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I Have a Dream — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Refused to give up her seat — Rosa Parks The Problem We All Live With — Ruby Bridges The Peanut Man — George Washington Carver
– Black History Month
As Black History Month was approaching, I reflected on how to celebrate progress while engaging with key issues plaguing the African American community. Last year, I jotted a few thoughts here, and I am back sharing my two cents. I asked one of my 6th graders: “What does Black History Month mean to you?” Her unfiltered thoughts:
“When black history month comes around, what do we think of? Usually it’s always Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, etc. They are important, but this is a whole new generation. We appreciate all the things they have done for the black community, but we should start recognizing the young black men and boys that are killed on the streets every day. This is a big issue in the African American community and we need to start celebrating and recognizing that their lives matter. It started with Emmett Till who was killed with no justice, and it continues with other black boys. If we can prove to the world that this is important, maybe the injustice will stop. On the news, there is always violence going on because of the pain people are feeling. These young boys should have statues, memorials because as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are important so is their memory.”
6th Grader & Thinker
From the mouths of babes! Abiba’s response reminded me that the children are watching! I certainly don’t want to cultivate students who view Black History Month as praise for past heroes. I also don’t want to use Black History Month as a history cram. I am fortunate to have a district curriculum that includes diverse perspectives and an opportunity to celebrate African American history throughout the year, but this hasn’t always been the case, and isn’t the case for teachers throughout the country. For any topic, especially this one, I think it’s critical to share the past in relation to the present and future. It is my hope that students will not come to me tired of the(ir) past, but rather inspired and poised to have an impact.
This list is by NO means all inclusive. Creating a “list” was difficult because there are so many ideas and pathways to celebrate the tremendous accomplishments of Africans and Americans (I purposefully separated the terms). I tried to pull out time periods, influential people, and events. To engage with topics, I’ve compiled some project ideas which include:
– Create mini-timelines for a time period
– Provide biographical information about important people
– Draw or paint portraits of important people and events and write a short bio
– Research the key contributions of Divine Nine fraternities and sororities. (Shout out to #DeltaSigmaTheta)
– Create a mini-documentary about a time period
– Pick a decade in history and in addition to the music of that time period, research its significance to politics and culture, the social justice context of genre, and the influence on dance and clothing styles
– Compare and contrast the philosophies of people during a specific time period (e.g. Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B DuBois)
Ideas for addressing the current contributions of African Americans include:
– Compare and contrast the philosophies across time periods (e.g. The Civil Rights Movement vs. Black Lives Matter)
– Organize a black film festival for the school that extends throughout the year
– Discuss bias and stereotypes in films and clips
– Read articles about a topic with different view points and analyze which author presents a stronger argument about the topic
– Review census data, collect and analyze statistics, and create graphs and infographics which illustrate housing patterns (Chicago is a great start).
I wholeheartedly know that our country has made tremendous progress. I know that I am standing on the shoulders of giants, and value their contributions towards the movement to end inequality. That said, anyone who believes that we live in a post-racial period is not paying attention. If you’re not paying attention, you’re not learning. Regardless of the population that teachers serve, we must present multiple perspectives and expose students to current events. If not, I wonder how we’ll ever move forward, and get beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The active participants in the Civil Rights Movement set the charge and got the ball rolling and we can’t be passive. The list above provides ideas for taking an active approach during and beyond Black History Month to get students thinking about the world we live in. There is so much we can learn from that past to prevent history from repeating itself. Watching the news is a real testament to the need for more relevant ongoing conversations and reflections about race and class with our students. If not, I fear we will continue to see incidents like this, this and this.
Tanesha is in her 9th year of teaching and 12th year in education. She began her career in her hometown of Miami, Florida. She currently serves as a middle school literacy teacher, and is committed to ensuring that her actions are rooted in research proven practices and responsive to her community of learners. She believes, “There’s no greater injustice than denying students access to a high quality education and opportunities to realize their potential.” You can see more of Tanesha’s resources and ideas by visiting her on Facebook, Instagram,Twitter, or Pinterest — or by checking out her TpT store.
