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How to Play the Elements of Art & Principles of Design Memory Game

I’m always on the lookout for creative, new ways to teach my students the Elements of Art and Principles of Design (affiliate link).

You may have played a version of this game before 

Recently, I attended a bridal shower where we played a memory game…. the “put-a-bunch-of kitchen-stuff-on-a-tray-and-give-each-table-group-a-minute-to-stare-at-it-and-see-how-much-they-can-remember” game. I was surprised when this room full of chatty women became absolutely silent when it was time to start writing our lists of what we could remember! Immediately I thought, “I have to play this game with my over-talkative 5th graders!”  

I adapted the game for my students

So I modified the objects I used so that each item had something in common with one of the Elements of Art & Principles of Design. Then, I placed them in a box lid and introduced the game to my 5th-grade students. The result was as I expected. For the first time this year, our classroom was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop! I played this same game the following week with my middle school students with similar results. We all enjoyed a few minutes of peace and quiet and my students had a fun refresher course on the Elements of Art & Principles of Design at the same time! 

The Elements of Art Memory Game

How to play

1. Choose one item to represent each of the 7 Elements of Art and 7 Principles of Design. You’ll have 14 different items in all.
2. Place your items on a tray or in a shallow box so that each one is easily visible.
3. Now walk slowly around the room with the items. Pause for a minute at each table group to give students a good look. Remind them not to say the names of any of the items out loud. That could give others an unfair advantage!
4. After everyone has seen the items, have students take out a piece of paper and list as many as they can remember.  
5. When most students have stopped writing, and you have about 5 seconds between anyone remembering something (kind of like waiting for popcorn in the microwave to finish popping!), then tell students their time is up!
6. Now, one by one, review first the Elements of Art, and then the Principles of Design, as you hold up the item from the tray that represented it. Explain how you made the connection. The randomness of some of the items will be half the fun!  
7. Have students give themselves a point for every item they remembered. Offer a prize to the student who remembered the most!

These are the items I used and how they connect to the Elements and Principles. Use my ideas or come up with your own!

The Elements of Art are like the “building blocks” from which a piece of art is made; the “alphabet” of the visual world:
  • Line – (wire) lines can be straight, curvy, zig-zag, etc.
  • Shape – (heart-shaped cookie cutter) an area enclosed by a line or an edge, 2-dimensional, can be geometric or organic
  • Form – (apple) 3-dimensional, having volume and mass 
  • Color – (paint chip) the hue of an object (red, blue, yellow, etc.)
  • Value – (flashlight) the lightness or darkness of a color – not how much something costs!
  • Texture – (sandpaper) the surface quality, how something feels, or how it looks like it would feel (visual texture)
  • Space – (tape measure) the illusion of distance or depth created with shading and/or perspective, or the actual space that something occupies
The Principles of Design represent how those “building blocks” (or elements) are organized or arranged:
  • Balance – (skateboard wheel) the distribution of “visual weight” by the arrangement of elements; balance may be symmetrical (formal) or asymmetrical (informal)
  • Emphasis – (highlighter) when an element is given dominance, making it stand out
  • Movement/Rhythm(drum stick) the visual path that a viewer’s eyes follow across a work of art or the implied movement of lines: horizontal (calm and still), vertical (strong, at attention), and diagonal (action) lines; movement and rhythm work together to create a visual “beat”
  • Pattern(argyle sock) planned or random repetitions of elements
  • Proportion – (eyeglasses) the relationship of relative sizes or scale of parts
  • Variety – (salt & pepper) different types of things from the same category
  • Unity – (trail mix bar) individual elements working together to create harmony

Why the Elements & Principles are important to know

The “Elements of Art” and “Principles of Design” give us the vocabulary to be able to talk intelligently about art and also help us to be more successful in our own art-making. Try this game with your students and then share your ideas for the fun items you used!

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  1. Absolutely love this idea! Such a fresh and new way to review or start introducing these concepts.

  2. Faigie, I've found that kids of all ages love memory games! For lower elementary (1st thru 3rd grade) I would probably just focus on the Elements of Art and then add the Principles of Design for 4th and up.

  3. Faigie, I've found that kids of all ages love memory games! For lower elementary (1st thru 3rd grade) I would probably just focus on the Elements of Art and then add the Principles of Design for 4th and up.

  4. I love this idea! I’m a mom (not an artist) who volunteers to teach Art Appreciation in my kids’ school. I’m always on the lookout for engaging activities that will be memorable for the students. This is perfect for today’s presentation! Thank you!

  5. Cheryl,
    Thanks! What a wonderful idea! My students and I will enjoy this.