How to Build Confidence With a Student-Centered Drawing Library

student getting something from the library

One of the most frequent questions in any art room is, “How do you draw _______?” When asked, most teachers demonstrate strategies for breaking down complex images into shapes or direct students to a source image to get their ideas flowing. But sometimes, students still feel frustrated or like they’re unable to achieve their vision.

This got me thinking, does the answer to this question need to come from an adult? Aren’t we always looking for opportunities to shift the source of learning and ideas from ourselves to our students? Frequently, students better receive and more easily grasp new information when it comes from a peer.

So why not help your students curate their own drawing library?

Instead of positioning yourself as the only drawing expert in the room, a student-centered drawing library gives your students the opportunity to build confidence and skills. You probably already have how-to-draw books and source imagery in your classroom. Transforming that space into a student-led area is easy.

Here are 4 simple steps to help your students create their own drawing library.

student getting something from the library

1. Create an organizational system your students can use independently.

Three ring binders are ideal because students can easily use a three-hole punch to add their submissions to the library.

student adding a drawing to library

Brainstorm a list of possible themes and assign one to each binder.

Some examples could include:

  • Animals
  • People
  • Buildings or Structures
  • Popular Culture (video games, movies, books, etc…)
  • Patterns, Designs, and Motifs
  • Vehicles

Don’t be too concerned with your initial list because students will edit it almost immediately. My drawing library had only been open for a day when the students notified me that we simply could not continue without binders for monsters and food!

2. Find an inviting place to store the library.

The success of a drawing library hinges on student buy-in. Students must use and contribute to the library in order for it to stay relevant and functional. Place your library on a shelf or in a tub in plain sight offering easy access. This will ensure students feel comfortable participating on a regular basis.


3. Discuss what it means to “curate.”

In order for the library to work, the artwork and images in it must be inspirational for students. Frame it as a location for students’ “best stuff.” Explain, in the art world, curators are picky about what they choose to include in a collection. Emphasize students should only submit drawings they are proud of.

list that explains curating

If you have students who may lack the confidence to participate, point out that younger students are always in awe of what older students produce and would benefit from their drawing insights. Encourage your students to submit their work frequently.

4. Support your students as they build the library.

Make sure you remind students to contribute to and use the library. During class, when you see something you feel would make a great contribution, point it out to the student. If the drawing or technique can’t be easily replicated, consider making a copy. The suggestions will be flattering to your students and help build momentum for the library.

In addition, use the library for source imagery as you do demonstrations for your students. Students will follow your lead and begin to explore and use the library more themselves.

Of course, the library will never replace your drawing expertise in the classroom. However, it will add another resource to help you support your students’ artistic development. My elementary students are really enjoying the creation of our drawing library. The breadth of their submissions based on their own aesthetics makes it an invaluable resource for them. As their teacher, I love seeing students take control of strategies for their own learning!

Have you tried a self-made drawing library, or something similar, in your classroom?

What other strategies do you use for peer teaching?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Lindsey Moss

Lindsey Moss, an elementary school art educator, is AOEU’s Content Specialist and a former AOEU Writer. She enjoys art history and finding creative and fun solutions to educational challenges.

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