Ready for some amazing resources? This round-up is full of activities for your readers, writers, and mathematicians. You’ll find resources for book studies, reading interventions, early finishers, number of the day, essential words for ELL students, and more. Be sure to check out these awesome stores and don’t forget: half of the resources are free!
“This is a book study that corresponds with Arnold Lobel’s book, Frog and Toad are Friends. There are between 5 and 8 short answer comprehension questions, a vocabulary practice page, and a writing prompt for each chapter. An answer key is provided.”
“This Reading Skills Step Ladder will give teachers a quick and easy ‘at a glance’ view of how students develop reading skills and help them identify gaps where students are missing essential skills. It can serve as a planning guide for core instruction, or as a reading intervention guide to help plan intervention for struggling students.”
“Do you need an effective, easy, and organized way to target reading intervention for beginning or struggling readers? These Reading Intervention Binders will give you everything you need to build beginning reading skills and help your students succeed.”
“Brag tags are an amazing way to celebrate student achievement. From the small moments to the big moments, there is a tag to help teachers acknowledge their students. The best part is kids love getting them and there is no finding things to top up treasure chests.”
“Celebrating Chinese New Year allows for classes to look and study another culture in a fun and informative way. This Chinese New Year Literacy and Flip Book Craft offers a unique look into the history and traditions of Chinese culture.”
“This ThinkBoard is an awesome tool that can be used in so many ways. Using it will give students the opportunity to construct and OWN their understandings, in just about ANY concept! Here’s a free version to help with math concepts.”
“Use these five activities to promote number sense as well as build mathematical language and fluency with numbers. They are easy to differentiate and great to use for groups, pairs, independent work, and math rotations. They’re also suitable for morning work, homework, warm-ups, early finishers, and pre-post assessment.”
“We have all heard the phrase, ‘I’m Done. Now What?’ Be prepared in advance with our early finishers task cards! These feature critical and creative thinking, cause and effect, sequencing, and persuasive writing.”
“An engaging and interactive yearlong curriculum created specifically with ELL newcomers in mind to promote listening, grammar, vocabulary, reading, and writing skills. This curriculum can be used to support ELL students in a pullout or homeroom setting, and includes daily lesson plans to provide teachers with the support needed to give second language learners the tools to succeed.”
It’s a STEM resource gold mine! This round-up includes resources on lab safety, the digestive system, states of matter, and more. You’ll also find activities for writing scientific arguments, STEM challenges, and guided notes. And don’t miss tips and tools for boosting student brainpower and practicing mindfulness in the classroom. Best of all, half of these resources are free!
“This handout connects science safety concepts with memorable cartoons as displayed in our free Amoeba Sisters General Lab Safety video. This handout is not only great to assess student understanding of lab safety but also provides a way for students to identify the functions and location of safety equipment in their classroom.”
“Our Unlectured Series is our new project designed to offer an alternative to traditional lecture and notes, promote questioning, student discussion, and student creation in the classroom. Instead of PowerPoint slides full of information, all of the slides consist of memorable science cartoons and questions to engage the class in discussion.”
“The flipped classroom is a great way to differentiate your class and meet the needs of students. Students can learn the basic information at home, going at their pace, and then they can practice what they learned in the classroom with the help of the teacher and other students.”
“With warm-ups, checks for understandings, closings, language support, and differentiated levels of thinking, this unit has everything you need to teach states of matter and thermal energy. Plus you can choose to go completely paperless or go with paper depending on your classroom’s needs.”
“This bundle of eight STEM challenges allows students to engage with the science curriculum in an active and hands-on way. Each challenge is fully explained and comes with student worksheets, a rubric, teacher notes, and a timeline so that implementing great science learning in the classroom is easy.”
