Visual Arts

Participants will be able to create and refine meaningful works of art using diverse materials, respond to art and connect with different cultures and times, and curate artwork for display collaboratively and individually.   

Visual Arts in the Classroom

What You Will Find In Visual Arts

Scroll or click through the cards below to navigate content in this section

Why Visual Arts?

Engage the imagination of all participants.


Enhance executive functioning and decision-making skills.


Encourage cultural awareness and empathy for differing human perspectives.


Improve visual learning by learning to interpret, critique, and use visual information.


Foster flexible thinking.


Influence the development of creativity and problem-solving skills.


Enhance fine motor skills needed for writing.


Boost confidence and acquire twenty-first century skills.



Click here to download the visual arts poster and resources for using it as a word wall.


"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." - Albert Einstein


Visual Arts Vocabulary

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.




LINE: A point moving in space (a dot going for a walk).


VALUE: The relative lightness or darkness of an object, which creates contrast.


TEXTURE: The actual or implied look or feel of a surface.


SHAPE: Created when a line defines an edge and makes an enclosed space.


FORM: Encloses a three-dimensional area which has depth, length, and width.


SPACE: The area extending in all directions inside or outside of a shape.


COLOR: Light reflected from a surface; includes hue, value, and intensity.




BALANCE: A means of maintaining visual equilibrium.


CONTRAST: The visible differences in value, color, texture, and other elements that achieve emphasis, interest, and add meaning.


EMPHASIS: The focal area in a work of art that attracts the viewer's attention.


UNITY/HARMONY: The result of blending elements in a pleasing way.


MOVEMENT: The component leading the viewer to sense action in a piece of artwork, or the path the viewer's eye follows throughout a work.


PATTERN: A decorative visual repetition.


PROPORTION: The relationship of one part to another, and of the parts to the whole.


RHYTHM: The combination of repeated elements.


REPETITION: Regularly or consistently repeating an object or shape to suggest movement.


VARIETY: Mixing elements and using juxtaposition and contrast to create interest in a work of art.



Basic Drawing Skills

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.


With only a pencil and paper, students can participate in visual arts activities on a daily basis. Regularly practicing these skills builds visual discrimination and develops an understanding of spatial relationships and proportion. The following exercises can be practiced daily to develop drawing technique, building from basic skills to more complex abilities. Embedded skills in these activities include rendering values, understanding pencil pressure in creating contrast, and understanding properties of light, dark, and shadow, as well as identifying the effects of a light source.


    Shade a triangular form from dark to light. Encourage students to practice applying pressure while drawing, using light and strong pressure to create different values and contrast. Invite students to identify the light and dark sections. This idea can be practiced with left-right progression for visual tracking.


    Sketch a circle. Shade the inside of the circle using the previously practiced tornado technique. Participants can use the appropriate pencil pressure to create light and dark shadows. Decide on the direction of the light source, noticing where the light reflects on the sphere and the placement of shadows on the ground. Notice the symmetry of the sphere, and observe how shading creates a three-dimensional effect.


    Practice drawing three-dimensional objects like cones, cylinders, and cubes. Then apply the shading to bowls, cups, or bottles. Notice how the light responds. Identify the effect of the light source and the shadows. Notice the reflected light, the cast shadow and the core shadow. Reflected light refers to the way light bounces off the focal object (or object being drawn). Cast shadow is the darkest shadow on the drawing, and is created by the focal object blocking the light, which casts a shadow on the surface away from the light source. Core shadow is the darkest part of the object, and the point or line at which light and shadow meet.


    When staging something to draw, consider using an odd number of objects. Breaking down the image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, is also helpful. This creates a grid of nine, wherein objects can be placed properly along one or more of those lines, or at one or more intersection points. This informs proper placement of objects within the space and is called the rule of thirds. Considering perspective and the location of a focal point will also facilitate a cohesive composition.


    After placing objects in composition, students and teachers can carefully consider the size of the objects to be drawn and choose a place on the paper to start drawing. Observe proportions between objects. The closer the object is to the artist, the lower it belongs on the page. Shade the darker side of each object first. Finish each object completely before moving onto the next. Add each line, one at a time. Teachers can use positive, encouraging statements: "Make a curvy line like a smile," or "Use light pencil strokes so it’s easier to erase other lines later."

Sketchbook Wonders

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.


Visual records can be used in classrooms to encourage and develop student creativity, individual expression, and self-reflection. Sketchbooks are not designed to be formal or finished works of art, but rather emphasize the enormous process-based benefits of creating visual art and engaging the right side of the brain. The principles and activities discussed in this section are designed for teachers and students alike, and can be implemented in classrooms in myriad ways.




