Every teacher has at least one in their classroom. That one student who struggles with traditional work, but thrives when presented with creative assignments. He is the one who keeps you up at night planning and plotting on how to help him reach his potential. He is the child who makes you a better teacher, a more creative teacher, an out-of-the-box-thinking teacher.
The key to his mind is often through art and crafts. It is tempting to dismiss the subject as just one more thing that you have to add to your already overcrowded lesson plans, but for your students, and especially that child, exploring art and working on craft projects is learning that they will never forget. So, how do you incorporate it all? Where can you fit it in? Surprisingly enough, it can be effectively integrated with everything you are currently teaching.
Creative Lesson Plans in the Common Core Classroom
With the Common Core Standards, lesson plans now must be more detailed than ever. Choose one specific standard and focus on giving it a creative spin. Let us take the Grade 2 Language Arts Standards, Reading Literature, Standard 2.RL.3 for example. The standard states:
Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
This is a great standard for encouraging connections and cause-effect relationships. It is also easy to turn it into an art project. If your students are reading Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (William Steig, 1970) have them create two depictions: one of what actually happened and how Sylvester responded and another of how the story would have been different had Sylvester wished for something else. While discussing it aloud is also necessary, allowing students to draw it makes it more concrete and develops their creativity. More importantly, it engages those hard to reach students.
In Grade 3, the Common Core Standards list standard 3.G.1 for Geometry in Integrated Math:
Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories.
After digesting the standards, step back and think of the shapes as a child might see them. They can be confusing and easy to mix-up. Instead of just drawing them on the board or having students copy them onto their graph paper, turn the exploration of the shapes into an art project. Ask students to draw a scene or picture that uses the different types of shapes that you want to focus on. Not only do they have to draw them, but they have to label or color-code them to check comprehension and understanding. Make it fun to learn by letting them be creative and artistic.
It may seem like a great idea, but you may be asking, “What about supplies? Where will I get those for all of these craft and art projects?” That is a valid question, especially with budget cuts and teachers spending more of their own money than ever. Recycled supplies can be the answer to a classroom craft or art project. Ask parent and community members to save and donate supplies, post an ad asking for free supplies on a local Freecycle group or Craigslist, or trade with other teachers in your district. Think out of the box when it comes to art supplies. Inexpensive items from the craft store, dollar store, hardware store, and thrift store can be perfect for those project ideas.
Instead of looking at crafts and art projects as one more thing to do, think of them as the basis for all of your lessons. Choose a standard and get an idea of the craft or art project that will match it, and build from there. At the end of the day, the end of the school year, and the end of their educational career, your students will remember the projects, the crafts, the building, and the creativity that they put into their learning. They will not remember the worksheets, but they will remember creating a replica of a log cabin out of popsicle sticks while studying the Revolutionary War. Be the teacher who gives them those memories.