Relationship Building

How to Reach Uninterested Elementary Students in the Art Room

student with head down

As art teachers, we hope every student is excited about art class. The reality is that some students may seem uninterested in art or reluctant to participate. They may feel insecure about their art skills, or they may be uncomfortable sitting at their specific table or area. Perhaps a student had bad experiences with art in the past. If these issues are not identified, addressed, and resolved, students can easily fall into the apathy trap. Since we want all our students to participate, we need to budget in some planning and strategy!

student drawing

The first step in helping uninterested students succeed in art class is to find the root of the problem.

Before we can find the root of the problem, we need to identify our uninterested students. What can an uninterested student look like?

An uninterested student may:

  • Chat with other students during instruction or studio time.
  • Instigate and distract other students.
  • Fiddle with art supplies.
  • Rush through the activity or artwork.
  • Refuse to participate.
  • Scroll on their electronic device.
  • Find excuses to walk around the room.
  • Wiggle in their seat.
  • Put their head down.
  • Blurt out inappropriate responses.
  • Avoid eye contact.

This list is by no means comprehensive but, it can help you identify students who have lost interest. They may be feeling bored, confused, or uncomfortable. Put yourself in their shoes and ask them one-on-one why they aren’t participating and what you can do to help them. Identifying the root issue will help you eliminate specific barriers that may be in the way.

student with head down

Some common barriers could include:

  • Language
    If your student is having trouble understanding information and communicating, include visuals with your written instructions. For more information on meeting the needs of your ELL students, check out this article.
  • Physical Disability
    Make your art lessons inclusive by creating adaptations from the start. You can purchase adaptive tools like loop spring scissors or special pencil grips. For more information on meeting the needs of your students with physical or cognitive barriers, check out this article.
  • Behavior
    If your student has a hard time self-regulating, consider placing them close to where you stand and present. This way, you can redirect them quickly before they shut down. For more information on de-escalating strategies, see this article
  • Cognitive Disability
    You can adjust the parameters of your art lesson and your instructional design approach for students who may be overwhelmed with information. Consider simplifying content and posting only one project step at a time on the board. See the article above under Physical Disability for more tips.

Here are four ways you can encourage uninterested students in the art room.

1. Provide specific praise.

Tailor praise to be very specific so students know you truly see their effort. For example, “I know you were hesitant about putting your idea on paper and then nervous about sharing it with the group. I appreciate how you pushed through your uncertainty. Now, look at your drawing and how your tablemates supported your vision!” Your students will know you value them and their contributions. This can help students gain positive experiences with art so they are excited to come back!

feedback on artwork

2. Prioritize time to collaborate.

Group art activities can help reel in reluctant students. Working with a partner or in a group can ease the stress of creating something alone. Partner students together to fill in a color wheel. Give your student groups a collection of abstract shapes to create animals out of as a team. Pair students up to create a short comic strip together. Working together can give students a successful experience with art. Plus, the social aspect can make the activity at hand more fun! For more ideas, check out the Pack, Finding Success With Collaboration at the Elementary Level in PRO Learning.

students collaborating on floor

3. Switch it up.

Consider changing up your art class location. Sometimes uninterested students need a new environment. If you can’t leave your classroom, change the space inside to create interest. And if you are unable to transform your classroom, the simplest way to switch it up is to change seating arrangements.

Here are some fun, out-of-the-box ways to switch it up:

  • Try hosting your next art class in front of paintings displayed in the school hallway. Students bring their sketchbooks and spend class time observing peer artwork or famous reproductions.
  • Take the art class to the gymnasium and use the big space to practice figure drawing with expressive poses.
  • Take your students outside to paint the snow on the sidewalks with watercolors.
  • Host an environmental artmaking session on the school’s outdoor grounds.

students looking at art in the hall

4. Connect art to a purpose.

Students often feel uninterested because they see no point or purpose in art. Spark interest by sharing careers with an art element and showcasing a variety of contemporary artists they may recognize. Make real-world connections to create buy-in to art class. When students see a purpose in the art that is part of their world, they are more likely to be interested and participate.

student pointing to artwork

Some students may be reluctant to dive into your art class for a variety of reasons. Identify your students who are not engaged and try to find the root of the problem. Differentiate your instructional strategies to reach as many of your students as you can and complete the feedback loop with specific praise. Consider lessons with collaboration and how you can change the art room environment. Find types of art your students are interested in and show how art can connect to their world. Give these strategies a try to encourage uninterested students to participate and build their confidence in art.

How do you encourage participation from uninterested students?

What engaging techniques have worked for your classroom?

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.


Ishel Brimhall

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