Helping kids learn the Elements of Art & Principles of Design (affiliate link) is easy when you make a game of it! This activity is adaptable across a wide range of ages. I’ve used it from 1st grade through high school by customizing my questions or directives for the students I’m using it with.
Whether you have just a few minutes to fill or a whole class period, students will be excited to see you pull this out…. and it’s a great way to review at the end of the year!
Prepare your beachball
Brainstorm a list of prompts related to the Elements of Art (line, shape, form, color, value, texture, and space) and Principles of Design (balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, proportion, variety, and unity). Customize your prompts for the level of your students and the concepts you want to focus on (see photo).
Next, use a Sharpie to write about 30 or more prompts on a 20” beachball (affiliate link). I find that it helps to divide the ball into sections before I start writing on it.
Explain the game
Now, have students sit on their desks (they LOVE to sit on their desks since they rarely get to do this!) and toss the ball to each other, reading aloud the prompt closest to their right thumb when they catch it. (Sometimes, despite having so many possible options, the same prompt seems to come up over and over again! If that happens, just have the student gently toss the ball straight up, putting a little spin on it, and hopefully re-catching it in a new spot!)
These 3 rules will help keep things under control:
1. Before tossing the ball, call out the person’s name you’re throwing it to, so they’ll be ready. Remember, the goal is for them to catch it, not to make it hard to catch!
2. It’s okay to throw the ball to someone who’s already had it, but then the next person has to be someone who hasn’t had it yet. (This keeps everyone involved, and prevents students from ‘checking out’ once they’ve had their turn!)
3. Stay seated at all times and answer your prompt just using words – no getting up!
For 1st and 2nd grade, I usually make this an “I Spy” kind of game using objects in the room. Here are some prompts using the “Elements of Art” that work well for this age group:
Line: Find a line that’s straight (curved, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, zig-zag, etc.).
Shape: Find something 2D (flat) that’s shaped like a circle (square, rectangle, diamond, star, oval, etc.).
Form: Find something 3D that’s shaped like a ball (cube, cone, cylinder, pyramid, etc.).
Color: Find something red (blue, yellow, green, purple, orange, black, white, pink, etc.).
Value: Find something light (dark, or medium) in value.
Texture: Find something smooth (rough, bumpy, soft, silky, etc.).
Space: Find something close to you (far from you, overlapping something else, taking a large amount of space, or taking a small amount of space, bigger than you, smaller than you, etc.).
As older students learn to see the “Elements of Art & Principles of Design” in works of art, I also like to have them do scavenger hunts using prints of famous paintings:
If you have a dry erase board in the front of your room, set 2 or 3 (or more!) fine art prints on the tray and write the title and artist’s name on the board above it. More art to choose from keeps the game interesting and gives students more options for their responses.
For each response they give, have students choose one of the prints to use for their answer and say the name of the artist and artwork they’re referring to – this helps them learn some art history at the same time!
Some students will want to get up and physically point to things on the prints, but this is partly just an excuse to get out of their seats! By encouraging them to stay seated and use only words to explain what they want to say, you’ll be helping them develop their communication skills, and the game will move along faster, too!
Here are some prompts to encourage older students to find the “Elements of Art & Principles of Design” in famous works of art. Start with these and add some of your own!
Elements of Art….
Line: Find a vertical (horizontal, diagonal, broken, etc.) line.
Shape: What geometric shapes (or organic shapes) do you see?
Form: How many three-dimensional forms (if any) can you find?
Color: What is the dominant color scheme in this artwork? What warm (or cool) colors do you see?
Value: Choose one color and find a range of values of it.
Texture: Find an area with a rough (smooth, bumpy, fluffy, etc.) visual or actual texture.
Space: Do you see linear perspective (or aerial perspective) in this artwork? Where do you see positive (or negative) spaces?
Principles of Design….
Balance: Does this piece have symmetrical (or asymmetrical) balance? Where is the ‘visual weight’ in this piece?
Emphasis: What elements stand out or have emphasis?
Movement: Describe the path that your eyes follow across this work of art.
Pattern: What patterns can you find?
Proportion: Where do you see size relationships in this piece?
Variety: What different types of things from the same category do you see?
Unity: How do individual elements work together here to create harmony? What unifies this artwork?
Check out my Elements of Art Memory Game for another fun way to reinforce these important concepts.