3 Awesome Art Challenges for the First Week of School

students working on notecard challenge

Have you been trying to find the perfect back-to-school art activity for your students?

With the school year approaching quickly, why not start the first week with some fun, engaging art challenges?

Art challenges are a great way to get your students working together and thinking outside the box. They keep things interesting for you and your students that first week of school.

Art challenges are also a great way to practice art room routines and expectations. The first few class periods are the perfect time to clear up any confusion and redirect or reteach as needed.

Finally, while art challenges can be done individually or in groups, I like to make sure my first set can be done in groups. It’s a nice way for students to get to know each other.

Check out these 3 art challenges that will engage your students and get your year started off right!

1. The Collaborative Portrait Challenge

collaborative portrait

This challenge works for almost any age level. I would recommend it for 1st grade and up. It’s a fun challenge to get your students collaborating right away.


Create a portrait by taking turns drawing facial features with your group in the allotted amount of time given.


  • 9″ x 12″ (or smaller) drawing paper
  • Drawing materials like pencils or markers


  1. Read the challenge to your students. Make sure they understand that one person will start the drawing and they will continue to pass around the paper and add facial features until the portrait is complete.
  2. Put your students into groups of three to four students.
  3. Give each group one sheet of drawing paper and a drawing utensil.
  4. Share the time allotted for the activity. I would recommend four to six minutes. You can vary the time once you see how your students respond. If they are finishing early, give your next class less time.
  5. Be sure to give your students a one-minute warning so they can finish up.
  6. Have students share their results with the class. If you want to diver deeper, ask students to share what was easy about the challenge and what they found challenging.
  7. You can later display the results in class or on your bulletin boards with an explanation of the activity.
  8. To add an extra challenge, have your students name their character. The catch is that they must do so collaboratively, each adding one letter at a time.

You should get a wide range of fun results. If you noticed, the challenge just asks students to create a portrait. So, it is possible that the portrait may end up non-human which is just fine. Students may use their imaginations to make something besides a human such as an animal, alien, or monster. The AOEU team did this challenge at a retreat with our keynote speaker, Mike Wagner. It was so much fun, and we were all engaged! Your students will be, too.

2. The Note Card Structure Challenge

students working on notecard challenge

This is a great hands-on activity that allows your students to collaborate with their classmates. This challenge works well for 3rd through 12th grade students.


Design a self-supporting structure using only note cards and the allotted amount of tape. The structure should be at least twelve inches tall.


  • Notecards
    You can use all the same size or vary the size. White notecards work fine, but the colorful ones add an extra element of fun.
  • Tape
    Scotch tape and masking tape both work well. Be sure to give each group the same amount.
  • Ruler


  1. Read the challenge to the students and make sure they don’t have any questions. Students need to understand they only get a certain amount of note cards and tape.
  2. Put students into groups, so each group has the same number of students.
  3. Give students the materials for the challenge.
  4. Tell students the challenge is over when a group creates a self-supporting structure that is twelve inches tall. You will also want a time limit. If the time limit is reached without a group hitting twelve inches, the group with the tallest structure wins.
  5. Let the students create their structures.
  6. After the challenge, allow students to share their structures. If time allows, discuss how students felt about the collaborative process.
  7. Students can choose a member to take the structure home, or you can display it.

3. The Classroom Culture Collage

classroom culture collage

This challenge will have your students thinking outside the box. At the same time, it will help them think about the classroom environment that works best for them. This challenge works well for 1st grade and up. You can modify it for kindergarten by using only drawing materials.


Create a collage that embodies what you want and expect out of our classroom environment. You can use words and images to get your point across within the time limitation.


  • Construction paper (9″x12″ or 12″x18″ work well)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Old magazines
  • Drawing media such as crayons, colored pencils, markers, and Sharpies


  1. Read the challenge to your students. Make sure students understand that they are going to create a collage that displays and shares what is important to them in a classroom. They can incorporate text by finding letters or words in magazines or by adding them with drawing materials. Before they begin, you may have a discussion where you brainstorm about a few things like mutual respect and engaging lessons.
  2. Divide your students into groups.
  3. Give your students the materials they need or allow them access to necessary supplies. This way you can see if they are following procedures, too.
  4. Give students time to make their collages.
  5. Make sure that you leave about ten minutes of sharing time at the end. This way students can see what is important to their peers and you can take notes on what your students find important in a classroom.
  6. Keep the finished collages for your records or put them out for display.

This is a fun challenge that also helps you understand the needs of your students. It’s a win-win!

All in all, starting off the year with art challenges in your classroom is a great way to get your students off to a fun, engaging start and build a positive classroom culture. Ready or not, the first day is coming!

What art challenges have you done the first week of school?

Which art challenge would you like to try the most?

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.


Wynita Harmon

Wynita Harmon is AOEU’s Chair of Faculty Development and a former AOEU Writer and elementary school art educator.

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