“This bundle of eight STEM challenges allows students to engage with the science curriculum in an active and hands-on way. Each challenge is fully explained and comes with student worksheets, a rubric, teacher notes and a timeline so that implementing great science learning in the classroom is easy.”
“Guided notes help students focus on the key information being presented and help them to follow along. What makes many of my notes even better is the opportunity for some short practice of new information. These notes accompany a Powerpoint Presentation on DNA Profiling (aka DNA Fingerprinting), which I use in Forensic Science and Biology classes.”
“This is my newest Process-Oriented Group Inquiry-based Lesson on the Digestive System. I have created similar successful activities for Anatomy classes which are fabulous in introducing new material to students, allowing them to build a foundation that you can then layer upon. Students are engaged and there is an increase in the retention of content!”
“Use all free tips listed, regardless of your lesson topics, as refreshing tools to help boost your students’ brainpower, and develop the skills necessary to solve course-related problems beyond class.”
“Interactive binder brings mindfulness into action daily in interactive original texts about your awesome brain and its application to real-life problems. The resource comes with tools to apply lesson content in ways that develop mindful habits. Students’ journal takeaways from daily lesson ideas will highlight unique intelligence. Students are guided to reflect on a video that connects their capabilities to your lesson insights. Student-created posters will teach lesson topics to younger learners, and teams will display innovative bulletin boards to capture and implement lesson insights.”
The horrific violence that took place in Parkland, Florida last week is the latest instance of a tragic school shooting. This senseless loss of young lives touches all of us. We are called to respond and try to help. To support the victims and families, TpT is donating $10,000 to the Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund run by the Broward Education Foundation. We hope our donation will provide support during an unfathomably difficult time.
We’ve heard from many in our community that you are working to find a path forward. If you want to share, tell us about it here.
These violent attacks have occurred far too often. Teachers, students, and staff should be safe in their schools.
Do you feel like you are constantly teaching and re-teaching how to solve equations? Try this process and watch your students’ eyes light up with understanding.
Teaching mathematics should take the form of concrete -> symbolic -> abstract. If you just jump right into teaching abstractly, you will not reach all of your students. In this post, I will review how you can take solving equations through these 3 steps. I have used this process in my classroom, and it has proved to bevery effective.
I will go through this process with the equation x – 3 = 10
Before going through the process, emphasize the meaning of the equal sign. Many students will think that the equal sign means “the answer is”. Teach that the equal signs means that both sides are the same. Many teachers relate this to a scale, which is a great visual. The scale will become unbalanced if you only add or subtract from one side of the equal sign.
To concretely solve this equation, have students use Algebra tiles. Tip: Have students circle the terms separately. This will help them to not be confused with the signs. Hopefully you have already talked about the additive inverse when teaching integers. If not, teach this property. Tell students they can add or subtract anything from both sides until the variable is alone.
Now you will move to drawing symbols for the tiles. I often still let students use the tiles if they need it to guide them in their thinking. I will have them draw a symbol for each tile. Many students start by actually drawing the blocks, but they soon change to just writing the “1” or “-1”.
Next you will move to abstract. Instead of writing “1 1 1”, students will write “+3”.
One more tip: ALL students should start at the concrete level. Allow students to move through the progression of concrete, symbolic, abstract at their own pace. Allowing students to take the time they need at each level will help them to develop a deep understanding of the mathematics.
After graduating with a B.S. in Mathematics, Michelle dove into teaching in the middle school math classroom. She taught for 6 years, and loved her time in the classroom and was nominated as the Teacher of the Year. She designed her classroom to consistently challenge her students’ minds in an engaging way. She took many masters classes about math pedagogy and loves to share this with other teachers. She hopes to educate math teachers to teach math in a way that makes sense to ALL students. Michelle hopes to be back in the classroom one day, but in the meantime is enjoying her time as a full-time mom and part-time curriculum writer.
