Using Sketchbooks in the Elementary Art Room

data-pin-description="Expressive Monkey shares - Why I started using sketchbooks in my elementary art classroom, 7 ways I used sketchbooks, and benefits students got from using them.  Plus a few tips for getting started, making sketchbooks and keeping sketchbooks organized."

I'd like to share with you why I started using sketchbooks in my elementary art classroom, 7 ways I used sketchbooks, and benefits students got from using them.  I'll also give you a few tips for getting started, making sketchbooks and keeping sketchbooks organized.

I first started using sketchbooks because I wanted students to spend more time experimenting and trying out ideas before jumping into their art.  When I gave them a single piece of paper they often threw it away when or lost it when they were finished with it.  I found that when they put those experiments in a sketchbook, they valued them much more and wanted to add to them a create a collection of ideas. I really like how they create a record of students' thoughts and ideas and the different challenges they had in art throughout the year.  I felt like there was so much more information in the sketchbooks than the final work of art at times.  I also liked that students could write down ideas as well as the meaning of the work of art. 

1) Using Sketchbooks with Essential Questions
I liked giving students "essential questions" that they could both draw and write out the answer to.  For some students, writing comes more naturally and other like to draw first, then write about it.  Often I would give them a strip of paper with the essential question written on it and have students glue the question at the top of the page and do their sketching below.  If I wanted students to draw more than one thumbnail, sometimes I'd have them trace around tagboard rectangles to create 2-3 boxes on one page. 

2) Using Sketchbooks with Big Ideas
As I started using "big ideas" I created little tabs that students could glue into their sketchbook for each big idea.  We would cover 3 big ideas each year and do several sketches and projects for each big idea. The tabs gave the sketchbook a framework and made it easy for parents and others to see how we used each big idea. Here is a word file so you can see what I mean.  Feel free to edit it for your own needs and big ideas.  Each student would get a strip of paper.  They would glue it in their sketchbook with the word "Identity" hanging off the edge of a page and fold the extra paper over to the back side to add strength to the tab.  While they were sketching, I'd come around with packaging tape and tape over the tab to keep it from ripping (optional step).  

3) Sketchbooks for Reflection and Assessment
Sketchbooks can also be a place for students to reflect on their work and how they might revise or improve their work.  It can also be a place for me to access students' understanding of a concept and write them little notes or give them a stamp of approval (using a cute rubber stamp).  Then they can jump right into their art at the beginning of the next class without needing to wait for me to talk to them. 

4) Free Choice Drawing
Another way that students used their sketchbooks is for "free draw" time.  If they have any extra time at the end of an art class, they can draw in their sketchbooks and continue to add to their ideas or draw something of their own choice. Students really liked this opportunity and it provided a great activity for an early finisher that was engaging, but not distracting to the students still working. (Anything "too fun" or too noisy tended to cause the other students to start rushing through their work just to be able to join their friends in doing the activity.)  Every once in a while I had to curtail a 1st grader from "waisting pages" by just making a quick scribble and then turning the page.  Other than that, students seemed to want to make quality work and didn't use up all the pages of their sketchbooks during their free choice drawing time. 

5) Sharing with Sketchbooks
Sketchbooks can also be used to display the thinking behind a lesson.  You can set up a table under an art show display and have a few sketchbooks open to the page where students did some thumbnails and writing about the final project.  If you have an open house or curriculum night early in the school year, the sketchbooks can be a great way to let parents know what you are working on even if there isn't finished art to display yet.  A sample could be left out on tables, maybe a different grade level on each table ...  When a principal or board member does a "walk through" and asks students what they are making and why they are making it, students are much more likely to be able to explain this if the information is in their sketchbook. So the sketchbooks not only reinforce the information in the students' minds but make it easier to share with others.

6) Elements of Art and Sketchbooks
If you want to quickly cover the elements of art, you might consider using sketchbooks.  There are 2 different approaches that I've tried.  One is to go through the elements at the beginning of the year all at once.  I did this by using my Elements of Art Sketchbook Activities.  I followed up the elements of art with an Op Art lesson that used the elements as a focus and showed students how the elements could be used to trick the eye. 

Another idea would be to cover one or two elements for each lesson and do a quick activity right before introducing the art lesson.  It might take the entire year to cover all 7 elements of art, but if you plan ahead, this would be a great way to give each element a little more focus.  Of course, each art project would be about much more than the element of art.  The element of art would just give students a formal quality to think about in addition to the meaning or big idea of the art project.

7) Art Critiques Using Sketchbooks
Sketchbooks can easily become a tool for critiquing art. One way of doing this is by creating some type of interactive page.  Interactive pages are not only fun for students, but they engage them in a way that makes them want to go back over information and share their work with others.  These activities help students retain information.  An example of an interactive page is a flip flap that students open to reveal the answer to a question or some type of information.  To use this for an art critique, you could have a general question about a work of art on the front of the flap such as "Describe what is happening in this work of art".  Students would glue the flap into their sketchbook and write the answer under the flap.  If you'd like to do this type of activity with a focus on the Principles of Design or Elements of Art, I've created some pages for that.  Students can write about how the artist used the element of art or principle of design under the flap.

Sketchbooks and Mental Health Benefits
One attribute of sketchbooks is the physical property of being able to shut the book.  This helps students let their guard down a little and try things that they might not try on a piece of paper that will be potentially displayed.   I think some students find it necessary to "get out" some of their thoughts that might not be the most appropriate for public consumption, then edit them out and reveal something in their final work of art that they feel more comfortable sharing.  This can also make a great tool for initiating a private conversation with students about their thoughts and what they are feeling (or referring them to a counselor).

Making Sketchbooks
So if you haven't tried using sketchbooks in your classroom, I suggest giving it a try!  I was fortunate to teach in a district where I was able to ask students to bring in a sketchbook and most students did!  I ordered 10-20 sketchbooks as part of my supply order and handed them out to students that were not able to bring one in.  If this is not possible try making them.  You could use a traditional bookbinding technique such as sewing or keep it simple by folding paper and using a long-arm stapler to staple them.  Most students can make their own.  Have older (5th grade) students make some at the end of the year for next year's 1st graders.  It's also great to have a few extra made for new students.  One advantage of making your own sketchbooks is that students can decorate the cover.  A simple way to do this is to give them the letters "A-R-T" to trace and color in with bright colors and patterns (or zentangle).

Take a look at my Pinterest board about sketchbooks for more ideas about making and using sketchbooks.

Keeping Sketchbooks Organized
To keep sketchbooks organized, I had the office print out labels (or give me a database so I could print them).  
Before passing the label out, I color coded the edge of the label with markers and/or glitter glue.  (First-grade blue, 2nd red, third orange, 4th green and 5th purple)  Then after they got their assigned seats, they got a sticker that indicated which table they sat at that also went on the label.  This made passing them out easy.  Even if the students were not at their seats, someone could pass out sketchbooks to the correct table. 
The stickers also had their teacher's name on them so if I found a sketchbook laying somewhere in the room, I could put it with the rest of that class' sketchbooks.  

Depending on the size of your sketchbooks, you could store them in a crate or on a shelf labeled with the teacher's name. If you are on a cart, ask teachers to give you a little spot in the classroom for sketchbooks and work in progress.

Before You Go
I'd love to hear how you've used sketchbooks in your classroom and any questions you might have about how I've used sketchbooks in my art room.


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Why I started using sketchbooks in my elementary art classroom, 7 ways I used sketchbooks, and benefits students got from using them.  Plus a few tips for getting started, making sketchbooks and keeping sketchbooks organized.



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