

      My kids have lots of resources for drawing:
      1) drawing books
      2) Another is observational drawing objects that they use to set up still lives.
      3) A third is an image file for students to research images of things their interested ( I use images from calendars, magazines, photos etc.)
      4) The last is drawing anchor charts and resources such as 1, 2 and multi-point perspective, optical illusions, etc.

      I’ve found by offering students many different options they can work at the level they are, and build confidence without feeling defeated. I love watching my students learn the benefits and draw-backs of drawing books on their own.

      I appreciate your feedback and am glad to clarify!

  • Chelsea Hayes

    Love the what do artists draw posters. Did you make your own images for those? Thanks for sharing!

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  • Susan Spradling

    Thank you for including a script of what you might say to open a studio, it was very helpful!

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