It’s a Thursday afternoon. There is a buzz around school that there is a possibility of a “cold day” tomorrow! Below zero temps are blowing our way… Not a snow day… but a “Brrrrr, it’s a bitter cold day”! Teachers and students alike are distracted by visualizing an extended weekend.
You know the feeling, the anticipation of schools closing is almost as paralyzing as the impending frozen fingers and toes to be had, if we were to attempt the commute to school the next day. Fingers and toes crossed we won’t have to!
Teachers are visualizing sleeping in, followed by a lazy morning in their pajamas drinking HOT coffee in a real coffee mug and perusing Pinterest. While students are creating mental images of their favorite cartoon and gaming characters.
So when we finally received “advanced” notice that afternoon, that schools were indeed “CLOSED due to inclement weather”; teachers and students were immediately blissfully daydreaming of the perfect day at home.
It was all we could think about. It was time to deviate from the scope and sequence of our Reader’s Workshop and postpone the day’s planned lesson and continue on with our visualizations. Bittersweet!
Reading a winter-themed story seemed like an appropriate choice given the circumstances. So I uploaded our Winter Listening Center and with a quick click, we were listening to the author himself: Robert Munsch, read aloud his highly entertaining children’s book: 50 Below Zero.
Young readers are inundated with visual images every day while playing video games and watching TV. Teaching children HOW to create their own mental images can be a challenging task these days. Choosing highly engaging text is a MUST when showing children how to visualize a text in an effort to improve their comprehension. Doing so will instill a love of reading and create life-long readers. This entertaining winter read aloud did just this, on the eve of a “Cold Day”.
“Proficient readers spontaneously and purposely create mental images while and after they read. The images emerge from all five senses as well as the emotions and are anchored in a reader’s prior knowledge.”
-Keene and Zimmerman, Mosaic of Thought
The First Read Aloud WITHOUT Illustrations
The best part of this read aloud is that we simply listened to the story without the illustrations! We were immersed in visualizing a bitter cold evening as Robert Munsch painted mental images in our mind’s eye.
We listened as Robert Munsch himself read his tale with entertaining character voices, exaggerated snoring, and fluent expression! Without having the illustrations to guide our comprehension, we had to rely on our own mental images to envision the story.
The kids were giggling, wiggling, and repeatedly asked me to rewind the story to “listen to that part again”. And we did, more than a few times. It brought me such pleasure to see them so amused and engaged with a read aloud without being dependent on the illustrations to assist them.
This visualization activity did not end there. We didn’t want the fun to end! We discussed the story events and recalled the details that formed such vivid images in our mind’s eye. We began by closing our eyes recalling more and more details that improved the picture in our mind. We set to work illustrating our favorite part of the story. We shared our illustrations and giggled again as we admired each other’s work!
A Second Read Aloud WITH Illustrations
With time to spare, I asked the children if they wanted to see what Michael Martchenko’s mental images looked like when he illustrated the book. Of course they said yes, and thanks to YouTube, I quickly found the same read aloud in Munsch’s voice WITH illustrations. I ran the link through SafeShare.tv and voila! Another read aloud was in session.
Oh, the roars of laughter and wiggles and giggles that took place in our meeting place! The children were completely entertained with the illustrations as Papa was found sleeping on the refrigerator, the car, and leaning against a tree in 50 below zero temps!
Comparing Mental Images With Those of the Illustrator
Of course, this read aloud was not all fun and game… we then had quite a serious discussion about how the illustrator’s mental images were different than our own. It wasn’t just because he was a better artist. We discussed how Michael has different experiences in life that allowed him to add more detail to his drawings. So the children revisited their favorite part of the story and drew a second illustration to mimic the illustrator’s. They added more detail and their mental images became more clear. As well as their comprehension of the story.
Take a closer look at the images below. Notice how in the first example, a student drew a picture of Papa sleeping against a tree that has green leaves – in the dead of winter! In the second drawing that mimics the illustrator’s, this same student revised their mental image to include bare branches and added the main character wearing a scarf as well.
