Archives for category: Art Journals


I love this time of year! This season of magnificent color presents an exciting opportunity for students to notice and record what they observe happening around them. If your students aren’t already keeping “art journals”, I suggest that now is the time to have them start! You can read my earlier posts about the ease of setting up and using art journals here, here, and here. There’s also a post here about observational drawing that you might find helpful.

My proposal is simple. Have your students observe leaves, one at a time — over time — as they change colors throughout the fall. While many different approaches are possible, I would suggest that you begin by simply having them each select one leaf to bring into the classroom. For this first observation, I would encourage you to suggest that they look for leaves that are primarily green. You might say something like, “We’re going to go outside (to some specific area) and spend just a few minutes while you each find one green leaf to bring back inside our classroom.” This sets a few basic parameters as well as your expectations: A) we will all be staying in the same area together, and B) we will be spending a very short amount of time doing this.

Once back inside, the process of carefully observing their leaves can begin. (Having each student set his or her leaf on a small, pre-cut square of black or white construction paper will help simplify the background, and will make each leaf seem “special” as if on display.) I would not have any pencils or paper out at this time to help focus their attention on their leaves only, and on LOOKING. Oral language and sharing would be great here… what do they see? Students can share their observations with a neighbor. Perhaps you could make a list of class observations. Vocabulary words like line, form, shape, color, and texture can be introduced or reinforced.

When it’s time to draw, journals/paper, pencils, erasers, color pencils, crayons and anything else you might make available can be distributed and the drawing can begin. You might encourage your students to draw one large image, or perhaps you might encourage them to draw several smaller images — or “studies” — of the same leaf from different angles. (This is great for those students who always finish at light speed! Ask them to move their leaf and take another look at it from this different angle.) Most of all, encourage them to take their time, to slow down, and to really look at what makes their particular leaf special and unique. The trick to observational drawing is to actually draw what you see in front of you, not what you THINK you see. Every child in your class has seen a leaf, and generally knows what leaves look like, but today you want them to do the best drawing they can of the particular leaf that is right in front of them.

If you have the time and the inclination, you might attach a writing component to this activity, having students describe what they see, or perhaps how they felt looking at their leaf and trying to draw it, or maybe even compose a poem about it. This writing could be as structured or as “free form” as you want it to be. The writing and drawings can be shared aloud with a partner and/or with the class. Another idea is to have everyone leave their journal open on their desk (or their paper out) and everyone moves around the room doing a “journal walk” or “gallery walk” to enjoy everyone’s work. (If this type of activity is new for your students, you might need to spend some time talking about how important it is to value all efforts, and to stick to constructive comments.)

As you notice the leaves changing colors over the next several days or weeks, explore this same process all over again, but this time you will encourage your students to select leaves that are say, yellow. Maybe a few days or weeks after that, everyone will select red leaves. Reinforce for your students how amazing it is that while you are returning to the same area over and over again for leaves, they have changed color dramatically.

This simple, multi-step journaling practice can be repeated using a multitude of subjects, some of which include growing plants, trees budding out in the spring, or something rotting like a small piece of fruit — kids LOVE the gross-out factor of this last one! Once kids get the hang of what you expect from them out of this process, this type of drawing can even be something that your students can do independently like at a station or center, or perhaps when other work has been finished. When practiced frequently, observational drawing is so much more than an art exercise for students, but rather it becomes a thoughtful, meaningful way of viewing, thinking about, and of understanding their world.


IMG_1816In northern California where I live, May has arrived with an explosion of flowers. If this is true where you are too, why not take your students outside to enjoy some of nature’s splendor? Help your children really slow down and see the spectacular colors, the interesting textures, and the wide variety of shapes that spring flowers have to offer.

IMG_1819After some careful observation, consider giving them about 15 minutes or so to carefully draw what they see. Have them focus in on one small area. If your students already have sketchbooks, that’s great! If not, a sheet of plain while copy paper held on top of a book for support will work just fine. Don’t make it complicated… just don’t miss this opportunity to teach your students the simple joy of slowing down and really seeing the beauty of the world around them.

IMG_1820If winter-like weather is still in full swing where you live, bring a small potted flower or two into your classroom for your children to observe and draw. This small bit of color and cheer will help you all be patient as you look forward to warmer weather that should certainly arrive soon.

