Do You Let Them Practice?

If athletes practice before the game,

why don’t we let our students practice more before the final art project? 

This year, I’ve given special attention to allowing my students to do some practice work and drawing exercises BEFORE we start that final project. Because I only see students 45 minutes a week, it always becomes too easy to have students start the final projects right away with the fear of not finishing on time or rushing students at the end. However, the element of practice becomes so very important when we think about building art skills as well as confidence in the art room. Are we teaching for the final beautiful project or are we teaching for artistic behaviors and skills that students can translate to all areas of their life? Do we have to choose between the two?

A conversation with colleagues emerged recently about this and I wanted to explore it a bit further with all of you.

Do you allow students to practice before the final project, or do you jump right into “follow me everyone- We are going to make a picture like Van Gogh Today”.. (we are all guilty of it and I am not saying it’s wrong, because it does have it’s place). I just wonder if art teachers give students a chance to try and fail before we immediately assess them on a one shot and done basis. Is it fair? Or do we even have a choice with the limited time we have?

One solution I’ve come up with is to use white boards for quick practice drawing time when I am introducing a new technique. This does not use up a lot of resources, take a lot of time, but does get at the end goal- a time for students to try without fear of failure and hopefully learn something new to enhance the next art project we are embarking on?

Weigh in with your thoughts on the issue- I am very curious to hear! 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • MDennis

    Practice is something I’ve always given stdents the opportunity to do when beginning a project. I often tell the students that we’ll start with ‘guided practice’. It’s essential to student understanding and success to develop the process skills before heading to the product stage. I really love the whiteboard idea, that may find it’s way into my classroom. Hope your year is going great!- Mike

  • I have the same schedule – 45 minute weekly classes – and the pressure is on to get the most we can out of that little bit of time together. But I think sketching/warm-up drawing time is crucial before starting a project. I usually give them some newsprint and a 10 minute warm-up session before beginning the “final copies.” During sketch time, I give demos, we brainstorm for ideas, I emphasize the importance of creating a good composition, and it is an action packed 10 minutes that makes for a better final product. We save all our sketched in our portfolios, too, with notes.

  • Mindy Montgomery

    Yes! They have to practice! I tell my kiddos it is like anything that is a skill you must first practice. I always ask how do you get better at reading? PRACTICE! How do you get better at basketball? PRACTICE! I usually list a lot of things they have to practice to get the point across! In the past we have made mini-sketchbooks, but with a dwindling budget-I laminated tag board to use as make shift white boards. The kids love it. It also is a great way to check for understanding!

    • I believe in practice, I use cast off chalk boards since we have smart boards there is ton of chalk around. So there is no cost. Down the road I think chalk will be cheaper.

  • Those white boards are a smart idea. I got the idea off an artsonia lesson about drawing hummingbirds. Save a lot of paper and also works great as an in-between activity! Thanks for sharing.

  • I LOVE the whiteboard idea! I agree that practice is necessary. I couldn’t create my best work without a rough draft so shouldn’t my students have the same opportunity?

  • I love the whiteboard idea! I want to try laminating some tag board, too, since we have such a limited budget. We currently use cheap paper to practice on, but the nice thing about the whiteboard is that you CAN’T save your drawings, which takes even more pressure off having to get it right the first time! Thanks for the great idea!!

  • Yes we practice a lot! In fact I make a big deal out “practice day”. Starting in my kindergarten classes – fourth grade we do it the same way. We get out the old manilla or newsprint paper, pick something to draw with (pencil, crayon, marker) but NO ERASERS! If we erase we do it later. I lead a guided drawing lesson and we draw several items all over the same page on both sides.
    The important thing about “practice day” is we don’t erase our mistakes. They really aren’t mistakes anyway, they are our “first try, second try . . ” That way we can either just draw another line we like better, darker or move to a clean spot and try again. Markers and crayons can’t erase anyway but the kids that use those really don’t seem concerned about it anyway.
    I love the white board idea though, that would save on paper especially if I can’t get free newsprint from our local newspaper office. :)

  • I love the idea of white boards for practice! now that I see my kids once a week, I have them use their sketch books to practice and work out ideas
    I’m so happy this year to spend more than 45 minutes on a project!