The two other examples also include more details of the setting which brings a powerful message to our young readers. It is also interesting to note that my students commented that they envisioned “Papa” to be an old man for they call their grandfathers “Papa”. However, in this story, it appears Papa is the father! Having your students compare their visualizations with that of an illustrator will help them fine-tune their visualization techniques (not their artistic ability) to include the senses. They will also come to realize that everyone has different mental images based on their background knowledge and schema!
I can’t wait to revisit this book in a Writer’s Workshop lesson when we discuss adding details to our stories. Like the author, we need to help our readers make better mental images by providing LOTS of details. Thank you Robert Munsch for this awesome story that has inspired us to become better readers AND writers!
If this lesson sounds like a win to you too, I gathered all the resources you will need to share this visualization lesson with your own students. You can find it HERE at my TpT shop.
Teacher’s Notes Page
9 slides to guide you through the lesson.
TWO separate links are included for the story. The first link includes audio only. The second link includes audio and illustrations.
There are two listening task cards included (with SafeShare links) for your Listening Center. Scan the QR code, or click on the book cover to be directed to the Read Aloud; free of ads and inappropriate content.
One recording sheet will help your students compare their mental images with that of the illustrator.
Stay warm, keep smiling and happy reading!
Lori at The K Files has been teaching for nearly 20 years with a focus in the primary grades. As a mother of three boys and a “school mom” for her students, Lori believes the classroom is a “home away from home: and is committed to ensure that her students are loved, engaged, and moving forward each day.
Lori considers teaching a form of art and is known to provide a plethora of creative visual supports to help her students thrive and move forward. She has created a variety of resources that encourage students to take ownership of their learning by setting personal and academic goals. She believes that all students CAN!
Do something different for Black History Month this year. Create a Prop Box Play on the contributions of different African Americans in U.S. History. My students love bringing history to life with plays and skits – and a Prop Box Play adds the structure you need for group work to actually work!
Set up your prop box. This is an easy step! Run around your house and throw different items in a box! I have used leftover tissue paper from Christmas, ribbon, yarn from an old project, and some ugly scarfs that I never wear. Of course, you will need the standard classroom supplies such as glue, a stapler and markers. Just give your kids plenty of materials and opportunities to be creative.
Create your groups. You will need to create groups of four for your students. I hardly ever let my students choose their groups – too many opportunities for distraction! Each student in the group will have a different role Director, Scriptwriter, Historical Consultant or Prop Master. These are clearly defined roles and they allow you to monitor the group’s progress.
Choose your topics and set up your folders. Each folder will need to include the step by step instructions for a Prop Box Play, a checkoff sheet, a rubric, and a reading passage. I used Black History Month passages from The Sweetest Thing on TpT. To add a little extra spice, I printed up Black History Month Clip Art from Drawings with John – beautiful!
Setting up folders before the activity will allow your students to focus on what is important.
Give your students TIME! They will need to research their topics, create their script and props, and rehearse their play.
Look at all of the creative ideas this group had for props!
ENJOY your kids’ creativity! This is your opportunity to let your kids shine – consider videotaping their performance to show parents or other students. Use a rubric for easy grading and feedback to each group.
Thank you so much to the teachers in Alief ISD who allowed me to use their pictures for my blog! I really enjoyed my day in our training! If you try a Prop Box Play Let me know how they worked for you. For more engaging activities for Black History Month, try my Black History Month Lap Book. Your students will research and create a Lap Book featuring different leaders in Black History.
I have been serving in the education field for over 25 years. I started teaching in 1993 as a 7th and 8th grade history teacher. After 13 years in the classroom, I transitioned into the role of an instructional coach based on a high school campus. This window into other teachers’ classrooms motivated my inner calling to improve Social Studies instruction. I realized how important front line education is to changing the way students react to and learn from the important life lessons Social Studies has to share. After working as a central office Social Studies Coordinator, I created Social Studies Success. I provide professional development, consulting services, and resources to Social Studies teachers. Social media has intensified my efforts to share best practices by allowing me to share ideas and teaching strategies around the globe. I want every child to understand the importance of Social Studies in their life – and every teacher to have the tools to reach them.