Like the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”. In so many ways, this wonderful season is especially beautiful, and I encourage you to take a few moments when you can, just to notice it. Really look around you right now. This time of year is heavy on the sparkle and glitter, the warm glow of candles, the riot of color, pattern, and texture. Savor it. Let your eyes just drink it all in. And while you’re at it, why not help your children and students notice this bounty of beauty as well? Amid all the hustle and bustle, show the children in your life how easy — and rewarding — it can be to just stop for a moment, take notice, and enjoy.

In the classroom, this type of “visual study” could be the jumping off point for some very meaningful writing, whether it be reflecting on past holidays, thinking about wishes for the future, or writing about what’s going on right now. Maybe it could be a piece of descriptive writing, filled with as many adjectives and details as possible. Observing something thoughtfully, and then drawing it as carefully and as accurately as possible, is also another worthwhile experience. (This is especially good for quieting down energized little ones while helping improve their focus too.)

Teachers: don’t forget that winter is the perfect time to sign up for professional development courses! The art classes I teach are affordable and convenient — and you have up to one year to finish your course work! Picture yourself… hot cocoa in hand, with warm slippers on your feet, earning 3 units of graduate credit in the cozy comfort of your own home… Click here to find out more.  🙂

Here’s a fun way to engage your students’ powers of critical thinking while allowing them to explore their individuality and creativity at the same time. The “Secret Door Ornament” is a lesson that works for virtually any grade level, is easy to present to your students, and uses materials you probably already have on hand at home or in your classroom.

You will need the following: construction paper in a variety of colors, glue or paste or rubber cement, crayons and/or markers, tape, scissors, and old magazines. Optional items could include things such as yarn, glitter, buttons, brads, cotton balls, rubber stamps, sticker dots, and more.

Depending on the age of your students, you will want to either have large ornament shapes pre-cut, or allow your students to draw and cut out their own shapes. (I would suggest using 9X12 or 12X18 inch construction paper for this.) Invite the children to decorate their ornaments any way they like using any materials you have available for them. For older students, expectations could be set very high and be very specific about the level of involvement and sophistication you expect in their surface decorations. Once anything that needs to dry has been allowed to do so, cut the secret door flaps in the ornament. (You might want to do this part depending, again, on the age of your students.)

Next, have the kids look through old magazines for a picture of their own “special wish” that will be placed “inside” their ornament. These wishes could be anything such as a vacation, a toy, or even a special thought. What matters most is that it has special meaning for the child. (You could opt to have your students draw their wish if you don’t have magazines available.)

Finally, have each student tape their special wish to the BACK of their ornament so that it will show through when the secret door is opened. The kids are fascinated with this and will have fun opening the little doors again and again to reveal the special wishes of their classmates. (Be sure to display these on a wall or bulletin board so that your students can reach them.)

While these large ornaments are spectacular and fun for their own sake, opportunities abound for connections to other areas of your curriculum. For example, ornament decoration could be related to a specific area of your curriculum such as science, math, social studies, or even to a book the class is reading. You can make many language arts connections by having students share orally with the class — or even just to a buddy — about their secret wish and why they selected it. You might ask students to journal about the process of decorating their ornament, selecting their special wish, and about what makes that wish meaningful to them. These journal entries could be kept between teacher and student, or could be shared with the class.

Back to school… yes, it’s already that time of year again!

If you’re a teacher looking for an excellent, easy back to school lesson idea — and what teacher isn’t? — then you’ve come to the right place!

Lesson Idea: Create Personalized Calling Cards

For this little lesson, all you will need are some blank cards (index cards without lines will work just fine here and you won’t have to cut anything), some drawing tools (crayons, markers, pencils) and an ink pad with washable ink.

The idea here is to have every student in your class create a “calling card” that represents them. Talk for a moment about what things make each one of us unique. (Things we like to do, things we like to eat, music we like, pets we have, places and people we love, etc.) To reinforce language arts, consider making a list of some of these things as your students mention them.

Ask your students to create their special card and to include the following on one side: Their name (first and last or just first, it’s up to you), drawings and words of things that make them unique (you might want to give them a specific number of items here), and their thumb print (that’s where the washable ink comes in).

Depending on the age and ability levels of your students, modifications can be made to take this from a very simple art experience, to a much more sophisticated design problem that will challenge older students. Reading a story first about how we are all unique and special might be a wonderful introduction to this experience of card making. Asking students to reflect in a journal about their creative process while designing their cards can be a meaningful culmination to the project. Allowing students to select, cut, and glue magazine images on their cards in addition to their words and drawings can also be interesting if you choose to get that involved.

Once finished, these cards will look great displayed in the classroom, or on each child’s desk, or can even be used by the teacher to select students at random for special jobs or to answer questions.

