Relationship Building

How to Get Your Middle School Students to Talk About Art

one word game

Isn’t it funny that you can have a group of middle school students who talk the entire class, but the second you ask them to critique or discuss an artwork they’re silent? This scenario is a common occurrence in a middle school art room. It’s not that your students don’t have anything to say, sometimes they just don’t know how to say it. Students can get caught up in the opinions of their peers which makes them reluctant to share what they really think.

But, your middle schoolers do have thoughts and great ideas to share when it comes to discussing artwork. With the right guidance and practice, you will be amazed by the raw explanations and observations they develop.

Here are 4 ways you can try to get your middle schoolers engaged and talking about art.

1. Play a Game

Learning can be fascinating when it turns into a game. Adding a little competition and fun can make your students start talking about art. One of my favorite games to play is the “One Word Game.” To play, students are given a handful of cards with descriptor words on them. Students rotate around the room to different artwork stations. This can be done with artist prints or student artworks.

one word game

At each station, there is a new judge from the group, similar to the way Apples to Apples works. The students lay down the descriptor cards and then have to explain why they played that card. After the explanation, the judge awards the winner and collects the descriptor cards. The person with the most descriptor cards wins the game.

2. Incorporate Technology

student with ipad

Using technology is another great way for students to discuss artwork. Having students create hands-on projects using Makey-Makey devices is a great place to start. Students can also use online resources by putting together a presentation or other multi-media modes of communicating their message. Using QR codes, students can share their ideas, findings, and research with others.

3. Let them Write

Writing in art, why? This might be a common response when students are asked to write an artist statement or reflect on the work they have created. In all actuality, most of your students would rather write these ideas down than share them out loud. The key is to make it a habit for your students. After each project, make the reflection process part of the assessment.

student writing

The key is to ask leading questions that will make your students stop and think about the work they’ve done. Questions as simple as “What is the message of your artwork?” or “Why is this message important to you?” will allow your students to communicate about their work through effective writing practices.

4. Make it Relevant

It’s simple, if your middle school students don’t care about what they are doing, they will not put in the effort. Sometimes talking about art history can be boring. It is essential to find artists and artworks to which your students can relate. Whether you’re talking about the old masters or contemporary artists, pointing out an interesting fact or story will help them feel a connection.

Discussing artwork with students does not have to be challenging. It’s all about how you approach it with your students. Finding ways to increase student interest will deepen the amount of conversation in your classroom.

What is your favorite way to talk about artwork?

How do you get your students to open up when discussing art?

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.


Abby Schukei

Abby Schukei, a middle school art educator and AOEU’s Social Media Manager, is a former AOEU Writer. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.

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