Looking for some new ways to engage your middle and high school students? You’ve come to the right place. This week, our round-up showcases fantastic resources on the Oregon Trail, the scientific method, physical science, and functional math. You’ll also find resources for your classroom including an essay revision station, a new writing strategy, bell ringers, and more. Half of the resources are free!
“The Oregon Trail Simulation is such a fun way to experience the excitements and horrors during the westward expansion era of U.S. History. Through teamwork and journaling, students will compete with other wagons for survival in their westward adventure to Oregon City!”
“Revision stations will revolutionize the way your students revise their writing. With six stations focused on different skills and both peer and teacher conferences, students will have the tools they need to produce strong writing, and you will have the time to conference with all of your students!”
“This escape room bundle will get your students on their feet, engaged, and learning important ELA skills. This bundle includes all the ELA escape rooms you need: a poetry escape room, a literary devices escape room, and a close reading and multiple choice escape room that is perfect for preparing students for the standardized testing season!”
There is a myth in education that states teachers can just shut their doors and teach, neglecting everything else happening outside their classroom. That approach might have worked in the past, but in today’s classrooms and schools, it just isn’t practical (and definitely not an appreciated practice).
In an elementary setting, it often can be easier for teachers to run the show from start to finish since they have the same kids from morning to afternoon and from September to June. However, as kids get older and begin transitioning from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher, isolated practices like ‘shut your door and teach’ isn’t in the best interest of the student. There are too many variables for a student’s learning success, and all stakeholders need to work together to make it happen.
But there lies the myth. In elementary classrooms, it is just as important that colleagues work together to ensure “all our kids” reach success. Just because students don’t change classrooms or teachers does not mean educators can shut each other out. That is the first step to stunting your own growth as a teacher and that choice has a devastating effect on student progress, both in the classroom and out. New teachers succumb to the myth of “shut your door and teach” because there is so much to learn about the art of teaching that they cannot even fathom adding anything more to their plate, such as building relationships with colleagues. Some new teachers have the benefit of a mentor or veteran teacher that they go to for help, but that relationship is often only going one way (receive, receive, receive).
Collaboration with colleagues has many benefits to the student, teacher, and school overall. However, shutting classroom doors to “do your own thing” ensures collaboration becomes extinct in and around the school building. That one choice guarantees zero benefits result for the student, teacher, and other school members.
The secret to building successful relationships and collaborating with colleagues is this:
1. Be available. A closed door or mind is not welcoming to passersby. Open up your classroom door and your mind so that you can be perceived as an approachable individual.
2. Be open to new ideas and perspectives. Make the decision daily that new ideas and perspectives can enhance your ability to teach and therefore you will appreciate any new thoughts you hear from your peers during the day.
3. Give and receive. Relationships require a give-and-take song and dance. Collaboration is stunted when an individual performs the same part of the relationship over and over. It is important to be on both sides of the coin, giving to help others as well as receiving for your own benefit.
4. Model collaboration for students. Students are always watching. They should see their teacher chatting with colleagues about instruction, getting excited to try new approaches, encouraging one another to do a great job, celebrating new territory explored, etc. Teamwork is easy to replicate when students see it in action from professionals- their teachers.
5. Share stories, examples, and research. Help your colleagues see the benefits in your own teaching journey by sharing stories of how collaboration has shifted your practices and impacted student achievement. Get personal with specific examples as well as share the latest research you uncovered. Collaboration will spread when it seems relatable.
6. Move beyond your geographical location. A colleague doesn’t have to be a person in your school building. It can be an educator miles away geographically, but with just a quick text, phone call or social media message they are near when it counts. Connect with other amazing educators around the world to better your practices.
