Planning An Art Curriculum

I have been asked several times how I choose the lessons I teach. Of course, I am by no means an expert in this subject,  but after 17 years teaching art, these are the steps I take when planning my curriculum. 

1. Take Inventory

What supplies do you currently have on hand that need to be used during the current school year?

This is an easy jumping off point. At the end of each school year, take a look around your room and make a list of current supplies that you would like to use in your lesson plans for the following year. Not only will you save on your current supply order, it will help use up the older supplies and make room for the new.

When I did this at the end of last school year, I was surprised at what I still had in the cupboards:
* Paper with a frame design around it: could be used for self-portraits
* Stamp design paper: my fourth grade students will be creating Art Career Posters with these.
* Soft linocut material: my fifth graders will be using these to make a Day of the Dead printing project.

You may be surprised what supplies you have on hand that can be incorporated in to your current lesson plans.

2. Follow The Rules

What does your state or local curriculum require you to teach?
Go to  the website for your state's content standards and download them immediately! Use these as a guideline for what you should be teaching each grade level. In Ohio, many of the standards are general enough that I can plan my favorite lessons around them. In most cases, I am already teaching these concepts in my classroom. Make sure to keep track of which standards have been met by using a checklist or highlighting them.

An example of one of my standards for the state of Ohio is:
Grade 1- Producing/Performing
6PR- Engage in artmaking to produce a work that combnes music, movement, or dramatic play with visual art.

I have a lesson on Kandinsky that will work perfectly with this standard. Check!

3. Look For Inspiration

Where can you get great ideas?

There are several resources that you can use to get inspiration from:
* Art visuals/ famous works of art
* Blogs
* Pinterest
* Books
* Artsonia
* Videos
* Your Students! The creativity of your students is boundless. Allow them some freedom in creating their projects and you will be amazed at what they come up with.

Art is everywhere. Inspiration can be found all around us in the world; from the flowers to the trees, from your self portrait to a portrait of your family, or even the clothes we wear. 

4. Talk About The Masters

How can you introduce some Art History in to your lessons?

My students live in a very rural community, more than an hour away from a large city with museums. Most live on farms and are not exposed to much culture, so I make it a priority to introduce them to various artists and movements in art. Whenever possible, I try to include some type of art history or multicultural element to my lessons. Another way to expose your students to culture is to invite a local artist in to speak to them or demonstrate their talent.

5. Play To Your Strengths (and Learn From Your Weaknesses) 

What media do you enjoy working in? What media could you explore and then introduce to your students?

Start with the familiar when planning your lessons. If painting is your medium of choice, start with a fantastic painting project. This will boost your confidence and give you the courage to move on to other media.

Also, ask yourself some of these questions:
* What has been successful in the past? Some lessons work great and can be reused successfully.
* What lessons need to be reworked? Last year, I had my kinders make a leaf collage as their first project. This project went on and on and many students were frustrated with their results. I know that I need to go back and re-evaluate this lesson and try to find ways to make it more successful for my students.

It may be a good idea to ask your students for feedback at the end of the year. What projects did they enjoy? Which projects need "spiced up"?

6. Plan A Timeline

How much time should you spend on each project?

Some teachers want to have a finished project after each art class. Others prefer to carry the lesson over from class to class until finished. Which do you prefer?

Personally, I would rather create 6-10 in depth projects that span over several art classes and include rich detail and incorporates art history, aesthetics, and art criticism, (Can you tell I am a product of the Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) movement?) After asking several of my parents and hearing years of feedback, they tend to agree. I cannot tell you how many parents tell me that they frame their child's artwork and display it proudly.

It is my belief that a well thought out, implemented lesson should have no time frame. However, I realize that some may have time restraints or expectations when it comes to the art produced in their classes. Do what works for you.

7. Think About Scope and Sequence

In what order should you introduce your lessons? How can you build from year to year?

Again, your state standards will help tremendously here, as they map out the key concepts that should be introduced for each grade level. Overall, there should be progression throughout the grade levels- add new concepts while reinforcing the old. For example:

K- introduce the primary and secondary colors and their hues. Play a matching game using colored squares.

1st- add in the tertiary (intermediate) colors and discuss how colors can be warm or cool. Create a  color wheel.
2nd- discuss how colors can be complementary. Make a cookie color wheel by mixing colors with frosting.
3rd- talk about neutrals and monochromatic colors. Create a landscape using shades and tints of one color.
4th- analogous colors may be added. Discuss how color shows mood. Create a self-portrait that used color to express an emotion.
5th- split-complementary, triadic, and split-analogous color schemes can be introduced. Culminate their color unit by completing a project that uses all the concepts learned to this point, such as Andy Warhol Color Theory Animals.

Of course, this progression is not set in stone, but is used to demonstrate how key concepts can build upon each other.

8. Add In The Basics

How can the Elements of Art and the Principles of Design be incorporated?

Some lessons may be based on the elements and principles or they just may be touched upon. For example, I have my students create a painting based on Kandinsky that incorporates all types of lines painted while listening to music.

The Elements and Principles are the basic building blocks in art and are important to creating successful artwork. Finding a way to include them in your lessons will only help your students achieve artistic success.

9. Evaluate The Situation

How will you determine if the students, the lessons, and your teaching methods were successful?

There are several types of assessment that may be used to determine success in the art room. For example:

* self-assessment: Artist Statements, Artist Reflection handout
* peer- assessment: class critiques, Art Sandwich handout (great idea here!)
*** I have just added my version of the Art Sandwich handout to print out for your classroom use.

* rubrics: these can be visual or written
* exit cards: have students write a fact about what they have learned that day
* games: sorting warm and cool colors, for example

At the elementary level, even having them line up by creating a type of line when they walk can be a form of assessment.

Many schools are using FIP (Formative Instructional Practices), including ours. In FIP, students are given feedback throughout the learning process to help them achieve success. When they know what is expected of them and given feedback, they are better able to reach their goals. I will be using the methods given above to gauge student learning.

10. Map It Out

How will you remember all of this and keep it organized?

Using a Curriculum Map is a great way to keep track of your progress throughout the year. Start with a "Big Idea" and work from there.

Here is a partially filled out curriculum map that will give you an idea. I am in the process of redoing my map because our standards have changed and I just found out this information!

I am also including a curriculum map framework in a Word document form that you may edit and use for your own personal use.

By all means, these are not the ONLY methods for planning your art curriculum. Please send me a comment telling me of methods YOU use in planning your art year.

Check back soon for posts on writing lesson plans, organizing lesson plans, and assessment.


  1. Thank you for such an in-depth discussion - your guidelines provide some structure to the process and should be very helpful to beginning teachers, and a great 'reminder' for those with more experience. Sometimes it is good to revisit and rethink about the basics of what we are doing.
    I'd love you to visit me at Dream Painters, I'd value your opinion :)

  2. Thank you for sharing! The blank curriculum map is a huge improvement over my doodled notebook page. I look forward to solidifying my curriculum with your tips in mind!

  3. Great information! Thanks for sharing them! Have a great school year! :)

  4. Holy smokes- lots of great tips here! I have such a haphazard way of planning and my biggest 'weakness' is changing my mind at the last minute in terms of what project we'll be working on depending on my mood. I find it really challenging to follow a set plan. So thanks for sharing how you do your planning.

  5. These are great ideas and will definitely aid in organization.

  6. Thank you for this. I run a small non profit art studio that is looking into building a realtionship with school district to give kids back art. This really helps me put ideas together for submitting to them.


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