Sketchbooks are not just for artists: everyone can benefit from using a sketchbook, visual journal, idea book, or bullet journal. Maintaining a sketchbook or similar visual practice is a useful way to hold and develop ideas. Creating or using an idea book helps develop concentration and focus. Making a visual record aids deeper thinking, which develops meaning-making skills and links memory with experience. Sketchbooks guide thought-process mind-maps by developing cognition and enhancing observation skills. Journals and sketchbooks cultivate curiosity, inquisitiveness, exploration, and imagination. Writing or drawing ideas can encourage questions and generate new and different ideas, creating previously unrealized links between new thoughts and old ones. This process lends a sense of freshness and vitality to a personal vision, related goals, and overall life mindset.




Some ideas, experiences, or memories cannot be held or expressed with words. Visualizing these through drawing or other artistic expression gives motion, life, and physical space to life's unspoken moments. Keeping a sketchbook of these moments helps note progress over time and is a safe environment for brainstorming and big ideas, mistake making, and cathartic release that creates greater confidence. Instead of focusing on the perceived perfection of a final artwork or masterpiece, a sketchbook nurtures an appreciation for the process and journey of art making and personal development. Art can link memory and learning in unique and indelible ways, and gives the creator a greater sense of expressive freedom and self-awareness.




SCRIBBLE: Make a line, then take it for a walk and see what happens. Put a mark on the paper and observe as the line transforms into something else.

KEEP AT IT: Draw, sketch, or scribble daily to promote creative thinking. Embrace the process. Remember the words of artist Vincent Garriano: "Drawing trains you to follow what your eyes are showing you, rather than what your brain is telling you."

EXPLORE and EXPRESS: Use a variety of media, or drawing tools. Try a pen, colored pencils, ink, watercolor, or collage. Test new tools, vary what goes in, and experiment with space, lines, shapes, colors, shadow, and scale. 

TEXT HELPS TOO: Written text has its place in sketchbooks: date each exercise, and try to include a place as well. Express thoughts, add poems, words, feelings, ideas, or select one word to describe the daily entry. Using words with images adds depth to specific studies, fosters self-awareness, and generates new mental links and deeper understanding.

COLLECT CREATIVITY: Staple or tape meaningful notes, receipts, ticket stubs, lists, or photos to sketchbook pages. Focus on items that spark a memory or experience. Adding these elements is a great way to integrate other curricular topics like math, reading, science, writing, history, and other art forms into the overall function of a sketchbook.

HAVE FUN: Invite students to add personality and individuality to their books. Encourage the addition of color, text, drawings, patterns, or collage to the cover. Giving the book a name, or physically changing it in some way (using hole punches, stickers, or stamps) can be a fun and useful exercise for self-discovery. Sharing sketchbooks with other class members can ignite new ideas and create more profound personal connections with others.


Beyond the Work of Art

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.


How can teachers inspire students to engage in questioning strategies about what students see in the world?

Arts-based questioning strategies offer a two-fold purpose: students can be guided through different elements within various works of art; and, students can develop and enhance essential skills to facilitate lifelong learning. Benefits of regularly engaging in questioning strategies include refining observational prowess, deeper contemplation, developing collaboration and critical thinking abilities, and interpretation skills. The richest learning occurs by using open-ended questions that allow children to keenly observe and discuss their findings. In some, but not all, cases, this pattern of observation and discussion may result in a judgement of an artwork, or the discovery of the artist's true socio-political, economic, or emotional meaning of the work. At times, the teacher may want the students to precisely consider the historical or social context of an artwork to provide enhanced meaning for discussion. At other times, a teacher may simply invite students to speculate meaning based on observation, or ask students to notice the formal details of a specific composition. The visual thinking guide in the following section utilizes this foundation of open-ended questions, which provides teachers with flexibility: this scaffold enables teachers to limit or enhance various lines of questioning, including the possibility of adding additional information in order to contribute to more deeply meaningful classroom discourse. Many models of art criticism and questioning strategies exist: visit "How to Teach the Arts" to find a list of arts-based pedagogies that support developing questions and inspiring student-generated inquiry.

A Visual Thinking Guide

For viewing works of art with elementary students

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.




• What do you see?

• Where do you see that?

• What else do you notice?

• Describe more details of what you are seeing.



• What does it mean?

• What can you guess about the people, places, or things in this picture?

• What do you think the artist is trying to say? 

• What do you see that makes you say that?

• What do YOU think it means?

• What do you see that makes you say that?



• Is it successful? 

• Why do you think the artist was successful or unsuccessful? 

• What do you see that makes you say that? 

• Do you like it? Why or why not?


Top Ten Tips for Art in the Classroom

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.


