Classroom Management

Ideas for Art Room Games (Ep. 331)

Requests have been coming in for Tim to do an episode on games, and today, he delivers. Whether you’re looking for student engagement at the beginning of the school year or needing ideas to repeat throughout the semester, this episode has you covered. Listen as Tim discusses some of his favorite games to play, how those games can develop a positive environment and classroom community, and how you can have fun reinforcing learning throughout the year. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Our podcast today is going to be about games in the art room. Now in recent weeks, we’ve done a couple of episodes, about the beginning of the year, which people seem to have found really helpful so I appreciate all of your feedback on that. Anytime you’re going to just shoot me an email, hit me up on Twitter and let me know what you’re enjoying, what kind of episodes you want to see, I always appreciate that. But I’ve had lots of requests for an episode about games in the art room so we’re going to do that today and I want to cover some of my favorite games to play in the art room, share some other ideas from a few other people at AOEU and give you some resources so that you can explore a little bit more and find the games that are going to work for you and your students.

So let’s start with just the idea of games in the art room. Why are games important? What can they do for our kids in the art room? There are a lot of things. I find games incredibly appealing for kids, they’re very engaging and it’s a great way to get kids started, especially if you’re right at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, a lot of teachers are doing really boring things the first few weeks of school. If you can change that up, that’s going to be really motivating to your kids. So I think the more fun you can have, the more you can do interesting things, the more that sets a positive tone and creates a positive environment that’s going to pay benefits down the road, that’s going to be good for your kids all throughout the year.

We talk a lot on this podcast about building community and creating an environment where kids want to be like … well, they want to be present in your art room and games are a great way to do that. They can help kids feel more comfortable. They can help kids create connections with the other students in that class, with you. Those should be big goals for the beginning of the year. Then throughout the year, you can use games to introduce learning, to reinforce learning, and you can have a lot of fun with them, no matter what you do. So if you try a game out and want to repeat it later on, that can be worthwhile. Maybe a good drawing game serves as a warmup, as long as it continues to be interesting for your kids. But there’s so many things that you can try, you can explore, you can experiment with.A lot of games can do a lot of good things for you.

So what games do we want to play? What kind of things do kids enjoy? What do I enjoy as a teacher sharing with my students? I think a big one that always seems to be a winner not only for me, I love teaching this, but almost every group I’ve ever taught has enjoyed this and it’s the exquisite corpse drawing. Obviously not an original idea, that goes all the way back to this surrealists, but basically all you do is fold the paper into three parts. You have a top third, middle third, bottom third, and then you draw three different parts of the body for a creature. You do them one at a time. I’ve done this with, oh, I think almost every grade, probably first or second grade, all the way up through university students. Everyone loves to do exquisite corpse drawing.

So here’s what you do if you’re not familiar with it. Basically you have students hold their paper vertically, fold it into three equal sections and then you’re going to keep it folded so you can only view the top section. You give them however long you want to give them, whether that’s a minute, three minutes, five minutes, depending on how detailed you want to do these things and set a time limit and then have them draw the head of the creature. So that top third is going to be filled with the head of whatever creature you may have. Sometimes I’ll give them a prompt, like what is the weirdest head you could imagine, or what is a very strange shape for a head?

Maybe it has really strange proportions. Maybe you’re adding or subtracting different facial features. Maybe you’re really enhancing some facial features. Then you can also add details. Do you want some wild hair? Do you want some jewelry? Do you want scales? Feathers? Who knows? Who knows what you’re going to add to it? But let your kids get really creative. Then what I have them do when the time is up is fold that up so the head cannot be seen, we can only see the middle part of the paper now, that middle third. Sometimes if you want these to line up a little bit better, I have people draw two lines down where the neck eye is. So on the middle section, you just see two lines coming down and then the next person to get the paper knows that’s where the neck starts.