The secret as you can see is not a one-size-fits-all approach or a simple recipe to follow for guaranteed success. It is, however, a shift in mindset with immense impact on the daily work of a teacher, professionally and personally. The steps listed above cannot occur without that mind shift; therefore, the secret is to shape our notions and thoughts about collaborating with colleagues so that when we apply the steps mentioned above, we learn, grow and reach our own potential for the benefit of our students. Educators are the most flexible people on the planet, so it is no wonder changing a mindset would be easy for them too!
Gretchen is a teacher trainer and educational consultant with a decade of experience as an elementary educator in both urban and suburban environments located in Charlotte, NC. She holds a master’s degree in Curriculum and Supervision and earned her National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist in 2012. Empowering students to think deeply and work independently was the goal of her work in the classroom. Gretchen later took those same goals and utilized them to cultivate instructional talent in new teachers to impact the city’s neediest student populations. Always A Lesson is Gretchen’s educational blog where she originally shared her classroom experience, but has since taken this blog and turned it into a website that features webinars, educational resources and a podcast to empower educators. She looks forward to learning and leading with other educators.
A few years ago I began teaching a painting class, after taking a a three year break to focus on ceramics and sculpture. While I loved teaching 3D art, I was excited to move back to the two dimensional world. I always loved painting. and couldn’t wait to teach a course that focused on it. However, in order to teach a well rounded painting course, I knew I would have to teach watercolor. And I hated watercolor. My mom is an amazing watercolorist. Not only was she an amazing watercolorist, she was also an amazing portrait artist. Two skills that I am not naturally gifted at. Growing up, I remember a number of times when my mom attempted to teach me watercolor techniques. Despite her many tips and suggestions, I was impatient and couldn’t wrap my head around the need to plan ahead and work in layers. At the point when I took over the painting and advanced 2D courses and realized I would have to teach an advanced level watercolor project, I had yet to create a successful watercolor painting. It was time. I was going to have to learn to properly paint with watercolors, because I was about to have to teach it. I started with the basics. I needed to plan ahead and pace myself. I knew from experience if you went too heavy too quick, you could never get back to whites and lighter colors. Watercolor is about glazing, adding thin layers on top of each other, and letting the layers dry in between, to create detail, depth, and build in shadows. I began doing watercolor testers. First, just blobs of wet on wet, dry brush, and adding other material such as salt. I watched YouTube videos and checked out a few watercolor books. Next, I began combining the techniques to create simple landscapes. The above path started with wet watercolor, allowing the first layer to dry, then adding in dark shades. I left lighter areas untouched, and tried not to go too heavy too quick. The final layers involved adding the detail such as the grass. I didn’t shy away from incorporating other colors, such as blue and purple, into the shadows.
I continued to work with combining techniques, planning ahead, and building my color in layers. I had my mom once again show me her techniques, and began thinking and applying them in a different way than I had before. I realized at heart, I am an oil painter. I like to throw down color, mix it together, and cover up mistakes as I go. You don’t have the luxury of that with watercolor. You must plan ahead. You must work slow. You must think highlights vs. shadows before you lay them down. I had to change the way I thought about painting in order to successfully complete a watercolor. For the example above, I tested wet on wet by wetting my paper first, then adding green, yellow, and blue watercolor. I allowed the first layer to dry, then added brown and more blue to push my shadows and value. I then used a mostly dry brush and painted in a floral shape. Once I felt confident in the watercolor techniques I was testing, I decided it was time to start my project example. The assignment was for my Advanced 2D art class, the last step before AP Art. They had to select a part of our school’s campus to turn into a watercolor painting. They could go inside, outside, it was up to them, but it had to have some sort of architectural feature in it. This assignment forced them to go out and take pictures to work from, making them consider angles, framing, and composition. It required them to focus on perspective and lines, with the architectural element. And it also focused on honing their watercolor techniques to create a realistic image. Although they were focusing on a section of the school, I encouraged them to think about what part of the school was important to them. Where was their favorite class? Where did they spend the most time? What space best reflected their view of the school?
