Thursday, April 30, 2015

Monkey Madness (and a little glue surgery)

My second graders love this project. We have done this many ways. I have pics of a couple of ways in this post. We also made a mural out of mirrors with this project, which I will blog about later.

A little theoretical thinking behind this lesson:

I get so torn with the pedagogy and appropriateness of guided drawing projects. I showed the students photos of real monkeys and we talked about shapes to help them as they draw. However, I still worry that guided drawing is just a way for them to copy me. On the other hand, guided drawing is a great way to get them to work on proportions. So, its a catch-22 I guess. I'd love to read some theory or research on this topic. If anyone knows of any, please point me to it!


The students practiced drawing on their own after the guided part. They made decisions about how to pose the arms and legs. I snuck a little movement into this by making them stand up and pose their own arms and legs in different ways. They were also encouraged to add their own details, such as hats or bows.

They traced with black glue (India Ink and Elmer's Glue All). After it dried, they cut it out and used chalk pastels to add color.

They cut out leaves and branches.

We've tried a lot of different backgrounds, on which I will elaborate below.

When they were ready to assemble all of their pieces, I asked them to try several different things until it looked pleasing to them.

(I always tell them that I trust them to make the decision here. I very rarely offer my opinion on this step. I want them to gain confidence in their ability to make artistic decisions.)

Advantages of this project:

This project is great for younger grades. In fact, I like it for second grade. It has so many aspects that hone in those fine motor skills. It has quite a bit of cutting and gluing which can be difficult to master without much practice. This project offers plenty of opportunity for practice.


I asked the kids to write me a letter for feedback on this project after they had finished. I like to have them do this as much as possible because it helps me adjust instruction and better meet their needs. Plus, when there are 600 students, it is hard to get to talk with them all each week. This lets them communicate with me. I try to write them back as often as possible too. That lets them know that I do read what they write and it keeps the two-way communication going. I learn some interesting things by doing this. For instance, I learned from my students last year that they didn't know how to use the glue bottles. I had assumed they knew how and did not give explicit instruction for that step. So, this year I was able to teach "glue surgery." This is something that I learned from a teacher in a workshop once. I didn't invent it, but I don't know who did.

Glue Surgery:

"Glue Surgery" is where they get to be the doctor when the glue bottle is not working for them. They have to "open its mouth, pick the boogers out of its nose, check to see if its breathing, and pat it on the back." By open its mouth, I mean twist open the top. By "pick the boogers out of its nose," I mean remove the dried glue from the tip. Yes, we use the word "boogers." They think its hilarious and definitely don't forget to do it! By "check to see if its breathing," I mean squeezing it to see if air comes out. By "patting it on its back," I mean turning it so that the bottom of the bottle is up and the nozzle is down. They pat the bottom of the bottle to make the glue run to the nozzle. I tell them that they are not allowed to ask me about their glue until they have tried glue surgery. It cuts down on their coming to me for help and allows them to have a tool for solving their own problems. You should try this! It works!


These backgrounds were of lime green 11x16 construction paper. They used a spray bottle filled with liquid watercolor to spray the paper. This added a texture. I like the way they bent the branches to make it have a three-dimensional quality.

These backgrounds were just black 11x16 construction paper. The classroom teachers really bragged on the contrast of the colorful monkeys and the black background. This is how one classroom teacher displayed them outside her classroom door. Unfortunately, there was a timing issue and this class had to skip the black glue step. They outlined with permanent black marker instead.

These classes used poster sized white paper to create a background with liquid water colors and a spray bottle. They loved doing this because they had to put their huge piece of paper on the floor and aim the spray at their paper. They thought it was cool to stand up and do it! The classroom teachers also displayed these in the hallway.

Don't forget to leave comments! I love to read them. Also, please feel free to share your own ideas, especially things that work for your classroom. Finally, don't forget to share any research on the theories behind guided drawing!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Crazy Collaborative Cactus

WAAAAYYYY back in 2012, when I first started this blog, I wrote a post (which was more like a lesson plan) called Prickly Pear Cactus.

I absolutely loved this project. In fact, I loved it so much, I wanted to try it again and put a twist on it! Last year, I let my fourth grade classes do several different takes on this. The first I'd like to share are these enormous Crazy Collaborative ones. 

Our school had made a float for the high school's homecoming parade. We had a great deal of cardboard left over. Coincidentally, someone had loaned me a jigsaw right around this same time. 

No, I did not let the kids use the jigsaw. But, since I did have access to it, I just let it chew that really thick leftover cardboard into random shapes.

Some of the shapes were pretty gigantic, and some were smaller. I was able to use the different sizes as a way to differentiate for the groups of students. Some students just work faster than others. So, I gave the quicker groups the bigger pieces. The students who struggle to finish in the allotted time had smaller pieces on which to work. They seemed to appreciate this type of differentiation. It can be frustrating when you are trying your best but don't have enough time to finish what you are working on. 

So, we looked at some photos of real cactuses and looked at some professional artwork. I also pulled my blog post about the Prickly Pears onto the Promethean Board. They kids enjoy seeing other student art. (They also think its HILARIOUS to see my photo on the side of the blog. One asked me if I wrote that when I was 12 because my pic looked young! I was like, ummmmm that is a new picture thank you very much!)

Anyway, they arranged themselves into groups with minimal direction from me. I like to let them try to solve these sorts of problems without me at first, but I will step in to offer assistance when necessary. I always find it really interesting how they group themselves. I encourage you to let your classes try this. Of course, you have to set up expectations first. It is a process, but when they get to where they can do it on their own it is fun to listen to their conversations and watch their thinking. I've never had a group refuse to allow someone to join them. Only once or twice have I had a student not want to be in any of the groups. They have (so far) managed to work it out themselves. Plus, usually if I can tell the kid just needs alone time, I'll let them work alone. 

They drew the cactus and painted the background with black tempera. My only two specific requirements were that they use all of their space to make large cactuses and that they have  a black background. I had talked to them about the contrast between the black background and bright colors. 

The rest of the process is pretty much like the Prickly Pear lesson. 

One good thing about this lesson is that the students use to work together, which develops appropriate social skills. They have to discuss their ideas and come to some sort of agreement before they can complete the work. For instance, they have to figure out if everyone gets to work on two sections of the cactus and do them the way they want. Or, if they all must work on every section and agree on the colors, style, etc. This may seem like small fries to some people, but art teachers know that this is a major skill that students gain from their art classes. (You know I can't resist throwing in a little advocacy when the opportunity presents itself!)

Another good thing is reusing materials (cardboard, scrap paper). It sends a great message to the kids and saves those oh so precious budgets!

(OH! And by the way, I looked it up. Cactuses and cacti are both correct!!! Cause, you know, it would bother me to wonder if I had it written incorrectly! Lol!)

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