Organizing Visual Arts Lessons

Confession: I dread visual arts projects. My background is primarily in theater, dance, and other performing arts, and I would so much rather write and produce a classroom play than have the kids paint a mural. Classroom murals are my Vietnam. They are messy and interminable, and they never seem to finish as a clear victory. But the program I taught for 7 years required that we occasionally complete a visual art project (even, shudder, an occasional mural), and when arts and crafts time rolls around, I will always reach for my aluminum roasting pans.

Wait, what?

It’s simple. Pick almost any art project. For example: these are some “Greek” drama masks that I had some second graders make a couple years ago as part of a social studies unit on Ancient Greece.

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They’re not going to win any regional art awards, but they’re expressive, creative, and academically linked to both social studies (Why did the Ancient Greeks use masks in theater?) and literacy (What would be the difference between a frustrated mask, an angry mask, and a furious mask?). And they’re EASY. The kids had approximately 10-20 minutes to complete those, including set-up and clean-up time.

How did we get so organized? Aluminum roasting pans.

Chances are, your kids are organized in table groups. Use one pan per table. During whatever prep time you have, count out supplies for each table and put them into the pans. Then, when it’s time to pass out supplies, you pass out one pan per table. DONE. I tell the kids what’s in their tray, and their table captain is responsible for counting up the glue sticks and markers and whatnot at the end of class to make sure they’re all accounted for.

I use these to organize SO MANY projects. I used to have about 15 stacked up at home so that I could have 2-3 ongoing projects organized at a time if I was doing different projects at different schools. That way I don’t have to empty out and reorganize every day.

Our materials - markers, glue sticks, scrap paper, and cardboard mask bases (they're on the bottom, you can't see them), passed out to 6 tables in less than 30 seconds. They're also stackable and carried easily between classes.
Our materials – markers, glue sticks, scrap paper, and cardboard mask bases (they’re on the bottom, you can’t see them), passed out to 6 tables in less than 30 seconds. They’re also stackable and carried easily between classes.

The take-away: Aluminum roasting pans are God’s gift to organizing multiple-material class projects.


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