Organize Your Curriculum

Organize your curriculum planning with big ideas and art lessons that teach about feelings, identity, society, culture, environment, and fantasy.

Do you feel like your lessons just happen in random order? Do students ever ask, "Why are we learning about this?" If so, take a look at how I organized my curriculum using Big Ideas. This not only helped me plan my lessons but also made the lessons more meaningful by making connections to student's lives.

When teaching with Big Ideas at the elementary level, I cycled through 3 big ideas each year and taught using the same Big Idea with all grade levels at the same time. This helped me organize my curriculum and at the same time, helped students see how art plays a part in every area of our lives.

For example, during year 1 of the rotation, we cover Feelings, Identity & Culture and

Year 2 covers Society, Environment, & Fantasy.

I found that anything meaningful that I wanted to teach could fit into one of the 6 Big Ideas. Teaching with Big Ideas also helped me find ways to have students incorporate personal connections to the art they made in art class which, in turn, made their art more meaningful to them.

I was inspired by Hunderwasser's 5 Skins soon after learning about Big Ideas from Sydney Walker during my grad school work at The Ohio State University. Here is a book we used. (not an affiliate link)

Here is a brief idea of what could be covered for each Big Idea:

Students can explore ways to express their feelings through art and learn about expressive artists such as Vincent van Gogh. This Big Idea could also include artists that are inspired by music, such as Kandinsky and Klee. One way to start out the year would be a review of the elements of art, then a study of how artists use the elements of art to create feelings in their work. This would be an excellent time to introduce the idea of an art critique and compare and contrast how two different artists or artworks create feelings using the elements of art.

Essential Questions about Feelings:
How can art express emotions?
How can I express myself through art?

How are the elements & principles of art used to create emotion in art?

Students relate best to this Big Idea and enjoy making art about themselves. This can move beyond the self-portrait to include visual metaphors and descriptive words that express the identity of students. This would also be a terrific time to get students writing about their art as they write an artist statement about their work.

Essential Questions about Identity:
What do you dream about?
What words describe you?
What's your style?
How do you conceal/reveal your identity?
How do you show your identity?
What is important to you?

I define culture as the things that influence how we live. These things differentiate us from other cultures. By looking at the objects we create, it is easier to see how we've created a way of life different from the people living outside our culture. (The word culture is used in many different ways!)

Some students are surprised to learn that they live in a culture. To them, a "culture" is something that people in different times and places live in. I want students to learn what it is that makes OUR culture unique. Then, through their art, students get a chance to share something about their own culture.

This is an awesome opportunity to use contemporary artists! This might also be the perfect time to talk about the purpose of art and how art should be judged with the purpose in mind. For example, is it functional, decorative, communicating a message or creating an emotion.

Essential Questions about Culture: 

What can we learn about a culture from the things that they make and eat?
How can you improve the design of something you use?
Who designs the things that we use?
How are celebrations and traditions part of our culture?
Where do our traditions and celebrations come from?

We are shaped by the people that surround us and influence us. Art lessons about society show the groups that we belong to and what makes them a part of our lives. Artists like Faith Ringgold and Aminah Robinson can show the importance of community. This is also a perfect opportunity to teach lessons about having good character traits and encourage others to be a productive member of our society. Artists like Keith Haring would fit into this Big Idea. Students can also learn about the power of art to influence the behavior of a society.

Essential Questions about Society:
What makes you a unique member of your group?
Why is community important?
Who inspires you?
Who has had an influence on your life?

Lessons about the environment can include such artists as Hundertwasser, M.C. Escher, Charley Harper, Andy Goldsworthy and Georgia O'Keeffe. (Just to name a few!) Environment lessons could focus on appreciating the beauty of nature or have more of a focus on conserving the environment.

Essential Questions about Nature:
Why do we need nature?
How does nature inspire us?
How does nature create patterns?
How can we protect nature?
What kind of shapes do you find in nature?

Lessons about fantasy (using our imagination) could include traditional fantasy images such as dragons and monsters. Fantasy lessons could also include dreams and surreal works of art such as the work of Salvador Dali. This is a super Big Idea for ending the school year. Students are naturally attracted to fantasy images and have a great deal of fun creating their own fantasy drawings, paintings or sculptures. With all the excitement generated by fantasy works of art, students will be more willing to take the time to write about their work and maybe even write a short fantasy story.

Essential Questions about Fantasy:
What happens in your dreams?
What does your fantasy world look like?
How is your fantasy world better (or different) that reality?

If you would like a little more help getting started organizing your year around these Big Ideas, I will share the documents I used to create quick outlines of my year. The "Year at a Glance" is created in Word and you can use it as a starting point by changing the artists, essential questions or lessons to fit your needs. Download it before working on it to get all the correct formatting.

Year at a Glance - Year 1 - Feelings, Identity, Culture

Year at a Glance - Year 2 - Society, Environment, Fantasy

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See Expressive Monkey's Pinterest boards about Big Ideas:

I would love to hear more about how you use Big Ideas in your classroom in the comments below!


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