Many students are intrinsically motivated to work on their art, especially in choice-based classrooms. However, there will always be some students who struggle to find motivation. If expanding the amount of choice in your curriculum doesn’t increase participation as much as you would like, try tapping into students’ competitiveness. You may find yourself smiling at their change in demeanor as they encourage each other to step it up!
Check out three games to try out in your classroom to engage your students’ competitive nature.
1. Art Olympics
Play Art Olympics when students need an extra dose of fun or an engaging activity before or after a break from school. It reminds students of the art class’s collaborative, fun, and challenging nature. It requires students to think outside the box while helping you use up miscellaneous leftover supplies. Useful supplies can include things like pipe cleaners, cupcake liners, beads, and sponges.
In addition to these items, select mediums to fit the round’s theme. For example, the requirement for Round 1 is to make a two-dimensional artwork using dry mediums. You can give students charcoal or chalk pastels in addition to the mystery items in their bags. Whatever hodgepodge mediums and supplies you have will work, but keep in mind that the students have to use every item in the bag in some way!
- Nine paper bags per class:
Four bags with supplies to make a two-dimensional artwork using dry mediums, labeled “Round 1”
Three bags with supplies to make a two-dimensional artwork using wet mediums, labeled “Round 2”
Two bags with supplies to make a three-dimensional artwork, labeled “Round 3”
- Leftover art supplies to put in the paper bags
- General supplies, such as scissors, glue, and paper
Tip: If you don’t have enough supplies or time for three rounds, don’t sweat it! Cut the game down to two rounds.
How to Play:
Round 1: (Two-Dimensional Dry Mediums)
- Divide the class into four groups.
- Give each group a Round 1 bag.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Students create a two-dimensional artwork using only the dry mediums in the bag.
- Students present their artwork to the class and explain how they used each item in the bag.
- The guest judge decides which three groups will move on to the next round.
Round 2: (Two-Dimensional Wet Mediums)
- Give the remaining three groups their Round 2 bags and a palette of paint in only the primary colors. Challenge your students this round by not providing paintbrushes. Let them come up with creative ways to apply the paint!
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Students make another two-dimensional artwork from the items in their bags.
- The eliminated group from Round 1 declares which two groups have the best color scheme and will move on to the final round.
Tip: During Round 2, the eliminated group acts as sportscasters, commentating on what the other groups are doing. They also get to act as judges to determine which two groups move on to the final round. It keeps all students involved and eliminates the potential to get into trouble during downtime.
Round 3: (Three-Dimensional Dry Mediums)
- Pass out the Round 3 bags.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Students make the tallest sculpture possible with their mystery materials. The sculpture has to balance on its own, and the tallest sculpture to do so wins the game!
- Measure the sculptures and declare the winner.
2. Cupcake Decorating Contest
Disclaimer: Adhere to your district and school’s food and allergy guidelines.
This competition does take some preparation time at home, but it’s always a hit with the students. Make or purchase undecorated cupcakes and bring them to class. For the contest, the students will decorate the cupcakes. Remember, just because it’s a competition doesn’t mean it isn’t art related! Give the students icing in only the three primary colors. Show them how to mix the icing to get secondary colors. To take it a step further, you can also show them how to pipe icing using plastic bags and icing tips.
Leave 15 minutes at the end of class for a guest judge to decide the winners in two categories: best technique and most creative. Announce the winners and invite everyone to eat their cupcakes! This competition is great because everyone gets the treat of eating their cupcake in the end, so they all feel like winners.
Tip 1: Take this opportunity to talk about a cake decorating career. Bonus points if you bring in a professional cake decorator to give the students tips and answer questions about their career!
Tip 2: Parcel out the icing in advance. Give each table a set amount of each icing color so everyone gets equal amounts.
Tip 3: Leave plenty of time to eat and clean up at the end of class. You will be sweeping up sprinkles for days if you don’t leave time for a thorough cleaning before the next class!