If you’d like to be the kind of teacher who effortlessly brings meaningful art experiences into your classroom on a regular basis — check out the classes I offer through Fresno Pacific University. You won’t be disappointed and your students will love you for it!  🙂


At long last — summer is here!

If school is finally out for you, I hope you are enjoying some well deserved rest and relaxation. Teaching is an incredibly demanding profession, and there’s nothing like spending some time doing things you enjoy to recharge your batteries. Look around you. Really see the beauty that this season has to offer. Maybe you’ll write some thoughts down in a journal or notebook… maybe you’ll take some photos… maybe you’ll even try drawing a little sketch or two of something you see in your environment.

Whatever you choose to do… really do it… completely. Savor it! Make relaxing and recharging yourself this summer into an art form.

P.S. And if you find yourself in need of some Professional Development credits, have fun earning them while taking one of my art classes offered through Fresno Pacific University. Learning from home on your schedule… what could be easier? Click on the link above to find out more.

If you are a teacher who works with young students in particular, here’s an idea for you to try.

The next time you plan to ask your students to write something… a response to literature… a journal entry… a science observation… anything, have them draw out their ideas first. Much like a more experienced writer might use notes or an outline to capture the ideas they want to include in their writing, fledgling writers can do the same thing by drawing.

I used this technique many times while teaching first graders, and saw firsthand what a powerful tool it was. Frequently, my young students had wonderful ideas and insights that they wanted to express, but with questions like, “Which way does that letter face again?” and “How is that word spelled?”, their ideas would be all but forgotten as they struggled to remember the mechanics of writing. For those students, writing was primarily a frustrating experience. Their unique little thoughts were being lost before they had a chance to get them down on paper. When I asked my students to draw about what they wanted to write first, they could capture their ideas in their drawings, and then refer back to those drawings as they wrote. Almost immediately, the writing my students produced became more complete, detailed, and vivid. Structurally their writing improved as well, because being able to refer back to their “outline” for substance, gave them the freedom to get the mechanics right too.

Of course, a powerful side benefit of this practice is that children love to draw. By connecting the exciting, familiar activity of drawing with the new and potentially intimidating act of writing, the entire experience becomes less scary, and the students feel more confident about their developing skills as writers and communicators.

Want more ideas for including art in your classroom? Click on “courses for credit” or “Fresno Pacific University” at the top of this page to learn more. Thanks for stopping by!

In this continuing saga of the many benefits of using Art Journals with your students, today I’d like to suggest a few ideas to keep your students excited about and engaged in their journals.

1. Generate excitement. This one is so easy you won’t even believe it — but it’s true. If you want kids to get excited about something and to observe it really closely… put it “under glass”. I had an old glass display box that I would put things in, and suddenly the contents would be magically transformed into priceless objects! I’m here to tell you that this worked equally well for first graders as it did for high school students. As people, it seems we are just naturally interested in things “on display”. My little display case was glass on three sides and the top, had doors on the back — which is how you could put things inside — and it also had the ULTIMATE feature… a light inside! Well, you can imagine how fascinating things became when placed inside the display box with a light shining on them! Just stand back and let the students look, draw, and describe. I think any kind of display area/stand/cover would do… it just sets the objects apart from being ordinary and helps them seem special and worthy of study. I put all kinds of things “on display” in that case… a bird’s nest I found on the ground… rocks… shells… leaves… you name it. In elementary school I used this display box as an “Observation Station”, and students would go there to work independently in their journals. Something to keep in mind — you’ll want to establish expectations for your display container. For example, will your students be allowed to lift it/hold it? Or is it to remain on the counter/table/floor? Be sure to make it very clear to your students how you expect them to use this “special display container”.

2. Choose “unexpected” subjects for their observations. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re game — think about having the kids observe something that changes over time like fruit or vegetables or cheese. (You probably want to have some sort of glass container for this stuff!) As you can imagine, watching fruit/food rot is enough to make children giddy — the more gross, the better! From an observational point of view, it really does make for a fascinating study with lots of opportunities to use descriptive language and to include specific details in their drawings that show the transformation.

Next time… some easy ways to incorporate the Art Journals into your classroom curriculum. Click on Fresno Pacific University at the top of this page if you’re interested in learning more about the art classes I teach. Thanks for reading my blog! If you have any specific questions/comments that you’d like me to respond to, please leave me a comment or write to me at

So my last post was VERY long, and I promised this one would be shorter — so here goes!