While I focused on our school for this project, it’s also a great opportunity to have students think personally, and bring in a photograph of a place that is important to them. For my example, I did not focus on a section of the school. Instead, I opted to kill two birds with one stone, complete an example and create a wedding present for my brother-in-law and his wife. I chose an image of their wedding venue, a beautiful southern house called Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC. There are two ways I like to do my examples. The first is to complete them before my class starts the assignment to make sure I like it and it will be successful. The other way is to do it along with them. I chose option B for this project, which was scary since I was not confident in my watercolor ability. The benefit of working on my painting along with my students is I can tell them what issues I come across as I work through them. It also allows me to continue demonstrating techniques throughout the project. And although I wasn’t very confident in my watercolor painting abilities, it showed them that I could do it. I kept telling them if I could do it, they absolutely could as well.
Before I introduced the watercolor project, I completed my base drawing. I used pencil, then went ahead and traced over the lines using a waterproof pen. I kept the ink lines tight in sections I knew would be in full view, and loosened up in the areas that would have foliage overlapping it. I at least wanted to base drawing to be complete, so when I introduced the project I could go ahead and demonstrate some watercolor techniques. Next, I began painting. First of all, I apologize for the huge jump from zero paint to 75% complete. I always intend to photograph throughout the process, but I often get caught up in what I am doing. I started with the sky, using wet on wet and blotting out the clouds. Next, I went into the roof and walls of the building using a combination of wet on wet, dry brush, and adding salt for texture. I then continued adding details and blocking out color for the background. As I continued to add detail, I slowly built up the shadows and was very careful not to go too dark too quick. I constantly told my students they could always go darker, but couldn’t go lighter. They were going to paint the painting at least four times through the layering technique.
The final touches came with the trees and bushes that overlapped the front of the building and were the darkest color. I then went back in with pen and added more lines as needed. I was very pleased with the final product and with myself for pushing out of my comfort zone by tackling a medium I had never liked before. Since this painting was completed, I have done a number of other landscape and architecture watercolor paintings. I have a new found love for it, and although it will never be my first choice, it isn’t one I will shy away from anymore. I matted and framed the painting for them as a Christmas gift. I hope they cherish is for years to come. My students’ painting also turned out beautifully. I love putting the campus painting on display in the school. It gives the faculty, administrators, and student body a chance to see their school in a different light. It’s always interesting to see what part of the school they choose to focus on. Megan and Vince were married in gardens right next to the plantation home. It was beautiful with the Spanish moss and pond as a backdrop to the beautiful wedding party, bride, and groom. The reception took place on the porch of the house. It was an amazing day from start to finish. This was a picture of my husband, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece and myself during the wedding weekend. It was so much fun celebrating with the Panetta family and witnessing Vince and Megan’s commitment to each other. Nick and I also announced the coming of our first baby the same weekend, who is now a two-year-old wild man Cooper.
Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! You can find the lesson plan and all the resources I use to teach this watercolor project at my TpT store here. I have also created watercolor how to posters here and here. Also check out different ways I use watercolor in my visual journal here and here. Help me spread the word by sharing this post on your social media site of choice. Thanks for stopping by.
As a daughter of a 30+ year elementary art teacher, I believe I was destined (and raised) to be an art teacher. I am in my ninth year teaching high school art, and have loved the journey of being an educator so far. Over the course of my nine year teaching career, I have had the opportunity to teach all aspects of art from intro to ceramics and sculpture to 2D AP Art. In my spare time, I love to create mixed media works of art and participating in festivals in the Atlanta area. I began dabbling in Teachers Pay Teachers almost four years ago, and have found more joy than I expected in running my own business. In addition to teaching, TpTing, and making my own art, I am a mother of two, wife, and dog and chicken owner. Learn more about my projects and life by following me on Instagram, Facebook, or checking out my blog.