3. Ceramic Planter Competition
The closer to summer it gets, the more antsy students become. This is usually a good time to pull out the clay. Even high school students enjoy the childlike, tactile nature of clay. Students will create a non-traditional vase or planter. As long as it can hold a flower or plant, it can be whatever they want! Line the hallway outside of the classroom with the final planters and have passersby vote on their favorite.
This is a great competition to do with any artwork. Display any project and let it serve the dual purpose of decorating the hallways and engaging the rest of the school with what’s happening in your art room.
Tip: Close voting after one or two days. Keep the voting box where you can see it from your classroom or only put it out between classes to minimize the chances of students trying to vote more than once. If you are tech-savvy, students can cast their vote online with a QR code.
For more art room games, check out these four resources:
- 6 Games Perfect for the Art Room
- Games in the Art Room Pack in PRO Learning
- “Ideas for Art Room Games (Podcast Ep. 331)”
- 6 Exhilarating Classroom Management Games You’ll Want to Play in the Art Room
How do I make the most out of competition in the art room?
While games are fun and engaging, they can have many more benefits with careful planning. These benefits include increased learning capacity, positive exposure of your classroom to administrators, and marketing your program to students outside of your class.
Here are four ways to make the most out of classroom competitions.
1. Base games on objectives.
It sounds like a buzzkill, but determine the winners by the lesson’s objectives. Students should know what those objectives are before the competition begins. For example, judge the Cupcake Decorating Contest on the execution of the piping techniques you taught at the beginning of the class. Or, the ultimate winners of the Art Olympics are the ones who best demonstrated the principle of balance.
If multiple people are voting on the winners, such as with the Ceramic Planter Competition, provide categories that align with the objectives. For example, if the objective of the game is to demonstrate color theory, one category can be “the most effective color scheme.” Objectives don’t have to kill the joy of the game, though! In fact, the students often take on the challenge of meeting the objectives when there’s a competition at stake.
2. Choose judges intentionally.
Students have their artwork evaluated by their art teacher regularly. These competitions are great opportunities for students to have their artwork assessed by someone else. These guest judges can be anyone from another teacher to a guest speaker. You can even include the administration as judges to give them a glimpse into what’s happening inside your classroom. Whoever your guest judge may be, make sure to tell them what criteria to use to determine the winner.
3. Plan prizes.
Competition implies there will be winners. Inevitably students will ask, “What do we get if we win?” Prizes don’t have to be big; sometimes, they can be a few extra credit points or a small piece of candy. Other times, you can tell the students their prize is bragging rights! Listen to the students’ suggestions for prizes but don’t be afraid to tell them when something isn’t doable.
4. Use competition sparingly.
Studies show that while competition does increase motivation, too much competition can also be detrimental to students’ mental health. To combat this, pair competition with cooperation. As with most motivational approaches, competition shouldn’t dominate the art room. Have students work in teams when possible so a loss doesn’t feel like an individual failure.
Those who love competition will ask for it, and you can fuel this motivation through individual challenges. For example, if students have worked diligently on a project and are asking for more time, tell them they can have an extra day if a volunteer from the class can shoot three pieces of trash into the trash can from ten feet away. Your classroom gets a little cleaner, the athletes in your class get pumped up at the chance to be the heroes, and the whole class (usually) gets what they want without everyone having to compete. It also lets your class know you will reward them for working diligently. If they’re asking for more time because they haven’t used it wisely, let them know that competing for an extended due date isn’t an option at this time.
Competition is a useful educational tool. Many games, like Art Olympics, the Cupcake Decorating Contest, and the Ceramic Planter Competition, increase engagement and tap into students’ competitive nature. Align these games with lesson objectives, and you have the added benefit of your students learning as they play. Get the most out of competitions by choosing a variety of judges and being upfront about prizes. Use competition wisely so it becomes an effective learning tool in your classroom!
Do you think competition is an effective learning tool?
What are your favorite art room competitions?
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.