Curriculum Design

5 Components for a Quality Lesson Plan

student painting and sketching

For many art teachers, lesson planning is an exciting part of building a curriculum. We shine with the autonomy to develop engaging and unique lessons that fluctuate with contemporary practices and shifting mindsets. This can be a challenge, however, when trying to fit within a particular scope and sequence.

For some teachers, lesson planning is a complete drag. It can be a laborious part of teaching to ensure alignment, and you may be solely responsible for a large load of the work. You may prefer to stick with tried-and-true lessons year after year for ease and comfort. While these lessons are usually highly successful, they may lack innovation over the years or relevancy to the times.

When developing lessons that fit within your larger curricula, consider the following:

Do your lessons…

  • contain engaging and relevant content?
  • support technical and conceptual skill building?
  • scaffold skills and concepts over time?
  • provide time for safe practice?
  • horizontally and/or vertically align with your department or district grade levels?
  • introduce new ways of thinking, whether through media exploration, design thinking, or investigative play?
  • support visual meaning-making?
  • connect students with the world beyond the classroom?
  • engage in analyzing and discussing artwork?

That’s a lot to consider every time you write a new lesson! Regardless of where you are in your lesson planning, take a look at these five parts of a lesson to break down these considerations.

images of sketches

1.  Assessment

If you’re writing a lesson from scratch, the first thing you want to consider is “What am I assessing?” While you don’t have to, nor should you, create a polished rubric before you even develop your lesson idea, it’s important to identify the essential standards, key concepts, and skills students should be able to demonstrate.

Limit yourself to 3-5 overarching concepts as the focus of your lesson. Plan to scaffold skills to prepare students for your next lesson or unit. That doesn’t mean you should only teach 3-5 concepts in a lesson. In fact, you will be teaching many different essential concepts and skills to support learning. But when it comes to the actual assessment, choose only the essential areas necessary to demonstrate achievement.

5 Tips for Better Art Assessments

Lessons and assessments must also be aligned with the National Visual Arts Standards. These standards help us consider the larger context of artmaking. While you might not be specifically assessing these standards, the skills and concepts you emphasize should align to support the overarching National Arts Standards.

After you write a lesson, always make an exemplar to ensure what you are assessing is what the lesson is teaching. What makes sense in your head doesn’t always align with what happens when creating occurs. Allow yourself time to rethink, tweak, and clarify your intentions for the lesson. Then, review your assessment criteria to ensure expectations are clear and concise.

How does your lesson…

  • identify targeted essential skills and concepts?
  • align to the National Visual Arts Standards?
  • support development of technical and design skills, critical thinking, and refinement?

2. Technical Skills

Each lesson should have an easily identifiable technical skill(s) students are working to develop. This could be as simple as using a whip stitch to sew two pieces of fabric together or mixing paint for tones, tints, and shades. While the technical skill should not be the sole focus of any one lesson, students need to learn specific and targeted technical skills in each lesson. This builds competency to convey their visual message with clarity and intention.

A Drawing Activity to Build Technical Skills and Creativity

How does your lesson…

  • identify targeted technical skills?
  • scaffold technical skills for more complex learning?
  • include safe practice before application of skill in an artwork?

student drawing portraits

3. Design

Each lesson should support design choices an artist makes. It’s not enough to know how to mix the paint. Artists must also consider the expressive application and how color impacts a composition as a whole. Design includes the Elements of Art and Principles of Design, compositional strategies, and point of view. No matter how you organize these design qualities, students need to make connections with how their artistic choices help make visual meaning.

How does your lesson…

  • identify targeted design concepts?
  • scaffold design concepts for more complex development?
  • include safe practice before application of the concept in an artwork?

4. Critical Thinking

Critical and creative thinking are a natural part of the artmaking process. This includes conceptual ideation and purpose and the actual process of making artistic decisions. When considering which critical thinking skills you want to incorporate or focus on in your lesson, consider visual storytelling, planning and preparation, and artistic decisions made throughout the process.

Visual storytelling and meaning-making are examples of critical and creative thinking. Students have to learn technical and design skills, but they also have to decide how these skills go together to communicate a visual message. Students can demonstrate this through their own artwork or when analyzing other artwork for inspiration.

How does your lesson…

  • support students in visually communicating an idea or visual message of their own?
  • engage students in critically analyzing artwork to help students connect their own pathway?
  • provide opportunities for students to connect artmaking with the world at large?

Critical thinking also encompasses all of the actual artistic decision-making that goes into creating the artwork. This includes planning, taking risks, problem-solving as obstacles pop up, and any artistic choices that impact our overall meaning.

human figure in a brainstorm brainstorm hut

Planning includes brainstorming, research, sketching and creating maquettes, templates, or prototypes, gathering materials, making lists, and scheduling time to create. Throughout the planning process, students have to make decisions and problem-solve as they work through their learning and application of the lesson. Students also make intentional artistic choices about media, design, and display to support their visual message.

How does your lesson…

  • identify and support various ways to ideate and plan?
  • include time and supports to explore, experiment, and take risks?
  • provide opportunities for decision-making?
  • support student choice for critical thinking?

5. Refinement

Refinement includes looking at the overall craftsmanship and clarity of message and the collaborative discussion and self-assessment that takes place to get there. In your lesson planning, make sure to incorporate ways for students to engage in self-reflection and peer assessment.

student painting and sketching

Critique should not only happen at the end of a lesson but throughout the creating process as well.

How does your lesson…

  • incorporate different critique methods to support collaborative discussion?
  • support reflection and self-assessment?
  • practice verbal and written literacy skills?

Lesson planning can feel overwhelming when considering so many moving parts: where to start, what to include, and how to scaffold to prepare students down the road. However, by breaking it down into five main components, you can create a checklist to ensure student success and alignment.

How do you approach lesson planning?

What are your “must-have” lesson components?

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.


Janet Taylor

Janet Taylor, a high school art educator, is also AOEU’s K–12 Content Specialist and a former AOEU Writer. She geeks out about choice-based curriculum, assessment strategies, and equipping new teachers.

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