Who Else Wants Students to Work BIGGER?

There is a lot to be said for small paintings or drawings. They are less intimidating, they can be completed in a short class period, and storing them is a cinch. On the other hand, working big can turn a simple art making task into an academic challenge for your students. The trouble is, most kids naturally work small. How many times have you given out a 12″ x 18″ piece of paper, only to have a tiny drawing show up right in the center? What’s an art teacher to do?

Below are some tried and true tips to help you take your students’ work from miniature to mural-size.

work bigger

Get creative with the way you use space.

  1. Have students work in groups to cut down on the number of finished pieces.
  2. Get out of the classroom! Make it a privilege to work in the hallway for your most independent students.
  3. Move all of your desks and chairs out to the edges of the room to allow students to work on the floor.


Tweak your instruction to redirect students to epic proportions.

  1. Require drawings to touch at least two, three, or four edges of the paper.
  2. Use the grid transfer method.
  3. Use a projector to blow up students’ original images. Have students trace the drawings onto larger papers.
  4. Integrate math, by challenging students to use real proportions and ratio measurements.


Strategically plan out storage.

  1. Hang a clothesline in your room or the hall to clip up wet work with clothespins instead of using your drying rack.
  2. Use the clothesline to hang work back to back. Twice the storage on the same line!
  3. Make the process part of the display presentation. Have students help hang unfinished works in the hall after each class. If the work is still wet, put a tape line about a foot from the wall to keep admirers from getting too close.

By thinking strategically about the obstacles and logistics behind creating large scale works, you can offer your students an expanded experience. It will painless for you and unforgettable for them.

How do you manage large projects or works of art in your classroom?

What are some of your best lessons that work well on a larger scale? 


Sarah Dougherty

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • iansands

    I totally relate. Had one student last semester and every conversation with her ended with, “Go big or go home” :)

    • I like that. I’d put it on my board if I were teaching a “make it big” lesson…unless it was a class in which I had a “runner”…they might take me seriously!

  • Ms. Mona

    I have challenged my students to work bigger and they did. Several of my best students worked so big, I cannot frame them easily for local shows that require framing. It is very intimidating but my best students love to check out the “Go Pro” and bring in the video of what they did over the week. I think, working big on good paper can be a great incentive for that student that wants more. I have found that it is not for everyone but it can really inspire some students to go beyond what they normally do and loosen them up and help them to not be so hung up on the final product.

  • Julia Thomas

    The number one way I have found to get students to draw big was Sarah’s suggestion, “Require drawings to touch at least two, three, or four edges of the paper.” It works!

  • John Post

    My students only work on 12 x 18 inch paper – right from kindergarten through 6th grade. All of our paintings are done on 12 x 18 inch construction paper. I rarely use white drawing paper – with little kids the colored ground of the construction paper looks great with their loose gestural style. Pink, yellow, light blue and light brown all make great grounds for painting. Flesh tones look especially lively on pink paper…

  • Belinda Monn

    I began every lesson of my zentangle unit with my fourth grade students gathered around a mural sized drawing. My students loved the collaboration and especially the size. In the end it was the backdrop to our display. With it being a drawing it was easy to roll up and store while in progress.