“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver

Saturday, 22 September 2012

My FAVOURITE art/back to school idea of all time!

Back when I was a new teacher I was looking for great art ideas to start the school year.  I was really fortunate to teach at an awesome school (shout out to Denlow P.S. in North York) with some awesome teachers (shout out to Gail, Susan and Pat).  I can honestly say these teachers gave me more skills and knowledge in the four years I was with them than I have acquired in the past twenty since leaving that school!

Anyhow, one of these great teachers (sorry gals, I don't remember which of you it was) showed me an idea to do with my grade 4/5 class.  The teacher gave their students strips of cartridge paper (approx. 10 cm by 10 cm) and asked them to trace school supplies to cover the entire piece of paper.  After this students then added line designs to the school supplies and covered all the white space in the background with dots.  All these years later, I still have the sample I made my first year of teaching on my bulletin board at school.  The kids love to see that Ms.McKay also created her own art project.(It also freaks them out that the sample is over 20 years old!)

After I left that school and moved on, I ended up working in a school where the student desks were in really bad shape.  I wanted to come up with a way of covering the desks that would look good and involve the students artistic talents.  The idea I had "borrowed" in my first year came back to me, but this time I added my own twist. 

This is how I have the students create personalized "desk mats".  The kids love them once I laminate them, and the caretakers love that the desks are protected each year.  I love that the students permanently have their "name" on the top of their desks.

Step 1:  I give each student a large piece of white cartridge paper, and have them draw a 10 cm by 10 cm border around the outside.

Step 2:  Students then trace a variety of school supplies in pencil all around the border.

Step 3:  Students outline all the objects traced using a fine line marker.

Step 4:   Students add patterns and lines using a combination of BLACK fine line and Crayola thick markers.

Using a ruler or meter stick the students create a 10 cm by 10 cm border on white cartridge paper.

Students do the initial outlines in pencil and then go over the whole design with a combination of fine line and thick markers.

Love this design...it reminds me of a heart monitor.

Make sure the student also goes over the "border" lines with a ruler and black fine line marker.

Adding creative patterns to the outlines.

Try to emphasize a combination of thick and thin lines.  Also contrast of light and dark.

You can see the realistic details blend with the creative pattens.

This student is using a variety of "dots" in different sizes to add pattern to his mat.
Step 5:  Once the students have finished the black and white border they are allowed to do anything in the "middle" section of the desk mat.  The only thing they MUST include is their name.  I encourage them to use LOTS of colour and a variety of media.  Some students bring in pictures from home, some draw their favourite objects, some print images from the computer.  They often use a combination of pencil crayon and marker for this part of the project.

Step 6:  After students have finished the inside design and the outside patterns, they go back to the border section.  Here they use a fine line marker to fill all the "white" space in the background with dots.  This can be tedious for some students but the finished effect is worth it.  Some days it sounds like there are woodpeckers in the classroom as several students are making their dots at the same time.

Step 7:  I laminate all the desk mats.  I know this is not considered very environmentally friendly, BUT it prevents a lot of messy desks, which prevent the use of chemicals and cleaning products.  The desks remain pristine and therefore last longer.  The students are also very PROUD of their work, and most keep the mats for years and years to come.

I can honestly say this is my all time favourite activity for back to school and to start teaching art.  What is your favourite go to activity?  


  1. I LOVE this idea - it is definitely one I will be 'borrowing' in the future - thank you for sharing - I also love how the kiddo's can flip the mat and they have a perfect desk white board to use :)

  2. How cool! I love the idea of a "desk" mat... never heard of one.

    Tales of a Teacher