    Far from being a mere accessory, pretty adornment, or a time-filler, art plays a significant role in the classroom. Engaging students in artwork generates inquiry, produces wonder, and makes thinking visible. Art integration occurs when an art form is connected to another part of the curriculum in an equal and seamlessly reinforced manner. For example, while students are learning about various forms of symmetry during a math unit, teachers might concurrently assign students an art project to find and visually represent symmetry in nature. 


    Model confidence and capability by encouraging students to focus on artistic challenges as springboards for growth and opportunities to stretch existing abilities. Instead of using statements like, "I can’t draw," or "I'm not a creative person," believe in and inspire students' capacities for success by shifting to a positive mindset which sounds like, "I'm not confident yet, but I can still choose to try." This language can assuage students’ fear of failure or reliance on a fixed standard of perfection. After reading I Am An Artist by Pat Lowery Collins, focus on teaching students the importance of the word yet.


    Training the eye results from repeated efforts to notice detail and patterns in the surrounding world. Encourage students to explore and identify the patterns on a turtle's back, or the radial symmetry of petals on a flower, or the subtle differences between different authors, and the geometric shapes inherent in honeycomb, snowflakes, and ice. Art is everywhere.


    Build creative strategies into an inquiry-based routine. Motivate students to engage in the process of creating something. Very young students might enjoy collaborating to construct a larger-than-life paper visualization of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Older students might use Eric Carle's extensive publications as inspiration to write their own story, studying the elements of color, shape, composition, and proportion while illustrating the story with painted and collaged materials.


    Children's ideas need to be heard, validated, and honored in the classroom. Cultivating a culture of acceptance in the classroom enables participants to feel comfortable sharing and builds a strong foundation for ideas to grow. Each student offers unique experiences, perspectives, beliefs, and feelings that can benefit the whole group. Learning is deepest when all students are involved in constructing and demonstrating their own understanding.


    Teachers and students can reserve 20 minutes each day to sketch, doodle, or create new art. Practicing daily will perpetuate feelings of wonder and freedom, and inspires students and teachers alike to share in the excitement of art making.


    Teachers can approach art fully, with deeply engaged hands, heads, and hearts. Incorporating music and movement can inspire deeper creative ideas. A personal music playlist shared with students might inform the doodle or painting during classroom art time. Or, assigning an art project based on a social theme or student’s story can integrate the classroom culture with art making. 


    Student-made books are a great way to involve fast finishers, and a good idea for a classroom center. Making books helps students learn to follow instructions. Creating, assembling, and reviewing student-made picture books promote visual thinking strategies, enabling children to "read" pictures to better explore and understand their world.


    Have easy-to-use art materials including crayons, colored pencils, marker trays, clipboards, and sketchbooks or stacks of paper available for students. These can be placed at a permanent classroom center for fast finishers, and can be used by all students during quiet time or recess. Read The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert and learn about having a space to get started with ideas, a place for building creativity, and making something new.


    Focusing students' attention on the process of art making can help facilitate a shift from a fixed mindset to a more optimistic and effective growth mindset. Process art gives children space to be themselves, helps develop decision-making skills, and expands the sense of understanding and acceptance in the classroom. Making art engages the right side of the brain, sparks new neural connections, and enables art makers to create meaning and associations between ideas and concepts. Emphasizing the process can mean avoiding judgemental or direct comparisons between children’s completed works; reducing or eliminating step-by-step instructions; and asking open-ended questions to get the work started. 

Visual Art Lesson Plans

Find lesson plans sorted by art form and grade level on the BYU ARTS Partnership website.


Click here to return to the visual arts menu.


Research on Visual Arts Education

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.

Visual Arts Resources

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.

Visual Arts Standards

Click here to return to the visual arts menu.



Artistic processes are the cognitive and physical actions by which arts learning and making are realized. National Core Arts Standards are based on the artistic processes of Creating; Performing/ Producing/Presenting; Responding; and Connecting.

National Core Arts Standards logo




1. Generate and conceptualize visual ideas and work.

2. Organize and develop visual artwork.

3. Refine and complete works of art.




4. Select, analyze, and interpret visual art for presentation.

5. Develop and refine techniques.

6. Convey meaning through the presentation of visual art.




7. Perceive and analyze visual works of art.

8. Interpret intent and meaning in works of art.

9. Apply criteria to evaluate visual arts.




10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art. 

11. Relate visual ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.


"The Fine Arts have four strands: Create, Perform/Present/ Produce, Respond, and Connect. Within each strand are standards. A standard is an articulation of the demonstrated proficiency to be obtained. A standard represents an essential element of the learning that is expected. While some standards within a strand may be more comprehensive than others, all standards are essential for mastery."

- Quoted from the Utah Core State Standards for Fine Arts




Click on the icons below to see the state visual arts standards for each grade.