30 Ways to Celebrate the Arts in School
Many positive school memories are from experiences in creative and artistic programs. While changes in school budgets have resulted in many schools having to cut back on the arts, there are still lots of ways to celebrate the arts without spending a lot of money or needing separate programs.
Here are 30 easy, innovative ways to bring more music, theatre, writing and art back to your school.
Ways to Incorporate Music
- Background Music - It’s not just for orchestra classes. Playing classical music during quiet work time has been proven to increase brain activity and decrease disruptive behavior. Many students are uncomfortable in a completely silent classroom anyway, so soft music helps in multiple ways.
- Inspire Writing - Music has structure, just like essays and structured writing. Dissect the structure of a song and then compare it to the structure of an essay to show students that most works of art are more impactful when they use certain strategies, such as an introduction, repetition, parallel lyrical structure, etc.
- Music as a Timer - Rather than using a timer for activities, use music instead. When the music stops, students rotate, or switch groups, or start on the next section. Whenever you reach for that timer, consider how you could use music to add some fun and engagement instead.
- Research Musicians - For research projects, consider looking at famous musicians from that time period or allowing students to choose a musician they are drawn to for a research paper topic. Music speaks to students on a deep level and this can often inspire them to be more engaged in what they are researching. Plus, the lives of famous musicians throughout history can be used to add interest to the study of historical time periods.
Schedule your school's musical auditions with a sign up. View an Example
Ways to Incorporate Art
- Artistic Notetaking - When you are presenting or lecturing, put blank paper and markers on each table and let students draw their notes, rather than write them. Incorporating color, pattern and icons into their notes will help them engage with the material on a deeper level and be able to remember it longer.
- Add Art to Projects - If students are working on a campaign or a project together, incorporate an artistic component, such as creating a logo and a slogan for their campaign. This challenges them to look at the marketing and branding all around them in a different way.
- Offer Art Options - Consider offering an art option for students to share their knowledge. Not all students feel their best when writing or presenting, so offer several other ways that students can show their work, such as creating an art piece, designing a collage, or even crafting a video of their ideas. This might sound like more work, but students are more often motivated to work on projects that they care about.
- Play-Doh Sculptures - A student favorite, this idea will engage students all the way up to high school. When reviewing a subject with multiple parts, such as a biological system, plot of a novel or time period, break students into small groups and give each student a small container of Play-doh. They can then recreate one piece of the whole, such as a certain scene from a novel or a certain part of a science experiment or one episode in a historical time period. Then, when all groups are done, they can walk around the classroom and see how each group’s Play-doh sculpture creates a walking museum tour of the big picture.
- Create Pop Culture Art - Use what students know to find out how much they have learned. Ask them to create pop culture art, such as a text message conversation, complete with emojis, to review a unit, or craft an Instagram profile (on paper) that covers a famous person you’ve studied. Blend their world with the academic and watch the engagement soar.
Ways to Incorporate Theatre
- The Classroom Stage - Every classroom can have a stage. Incorporate theatre into your classroom by asking students to create artistic presentations at the end of a learning unit, or to act out what has been learned. This works very well in history and English classes but can be incorporated into many subjects. Often students feel more comfortable performing as part of a group. Grade these kindly; many students are nervous to perform, so celebrate any effort with participation points.
- Just Add Costumes - Collect costumes and use them for everything. Reading aloud in class? Give the reader a prop or costume piece related to the story. Students doing a quick presentation? Give them a minute to pick a costume piece that will add to their performance. The minute students are in costume, they take on the persona of the character and forget about performance anxiety. Get costumes on sale after Halloween, collect old costumes from home, and put a call out to neighborhood groups that you take gently used costume pieces for your classroom.
- Act It Out - Rather than reading a long piece of text, create a short play that shares the ideas and then give students a few minutes to read the script with a small group. They can either have fun learning it as a small group or take turns performing it for the class. Give them leeway to make it their own. Can they rap? Rap it. Can they dance? Turn it into a dance. Can they sing? Now it’s a musical.
- Puppet Showtime - Even older kids love a good puppet show, especially when they are the ones performing. Allow students to create puppet shows to review key ideas or act out a folk tale unit. Give them simple materials to create a puppet, such as a brown lunch bag, craft paper, glue, pom poms, googly eyes and other dollar store finds, and be amazed at what they create. This makes an excellent weeklong activity at the end of the year or during the holidays when attention and attendance can be spotty.
Host a theatre ticket fundraiser and collect money with a sign up. View an Example
Ways to Incorporate Writing
- Ditch the Test - Have tests or quizzes you used to use and want to ditch? You’ll learn so much more about what students actually know by allowing them to write about class material from their perspective. A simple piece of paper is all that is needed and a long enough time frame for them to share their freeform ideas on the unit. This also makes it much harder for students to cheat!