  • Often, I have my students make a “sloppy copy” or sketch before they move on to their final papers. My fifth graders have mini sketchbooks that they use to keep their sketches.

    For my younger students, the whiteboard idea is great. Might be stealing that one!

  • I love all of this discussion about practice! I bought white boards last year for the same purpose. I found that Lowe’s would cut up a $7 sheet of large white board into 24 smaller ones. It was a minimum investment for a great resource. We also use them to place wet, floppy art work on the drying rack so that they don’t crease or rip. :)

  • I use white boards. After your post about creating your own white boards. The funds we raised from our Spring Art Show went towards the purchase of 30 whiteboards and dry erase crayons. The students love it and I am pleased with their practice runs. So, yes I do let them practice.

  • Anonymous

    I am so excited to read about your idea! I just ordered small white boards and dry erase crayons for another purpose. I never had them before and always use newsprint for practice, but it seems that practice takes an entire 40 minute session, once I give the lesson and they draw. I was using the white boards to let the class weigh in on answers to my questions. It is a
    non-threatening way to get kids to answer questions during a review or to check for background knowledge.

  • Awesome white boards! I wanted white boards after I saw your post but there was no budget. Yes we practice, we do drawing exercises sometimes for a whole class! We also talk about art a lot (which some kids think is a waste of time and some kids LOVE) something for everyone I guess. I just wrote a draft of a post about this tonight! Love that we are on the same wave length.

  • Laminating tag board oooooohhhhh

  • Kim Hyman

    I just purchased white boards for my classroom and am excited to have a new use for them. Staples ran then $2.00 each a few weeks back and I talked them into letting me purchase a full set for my classroom at that price. The idea of a $7.00 piece cut up to make 30 is even better. Thanks for the practice idea.

  • I am also consciously allowing my students time for practice, and have used the sports analogy many times to get the idea across. I really like the idea of white boards being environmentally friendly and less intimidating than paper. I am working on portfolio-based units this year, however, and love to send home practice work with the portfolios and final products. It is a great place for students to do some personal assessment and reflection. It also helps when I assess them because I can see the growth and choices they are making.

  • You are all a bunch of practicers! Good for you! :) I am loving all the great stories you’ve shared about ways you practice in the art room, I am so glad you find it helpful, and as well all strive to practice more and more, hopefully this post can serve as inspiration. Sketchbooks, as many of you mentioned, are also another great way to allow students to practice.

  • Thank you for this post! I do let my students practice (we have 45 min once a week also), but don’t have a lot to spend on paper, so we made small sketchbooks inexpensively, with cereal box covers, folded 9×12 paper and twine. I encourage them to practice in those, BUT some students have trouble moving from practice to beginning! I love the idea of white boards as an option (we do this with math warm-up in our homeschool); especially for students to answer questions on, as another commenter suggested.

  • Not sure if people have a big issue but you can buy the page protectors and just slip a marker and white paper in it instead of buying a white board. I would use this method to make mini assignment boards for me to keep track of what I was teaching to what class that day but my middle schoolers never looked even when I would tell them to so I just stopped. However I can bring them back out and slide a blank page in that says practice…make mistakes…or something motivating for my kids so that I don’t have to get upset when they make a mistake and throw the whole paper away.

  • Laura Pepera Wilson

    ok, first, I want white boards for my classroom! Second. I need more time. I have only 30 minutes with my students. So true, teaching a mile wide, and and inch thick.

  • Annmarie

    We practice all the time, too. It empowers the students by letting them try ideas knowing it’s not “the real deal” (the final project), so it’s okay if it doesn’t out the way they thought it would. I have a tray in our staff copy room that is clearly marked “One sided copy mistakes for the Art Room” and the teachers put their copy misfires in there. I end up with more “scratch paper” than I can use in a year with 420 students! We use it all the time for getting ideas down, doing thumbnails, testing materials, and folding/cutting/gluing practice. It’s going to end up in the recycle bin anyway, so we put it to good use first. Many times the kids end up taking home their practice because they’ve done some great work! Thanks for this reminder, Jessica!