If you’ve been able to get your students started working in an art journal of some sort, here are a few tips to keep in mind that will keep the journals relevant, meaningful, and fresh for both you and your students.

1. Collect the journals and comment in them periodically. Don’t make this a huge chore… just gather them up every so often and check out how your students are using them. This can be an excellent time to get a feel for any improvements/challenges in their writing, and also for checking out their attention to detail in their drawings. Keep comments to a minimum. Things like, “Great observation!”, “I agree with you here.”, “Love the detail in this drawing!”, are all things that will encourage your students. I wouldn’t think of this as “correcting” their journals, but rather just an opportunity to touch bases and see that they are being used as intended. (For example if you see lots of drawings of cartoons, you might want to speak to that student and remind them of how their art journal should be used.)

2. Work as a whole group periodically. Just as you did in the beginning to establish your expectations for the art journals, work every so often as a whole group to reinforce those expectations and offer encouragement while your students are actually working in them. One fun thing to do is to observe and draw something seasonally as a group. As a first grade teacher, there was a small tree in a planter right outside of my classroom, and a few times a year — at the change of seasons — we would all take our journals outside to carefully observe and draw this tree. The students loved looking back at the drawings they had done previously to see how the little tree had changed. It was a simple, but powerful way to help them be more aware of their everyday surroundings. Many would report back to me about how trees were changing around their own neighborhoods, “just like our tree”! Imagine!

3. Don’t keep a journal with your students. I’ve touched on this before, and I can’t emphasize it enough: DO try keeping an art journal of your own, but please DON’T  draw in it along with your students. First of all, if you are trying to observe and draw in your own journal, you will not be able to monitor and be engaged with your students as they work. Secondly, if you are working in a journal, your students will lose interest in their  own journals and will want to watch what you are doing. Finally, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself! Your students don’t need to see you draw to be able to have a meaningful experience drawing in their own journals.

In my next post, I’ll give you a few more suggestions about how to keep your students on track and engaged with their art journals, as well as easy ways you can incorporate them into the curriculum you are already covering in your classroom. As always, if you find yourself in need of Professional Development credits and/or are looking for ways to bring some meaningful art experiences into your classroom, click on the Fresno Pacific University link at the top of the page for information about courses I offer. Also, I’d love to hear what you think of this blog, so drop me a line if you’re so inclined.

I hope my last post got you thinking about taking the simple first step of bringing more art into your classroom by introducing the idea of Art Journals to your students. Whether you’ve decided to purchase actual blank books, give each student loose sheets of copy paper in a folder, or you’ve chosen to do something in between, here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started. Let’s begin with expectations.

Make Your Expectations Clear: It’s very important that you introduce the journals to your class as such… art journals. Let them know that these are special and are only to be used for recording their observations (things they see/think about) in both pictures and in words. Let them know that you expect work in these journals to be careful and thoughtful — and that everyone will be working in them the first few times together as a class so that they can understand exactly what you mean. (More about that in a future post.) I would suggest making a little list that you might post someplace in your classroom — this list can then be referred to as needed to reinforce your expectations.

When Students Can Use Their Journals: It’s up to you when you’d like your students to be able to use their journals independently… perhaps during station time, when other work is finished, or when waiting for help… decide what works best for you and let them know.

Art materials to be used in the journals: Again, this is up to you, but I’ve had great success in allowing simply a pencil and an eraser. This places the focus squarely on their drawing and writing — use other art experiences to explore other materials. This also eliminates the problem of them not having what they need to work in their journal — remember, we’re making this easy!

Observation Subject: I’ll talk about observational drawing in a future post, but for now while you’re thinking about expectations, I would suggest that you let your students know that the object(s) they choose to draw/write about in their journals should be something that they can easily see from their seat — it might even be something at or in their desk. Trust me, the last thing you want is for your students to start wandering around looking for things to draw — and believe me, they will! Moving around looking for the perfect thing to draw becomes more important than the drawing. You might guide them to select something that doesn’t move so that they can get a really good look at it — which rules out things like drawing their neighbor!

Next time I’ll talk about observational drawing and how to get your students off to a good start in their journals. Laying a foundation for use in just a few brief sessions as a whole class will help ensure the ease and quality of their use for the remainder of the year. If you’re interested in learning more about teaching art to your students and perhaps need some Professional Development credits too, click on Fresno Pacific University at the top of the page and you can read more about each of the courses I teach. (Specifically ART 900: Drawing Magic, and ART 904: Ideas To Draw From might interest you!) If you like what you’ve read here, I’d love to hear from you —