But the original drawing, the head is hidden and all people see is the middle third, maybe with those two lines, and then it passes on to somebody new, somebody who hopefully hasn’t seen what’s going on. You can figure out the best way, the logistics of how to pass papers. But somebody new will take that paper. Make sure they don’t look at it, it’s important that we have a surprise here, then you restart that timer for however many minutes you’re going to give them and you take those lines from the neck and you draw the torso. You can add clothes, you can add arms, you can add wings, you can add weird textures. Maybe they have six arms. You have no idea. Just let kids get creative, let kids have fun with that and you’re good.

Then they go ahead and when they are done, when that timer is done, fold it again so just the bottom third is visible now. Start your timer again and then you can say you can draw the legs, or if you want to be more general just say, how do they get around? Or what is their method of transportation? So maybe it’s legs, but maybe it’s wheels, or maybe they’re on a hover board, or maybe they have tentacles. You have no idea what kids are going to come up with, but just give them then that freedom to create and freedom to do fun things and you’ll get some really, really cool ideas. Then once that’s done, once the timer goes up, everybody unfold the papers at once and it’s just the greatest reaction as kids not only see the full drawing, but then they can go around and find their original drawings or the ones they contributed to.

It can get a little crazy when kids are seeing those drawings and reacting to those drawings, but it’s all in really good fun. I think it’s something that students always enjoy doing. So exquisite corpse can be great as an icebreaker at the beginning of the year. It works very well. It’s simple. There’s not a lot of pressure to create beautiful drawings, which a lot of kids think they need to do, and just have fun with it, enjoy it, and create a cool drawing with some of the people in your class. But it can also be a great warmup. Anytime you’re doing drawing, whether it’s portraits figure drawing, especially, but any kind of illustration or any kind of drawing, it can serve as a great warmup. So if your kids really like that, maybe keep that in your back pocket to use it a couple times throughout the semester, throughout the year.

Next game I really like is called What’s in the Bag and basically it’s another creativity exercise where kids have a bag of predetermined materials and a prompt, and it usually works best in groups. But basically I just put a bunch of stuff inside a paper bag. It could be paper, found objects, cardboard, recyclables, maybe a little bit of clay, just whatever you have on hand. You don’t need to worry too much about what’s inside, just whatever extra materials you have lying around and then just talk to kids about, “We’re working in groups, everybody needs to participate, you have to use everything from the bag. Your sculpture needs to not fall apart. We need to be able to pick it up and move it. You have X amount of minutes.” Just lay out whatever expectations you have.

Then each group gets their bag and you have some prompts that are on paper strips. You can pass them out., You can have them draw at random, but any kind of prompts are fine. Like, I don’t know, make a creature that is able to move, make a wild hat that fits on one of your team members’ heads, make your own version of the Mona Lisa, create some other kind of portrait, turn this into a food. Whatever you want to do, find any kind list of prompts, create a list of prompts on your own. It works very well, but just like I said, either pass them out or have kids draw them at random, give them whatever other community materials that you might need, tape, glue, scissors, whatever else you want to provide to help them create, give them their time limit, let them go. They can usually create some really, really cool things.

Then when you’re done, it’s great to talk about what you created. Not only the aesthetics of it, but talking about the process, about the methods of putting that all together, everything that they need to do, and it can be a really, really good learning experience.

All right. A couple other really cool drawing ideas that I love that are fun games, simple to do, I love to do a collaborative drawing where you work in teams again and give them a huge sheet of paper. I like to do three foot by five foot, especially for my advanced classes, but honestly you can do it with any size of paper. You can do it 12 by 18, 18 by 24, whatever you have. But they get that sheet of paper and then they have a sealed envelope. Then each envelope contains a copy of some random painting or photograph or drawing from art history, and then each group can use whatever materials they want, whatever’s available to recreate that artwork to the best of their ability.

So you give them however many minutes you need with whatever drawing materials you have, and they just need to recreate that painting, that drawing, a picture of a sculpture or a photograph, whatever you have, and they recreate that to the best of their ability. Again, that leads to some fantastic discussions when it comes to process, when it comes to end product and what they are creating. Another very simple game that’s a lot of fun to do is blind drawing. Again, you can work in pairs for this one, but you give kids an image, whatever you want it to be, and they have to describe that image to their partner who then draws it. So the first team member cannot look at the drawing that’s being created and the second team member cannot look at the image that they’re trying to draw.

