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Blending Art and Reading Programs for K-5

By Room 241 Team October 29, 2012

Nearly every subject in school has an element of reading involved, even math and science, which makes reading one of the most important skills developed in elementary school. The ability to read well isn’t the only necessary component of good reading, though. Reading comprehension is even more essential. By blending art and reading programs in K-5, teachers can not only enhance reading comprehension in students, but may increase art appreciation as well, which has proven beneficial to academic success.

Why blend?

When students are assigned art projects based on reading assignments, they must have some comprehension of the material in order to complete those projects. One can’t paint a picture of a character unless he or she comprehends from the text what the character looks like.

The benefits of teaching art with reading doesn’t stop with understanding of the text, though. The added bonus of blending art into reading programs is that, while schools are closing down art programs in an effort to save money, a blended program provides a means of keeping art in the curriculum. This inclusion of art in educations doesn’t just help in reading, but may improve academic performance overall. Research has shown that art has been linked to higher performance in reading, cognition, math, verbal abilities and critical thinking skills.

Keeping it simple

A teacher doesn’t need art training in order to effectively incorporate art projects into a reading program. The teacher just needs a few good ideas, and those ideas don’t need to be complex. Coloring pictures that pertain to the readings students work on in class can help students visualize the text and make connections with characters. Younger students should also be able to handle simple assignments, such as drawing or painting a picture of a favorite scene from the book. This type of open assignment will also help students recognize that reading is subjective when students create different artistic representations of the same scene.

Step it up

As K-5 students get older, art projects associated with reading can be more complex. Teachers may pair books that have important social or historical themes with art projects such as collages that require students to do independent research or think creatively to complete.

A simple book like Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” for example, has an environmental theme highly relevant in today’s world. Assigning a project that requires students to use found materials to create a collage, a mixed media artwork, or an ornament inspires creative thinking and teaches students about reusing and recycling at the same time.

Individualize reading

Students in higher K-5 grades may be able to handle independent reading and art assignments, which gives teachers an opportunity to assign art projects not just over works read in class, but also over works read outside of class.

With independent assignments, teachers can allow students to pick a book on their own, much as they might do for a book report, and create an art project based on that book. Students could be required to complete the same type of project, such as a diorama or painting, or could be given the freedom to create their own pre-approved art projects.

Individual book choices and projects do give teachers a little less control, but provide one major benefit. Instead of the students in a class getting exposure to only one book, they get exposure to many different books. Teachers can increase this exposure by having each student give an overview of their artwork in class with a short summary of the book he or she read.

Make it a class project

A single book can make for a full-scale, full-class art project. This type of project is ideal for complex books that have multiple components. Throughout a book’s reading, the teacher can assign separate art projects.  Each student can make a puppet of a different character, for instance, or draw a backdrop that represents one of the sets in the story. When the students’ parts of the project are put together, they’ll create a visual reference students can interact with as they read.

When it comes down to it, there is no right or wrong way for teachers to incorporate art into a reading program. Any type of artwork can stimulate students’ minds, encourage participation, and enhance comprehension. As with any schoolwork, it’s essential to choose art projects for each age group that challenge students and push them toward higher achievement.

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