- Write a Story - Memorizing random dates and facts can be so hard for this text message savvy generation. Use this to your advantage by asking students to write stories about what is being studied, from famous figures to a scientific process. By having to relate the concept to characters in a story, they’ll have to fully understand it.
- Enter & Exit Tickets - The first few minutes and last few minutes of a class can be brutal. Design enter and exit tickets by having a question or statement on the board that students begin writing about as soon as they sit down and then have it come full circle by sharing the final answer as their exit from class at the end. They can write these in a composition book that they use every day and submit for participation points that will bolster everyone’s grade and morale.
Ways to Incorporate Music
- Music in the Halls - Tired of rowdy hallways and lingering students? Play music in the hallways during passing periods and tell students they need to be in their next class by the end of the song, or it’s a tardy. Consider this the school version of musical chairs.
- Music at Lunch - Cut back on bored students at lunch and play fun, upbeat music to create a more positive atmosphere.
- Lunch Concerts - Looking for free ways to bring students together? Find local bands (with appropriate music) who are looking for exposure with the younger crowd and invite them to play a 20-minute set during lunchtime. Call local music stores and ask if any of the teachers are in a band, or ask your own students if they are in a band. Make sure to mix up genres and review music sets before they perform to catch anything that isn’t G-rated.
Ways to Incorporate Art
- Library Museum - Ask teachers to submit the best visual projects from their class to be placed in a small museum set up in part of the library. These projects can be on display for a limited period of time, with credit to the student and class, before being swapped out for new projects from a new class. Seeing great work will inspire students to do their best.
- Hallway Art - Hang paintings or art projects on the walls in hallways. If concerned about student tampering, create display boards near a classroom door so teachers can observe during passing periods.
- Play a Video Loop - Take pictures of great projects and create a loop video that plays on the school website, showcasing the best work of your students. Or, play the loop on a digital monitor that students can see somewhere in the school. This eliminates any issue of projects being damaged.
- Annual Art Event - Set aside a week near the end of the year where students are allowed to share the best of the best with the school. Have teachers designate their best student work all year and set it aside in anticipation of the event. Place the nominated projects in a common area and make sure everyone has time to rotate through the exhibit. Give it a fun name like “Academic Expedition” and see how this annual event grows over time.
Collect art supply donations for a project with a sign up. View an Example
Ways to Incorporate Theatre
- Trade Performances - If your school doesn’t have big theatre productions, why not trade performances with other classrooms? For example, your class can invite two other classes to watch a performance in your room and then trade. Just push all the furniture out of the way to create a stage and seating area. They will all think they are getting out of class when really, they’ll just be learning in a different way.
- Theatre Club - Create a theatre club that practices plays during lunch or after school. They can put on free performances for a classroom or groups of classes that want to attend, or they can perform for kids in the after-school program.
Ways to Incorporate Writing
- Student Magazine - Allow students to create a student magazine with a teacher advisor, either during lunch or as a club. The teacher can ensure that nothing inappropriate is shared and the work can be published online in blog form to save paper. Offer students at the school a password to access to protect any student information from being released to the public.
- Student Newspaper - Offer an elective period where students experience what it’s like to run a newspaper. The newspaper can be published either monthly or quarterly and distributed by paper or electronically to the student body. Create verticals that would relate to your student body, such as coverage of school sports games, events, student achievements and more.
- Student Writing Anthology - Ask teachers to submit the best of the best in student writing from their class and create a school-wide writing anthology that is printed and saved for future school years. Store these together in the library for future classes to read. Copies can even be sold as a school fundraiser. Always ask student permission before including a written piece in the anthology.
- Writing Competitions - Add a writing award to your award ceremonies. Ask English teachers to save their best student work and then get together periodically to share the latest and select a winner for an “Excellence in Writing” award. This can help bolster student applications to private schools and colleges and give English teachers a moment to shine for all their efforts with students. Just be sure to always obtain student permission to share the work first.
- Writing Club - Create a club similar to a book club, except what students are reading is their own work! Students can make copies of pieces they are proud of and share it with the group for encouragement and feedback. Local authors or parents who write for a living can be invited as guest speakers as well!
With a little creativity of your own, the arts don’t have to go away. Look for opportunities to celebrate the artistic abilities in every student by incorporating some of these ideas, and more of your own, into any subject. You just might be surprised how positively it impacts student motivation, behavior and morale, too.
Erica Jabali is a freelance writer and blogs over at ispyfabulous.com.