So it creates a little sense of urgency there, a little bit of stress, but once they figure out a good method of communication and get that worked out, it can be a really fun, really collaborative drawing thing. So I just call that blind drawing, but again, just give them an image. One student needs to describe it, the other one needs to draw it and they cannot look at what each other are doing while that is happening. So that’s a really fun one, a really simple one and increases communication skills. It’s a lot of fun for students and they’ll really like that one.

So a new idea that I had not seen before, to be honest, but really, really liked, this actually came from Andrea Wlodarczyk. She had an article that came out just last week, I think, called Six Exhilarating Classroom Management Games You’ll Want To Play in the Art Room and she had a game in there called Art Heads. Maybe I’m missing out, maybe I was not familiar with this game and everybody else is, but I thought it was really cool. This is the first time I had seen it. Basically kids are putting their sketchbook or their paper on their own head and then trying to draw a piece of paper that’s on top of their head. So I thought that was a great way to think about and introduce contour drawing, blind contour, and doing some really interesting, really fun, really challenging stuff with it.

So basically her suggestion was to create a slide show of line drawings that become a little more complex each time, just one drawing per slide, and then kids grab their sketchbook, they’re drawing, whatever they’re going to have and put it on top of their heads. You give them however long you want, maybe 20, 30 seconds for simple ones, maybe a minute, minute and a half for something longer. Then markers work well, so you can get some bold lines as long as they’re not marking on their heads, but you can have them just say, “Hey, look at this first image, try and recreate the image without looking at their drawing.” Their papers up on top of their head so they can’t look at it, but they try and recreate that drawing that they’re seeing on the screen that you’re projecting.

Andrea talks in the article about having judges, the logistics, the system that goes with that, and you can figure out what works best for you. But I thought that was a really, really fun idea. I can see kids getting a little bit frustrated with it, but for the most part, I think that’s going to be an interesting challenge and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. They’re going to love sharing their drawings and sharing what they are creating and talking about how difficult that was for them.

Then just a good brainstorming game that I like. This is one that you can use, again, throughout the year. It’s called Last Artist Standing and basically it’s a big brainstorming session, but in a really fun way, helping kids brainstorm, helping them come up with creative ideas rapidly, coming up with ideas quickly. So you can do this with a small group. You can do this with an entire class, but you’ll give them a prompt. We have a billion lists of prompts available on AOEU, so check one of those out, come up with your own, whatever you want to do. But basically you have all the students stand up and then each student who is standing up has three seconds to give an original response. So let’s just say types of food and the first kid says cheeseburger and the second kid says pizza and then the third kid says cheesecake and then the fourth kid has no idea and so they sit down, and you keep going around the room.

If you give an original response, you have to keep standing up. If you do not have an answer or you copy what someone else said, you sit down and you keep going until there’s just one student left. We’re not judging the value of their answers. We’re not saying, “Oh, this is good, this is bad.” We’re just throwing everything out there. Cliche, but no bad ideas in a brainstorm. You give kids the permission to come up with all sorts of different things. Those brainstorming activities can be beneficial because kids struggle with that sometimes. So if you just sort of put them on autopilot, they don’t put a lot of pressure on themselves and they can just come up with ideas quickly, rapidly, and keep going. That a lot of times can help them move beyond their original ideas, move beyond what they first started with and see how there are so many ideas out there. If you can do that with a group effort, that can be really, really helpful, can teach them a lot.

Then one last game I really like, a lot of teachers do color matching games and it’s fun to mix paint to try and match colors accurately. Abby [inaudible 00:18:00] did a great article, designed an entire game. I think it was when she was taking the studio painting class from AOEU, but she had a game called Color Rush, which is the same concept, but she does a great job with logistics, putting together, making it easy to introduce to your students. You can do it individually, but it’s a lot more fun to do it in groups, two, three, four, five kids, however you want to do that. But if you are working in teams, have each kid mix their own colors while collaborating with their teammates.

