3 Ways to “Do” Kinesthetic Learning in the Art Room

Kinesthetic learning occurs when learning takes place by the student carrying out a physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration.  Sound like mass chaos?  It doesn’t have to be!  Here are three way to harness your students’ energy and translate it into learning

3 Ways to “Do” Kinesthetic Learning in the Art Room

1. Try air drawing.  Have students use one finger to trace shapes or line types in the air.  I even have my Kindergarteners sharpen (bend and flex) their pencil (drawing finger) if it has been awhile since it they have used it.  Students can stand or sit while they do this.  Include a rhythm, song, or sound effect to help enhance the important parts of each shape.  For example, while air drawing a rectangle, students say “short, l-o-n-g, short, l-o-n-g.”  When drawing a circle, begin with a high note and when your hand is at the top of the circle, slide down to a low note at the bottom of the circle and them back up to the high note as the circle reaches the starting point again.

2. Teach them sign language.  Teach students simple signs for art concepts.  If you aren’t sure of the sign, make up a movement that makes sense.  I teach warm (the sign for fire) and cool (the sign for cold) to my students.  Next, I point to a color on the color wheel and the whole class can tell me if it is in the warm or cool color family all at once!  This is a great formative assessment…one glance and you have a pretty good idea if your class is on track.

3. Take a gallery walk.  Are you students starting to squirm?  Can you sense the need to move and stretch?  When students need a break, give them one filled with purposeful movement.  Have students stand up and push in their chairs.  I have younger students even put their hands behind their backs so they are not tempted to touch another person’s work.  Next, students loop slowly around the room, examining each others’ work in progress.  You could have them look for a good example of ______ while they walk or pair with their neighbor and discuss their favorite piece as they return to their seat.

We all need to move.  It stimulates our brain and refreshes our bodies.  Students, especially younger students, need to move even more frequently, so plan for this movement and incorporate it into your lesson.  The results enhance learning and give students an approved way to release energy!

How do you incorporate kinesthetic learning in your classroom?

Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Project Manager and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • Mariee

    today my 3rd graders tried to show symmetry by one taking a pose and another student matching it, my first graders sang and did movements for “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” to remember everything they should draw in their self-portraits, and Kinders did loopy line air drawing fast, slow, small, and big, and my second graders clapped and snapped out patterns. The kids love getting to do movement and songs in art class- it’s unexpected and gets them engaged.

    •  Great examples!  Sounds like you lead an enthusiastic bunch :)

  • erica

    A lot of theater games can be adapted to the art room easily. I have a few I’ll put on my blog soon. Theater games have been a huge success and are kinesthetic and creative:)

  • I love these ideas, Heather. I’ve used air drawing before, but never thought to use sign language! 

  • Stacey Cohen

    As a middle
    school teacher I love the idea of gallery walks, but I find that my students
    are very self-conscious about their work, making them shut down and behave negatively.
    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to get my students to be more open and
    less self-conscious/negative?

    • Stacey,
      Totally understandable with Middle School students! I would say starting off in small groups, and gradually working your way to a whole group gallery walk would probably ease them into it. Like anything else, if it becomes routine, they will get used to it eventually. Also, I find that maybe by digitizing some of the sharing, students would be more apt to share. Check out Chelsie’s post on using Flickr to share student art. https://www.theartofed.com/2012/09/20/how-to-use-flickr-in-the-art-room/ Good luck!

  • Ki_ki_001

    With my kindergarteners, we get up out of our chairs and act out lines during our line unit. They stand straight and tall for vertical, lay down on the floor for horizontal, lean to one side for diagonal and for wavy they stand and wiggle around. Jumping jacks are zig zags. We do our line unit at the beginning of the year so they are brand new babies at the end of a long day…this gets them up, moving, and having fun so they aren’t so scared to be away from their own teacher. It’s also a great way for me to keep them remembering the words and to get into a straight line with their hands at their sides. I tell them to be “very vertical”. I know sometimes I need to get up and wiggle around a little and I’m way older than 5! I’m going to definitely use some of these other ideas you and the others have!

    • I love the idea of using your body to interpret lines.  I have tried having students replicate different sculptures with their bodies, but not lines… sounds fun!  Great way to incorporate movement and learning.

  • Claire

    Sometimes I will incorporate yoga poses to loosen up, center or calm down. ‘Mountain’ pose to ‘hands in the air’ to ‘heart center’ is great for centering and calming. This plus ‘tree’ pose I’ve used when introducing landscapes, etc.

    •  Brilliant idea.  Purposeful movement that leads to a calm and centered classroom!  I especially love the link to landscapes.

  • Myrna

    Kinesthetic movement is the best, fun way I get my K and 1st Grades to experience kinds of lines before we begin a particular painting lesson. We skate around the room to “feel” dashed lines; we hop forward to feel dotted lines, we move in slow zigzags, we stand in one spot and do crazy squiggles with our whole body, and finally, to show fast lines, we flick only our printing hand and wrist.

    •  I have a sweet visual of you and your entire class skipping around the art room.  Love it and I bet your students do too!

  • Myrna

    Oh, and we play “Simon Says” when we are learning line direction. They ADORE this! Also, when the class has to “line up” I hear, “What line of line, Mrs. Hoffman?” I say, “Raw spaghetti, children, not cooked spaghetti.” It’s so easy and such fun for all of us to make line lessons memorable.

  • terri

    My 1st and 2nd graders learn about artists through ‘Clap IN, Clap OUT.’  As we learn about an artist we clap: the artist’s name, subject and/or title of the work, style of art, city, country, continent and planet as we work our hands and legs from the center of our bodies outward.  Then we clap In from planet to the artist.  Ex.:  “Claude Monet, bridges, Impressionism, Giverny, France, Europe, & Earth.”  Then we stretch in the out pose and come back in with, ” Earth, Europe, France, Giverny, Impressionism, bridges, Claude Monet.”

  • Teraingraham

    I use a lot of Kinesthetic prompts in my art room.  I use the Mirror technique from Power Teaching.  Look it up on YouTube.  I say Mirror, and the class says what I say and does what I do.  Currently fifth grade is getting ready to draw our school building from the outside.  So we are reviewing horizontal, vertical, diagonal lines.  “A horizontal line goes side to side across the paper” and as I say this, I move my arm to form a horizontal line. 

  • I play music through my iphone on a speaker. When the kids need a brain break, I put the “Kidz Bop” station on Pandora and do a quick 1 song dance party. We practice this with modeling first so it doesn’t become crazy. They LOVE it. They settle down and get back to work quick, not wantng to lose dance party privileges.

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