Connecting Art and Reading for Pleasure
*Update 25.8.17: resources for these activities can be found here*
I wrote recently about the need to connect art and reading more in primary schools. Art and Stories are made for each other. Drawing can and should be a really useful element of our English curriculum, especially when used alongside whole class reading books.
Art is naturally brilliant at being cross-curricular: it is almost always created in a response to something else. It looks both inside and out; it can be the mirror or the window. Art gives us the opportunity to deeply immerse ourselves in the subject matter of our choosing. In other words, it’s a great match with reading for pleasure.
Six Easy Activities
Connecting art and stories can be a fantastic way to follow and document a whole class response to your shared reading book. It isn’t expensive or tricky to resource and provides new insight that you can use to share points of view, make predictions, express reactions and reflect on events. I’ve created six easy activities you can incorporate into your teaching*.
Creating a restricted colour palette in response to an event in the book. The children will need an empty ‘palette’. Something like this is perfect:
Children will also need a wide range of colours to choose from. Read a short excerpt of the class reader and ask the class to picture it, deciding which colours are key to the scene. This would work very well with Emma Carroll’s Letters from the Lighthouse, at the point early on where Olive and Suki are caught up in the London Bombings. This is a highly visual scene with plenty of information to be inferred. This can result in interesting discussions, especially around unexpected colours and their justifications.
Finished palettes can lead into successful painting projects. They can also be collaged together as a visual record of this point in the book. Or both. Compile them in different ways and photograph, or colour photocopy (if you’re allowed).
Abstract artist Kandinsky used art as a visual expression of emotion in response to music. Encouraging your class to use abstract marks in response to your class reader may sound a bit unusual but it can be brilliant. Based on Kandinsky’s Trente 1937, you’d need to create a grid with the same number of squares as you have chapters in your book- or as close as possible. Each chapter culminates in a thumbnail drawing. Some children will want to be more literal than others (and they should be allowed to be) but this works best when visual clues are given through shape and colour rather than drawing actual scenes.
Compare, contrast and evaluate at the end of the book to see if these artworks can be ‘read’ or if they remind the class of specific points in the book or particular feelings they had at the time.
Annotating with notes and highlighters is a well established part of the English curriculum in many schools and this is a spin on that. Choose your page, or give different pages from a key chapter. I’d want to do this with a juicy mystery such as Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens or Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery. In chapter five of Jolly Foul Play there’s a lot of action around a bonfire that ends in murder! Ask the children to pick out characters’ movements, key objects, important words and map or draw them straight onto their page.
By clue-finding straight on top of their information, the children are able to access the text quickly and express their opinions without having that awful fear of the blank page. This can become part of your evidence in a class investigation and makes a fab class display.
This is a great one to use if you want to essentially press pause at an important moment in the text and examine it in a bit more depth from a particular character’s point of view. This would be perfect to use with Ross Montgomery’s Perijee and Me, from about page 22 to 24, describing the arrival of Perijee.
Read the excerpt at least twice, allowing one time to be pure listening without note taking. Pause in between to allow children to write key words, sketch, create colour swatches, as they feel necessary. Encourage the children to become the protagonist- in this case Caitlin- and look around her surroundings, take in the weather, the time of day and the details the author shares with us, building towards a completed drawing of the scene from Caitlin’s point of view. Once this is completed take a second look, this time seeing through Perijee’s eyes to produce a different view of the scene.
Afterwards, take time to reflect on both the pictures and the preparation the class did. What words and colours were used in note taking? What prompted you to think of them? How do the views differ in composition and feel?
The Big Class Reader Sketchbook
As you bring an artistic response into your class reading, you may find children are inspired to do a bit more. This is a good way to share the reading for pleasure joy at home and also to make non-fiction links to your text. Creating a sketchbook or scrapbook response to your class reader can be great. As well as compiling drawings, colour palettes, word art and other good stuff to do with your class book at school, encourage children to keep their eyes open at home for interesting and relevant snippets. Newspaper clippings, drawings, photographs, anything on the theme goes.
The perfect opportunity to go a bit bonkers
The children can see where their thoughts take them. Can you imagine how wonderfully crazy you could get compiling a sketchbook for Maz Evan’s Who Let the Gods Out? How much fun it would be to reflect back on? This I would love to see! When completed, these are great resources to use next year or to put in your school library.
Once the book is finished, it’s time for the children to produce their final composition. You may have already prepped them for this or you might like to introduce it at the end, bringing together all their completed artwork. The children plan and produce a final piece based on their favourite part of the book using techniques learnt. You could then have a final exhibition with a private view for parents and really celebrate reading for pleasure.
Good luck and please let me know how you get on.
- If you’re going to do a demonstration for any of these activities, be aware that children are going to copy your drawing style and you may lose their individual responses. Chances are, they think you’re great and will want to impress you by following your lead. This is lovely in sentiment but sometimes a demo can give the message that there’s a wrong or right way, which of course in art there isn’t. These activities are good opportunities to see how children get on following verbal instructions.
- You’re already a reading teacher, now it’s time to be a drawing teacher! Get stuck in and have a go and above all avoid making any negative comments about your own art skills! Join in where you can and make it truly a whole class event.
Please let me know if you need any further resources. I’m in the process of creating three boards: drawing techniques, easy paint and print methods, and multimedia ideas for the classroom. I will upload these to my site as soon as they are completed.