So you have your color cards, preferably ones that you’ve created with the paint that’s in your room, so your kids are doing the same thing, but if you just have paint swatches from the hardware store, you can survive with that too. You’ll pass out the color cards, all the same colors to each team, then you can set your timer, three minutes, five minutes, seven minutes, however long you want to give them, and be adaptable too. If you give them six minutes but they’re done in three, give them three, three and a half for the next one. But they’ll take that color card and then they will use their own paint colors on whatever palettes you have to try and match that color as exactly as possible. When the timer goes off, color mixing has to stop, and then students choose the most accurate color from the group to paint on the color mixing sheet. If they’re not coming close, they don’t feel like they have it, maybe student A combines with student B real quick, and they use that color to put on the color chart and match.

Then if you want to make it competitive, you can award points to the teams that most accurately match the color. But there’s an article by Abby that we’ll link to that includes downloads for the game rules and the color mixing sheet that you can use in your classroom. Like I said, she does a great job of logistics, teaching you how to introduce it to your students, and she’d done all the tough work for you. You just need to come up with the color sheets and the supplies, put it all together. So that’s an excellent one as well.

Then I guess before I wrap it up here, I would encourage you if you’re a pro member to check out the pro pack from Lindsay Moss, it’s called Games in the Art Room and we will link to that as well. She talks about a couple of those things in there. I think the Last Artist Standing is in there and maybe one other game that I talked about today, but she has so many more there. Games for classroom management, games for vocabulary, games for creativity, for art history. So much more. She has a good guide, I think, that works for everybody that talks about what you need to do to make sure that your games are successful. So this will be kind of the idea that I leave you with is just to think about the logistics of what you’re trying to do and make sure that things stay under control in your room, make sure that your kids are getting what you want them to out of the game.

So basically just start with figuring out what standards, what objectives your game is going to meet. Maybe your objective is just for kids to enjoy drawing and communicate with their classmates. That’s fine. Maybe you’re meeting standard whatever that is part of your curriculum. It’s up to you. But it’s important that you communicate those objectives to your students before playing and just talk about, “Hey, these are the things I want you to get out of this game,” and then at the end if you have time or make the time to have a review and make sure that learning sticks. Talk about how your game met the objectives or met the standards, whatever your goal was, share that with your kids and make sure that they meant that as well.

But a couple other tips; just make sure that things stay structured and organized, prep your supplies beforehand, get students into teams before you start. If the game is working well, keep playing. You can bring those back, like I talked about, in rotation. If you’re using similar games again and again as drawing warmups or just as brain breaks or however you’re using them, it’s nice to not have to explain things over and over again, if you’re playing games that the kids are familiar with. Figure out how everybody can participate. You may need to assign different group roles as far as figuring out who maybe can do some leadership things, who can be a facilitator, who can coach the team, who can manage the materials and just make sure that everybody has a part to play, make sure that they are participating in the game.

Then make sure that there’s a time limit on things and communicate that to your students. If you’re able to communicate those limits and not only add some structure, but students are going to be aware of when it’s time to transfer to something new. That makes that transition so much easier. So if you can say, “Hey, we’re going to do this game for 10 minutes before we get into our figure drawing,” something like that can be incredibly helpful for your classroom management.

So just some things to keep in mind as you’re figuring out what games might work for you and what games you may want to start the year with here. Even if you have started your year already, it’s never too late to play some games. Like I said, they’re motivating, they’re engaging and games do a great job of building community, helping kids connect, helping you create an environment where your kids want to be. That’s ongoing work. That’s something that you should be doing all year long. So I can’t recommend enough that every once in a while you take a break, play some games and do some fun things that are going to benefit you, benefit your kids and benefit your classroom as a whole.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening. I hope you’re able to take some of these ideas from today, get them into your classroom. Like I said, we’ll link to all sorts of resources for you so we can check that out. I think we’re going to be talking about the university and some exciting new stuff in the coming week, so look out for that soon. We’ll talk to you later.

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.