Should You Use a Theme for Your School Year?

To theme or not to theme, that is the question.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t quite what Shakespeare wrote, but it is something I have been pondering lately. I have always questioned why a teacher would choose a single theme for their school year or art show. With so much subject matter available, why limit your students to a single theme?

However, the more thought I give to a school-wide or art show theme, the more I can see some benefits.

Here Are 3 Reasons to Select a School Year or Art Show Theme


1. Students Experience Being a Part of Something

artwork showing radial balance

Selecting a theme for your school-wide art show, for your classroom, or for the year helps create a sense of belonging. Every student in every grade is working together to create pieces of art with the same focus. The power of walking through an art show and seeing Kindergarteners working with the same subject as upper grades can inspire students and parents. The littles will be able to see where their skills can take them while the older students will remember the way they use to work. A common theme can really unify the student body.

2. Students are Challenged to Think of Multiple Solutions

three projects with a winter theme

Often when we finish a project I ask my students what they would have done differently. When you teach with a single theme, your students will get to work on the same subject again and again. They will be challenged to think of new and better ways to represent the same subject over and over. The challenge of drawing, painting, and sculpting the same subject helps students hone their problem-solving skills.

3. Students Dive More Deeply into the Subject Matter

three projects dealing with the sun

A singular theme allows for depth over breadth. Many times we briefly touch on a subject with one project. When you create multiple works within the same theme, you will have the opportunity to more deeply explore the subject. Instead of learning a little each year about different topics and building your art skills throughout your art career, you will learn a lot about a few topics while reviewing and increasing your art skills.

While I am not quite ready to select an art theme for my entire school year, I am no longer entirely opposed to it. Like many ideas in teaching, it can be valuable to look at both sides of the argument.

Have you ever used a theme for your school year or art show?

What were the benefits? What were some issues you tackled?

Jennifer Carlisle

Jen is a middle school art teacher from Norfolk, NE who loves exploring and teaching art through traditional and digital art mediums.


  • Michelle Mathias

    In Novemeber of this school year my students, K-5, all paused their current projects to learn about Van Gogh. Everyone watched a video about him (except Kinder as I didn’t believe they could handle it), looked at lots of his art, and then studied one particular piece. I drowned my room in reproductions and made quote posters. Right before winter break, all of their art was hung around the school. They definitely felt a sense of belonging. At the beginning of the project I made it known that the whole school was going to study Van Gogh. Most students didn’t fully realize the concept until all the art was on display. And lucky me, administrators toured the building about that same time. No, it was not an entire school year theme but rather a theme for a short period of time. It felt easier to handle.

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      That is awesome! What a great way to use a theme to unify the student body in a very doable way. Thank you for sharing!

  • Tara Petronic

    I am in a new district this year and before the end of each year the art teacher picks the theme for the following year. So I went from nine years of teaching with no theme to a pre-picked theme that I had to center projects around for the art show coming up next month. It’s been a BIG adjustment but I’m already thinking ahead and have next years picked out! Much easier to generate ideas when it’s something you’ve come up with! And I feel like it does help the art show have a “cohesive” feel to it. I’m warming up to themes ☺️

  • Dawn

    I called my Art Show, “The Primay Colors,” and had red, yellow, and blue balloons, table cloths, and most of the decorations in those colors. The primary colors are in all art works!!

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      very true… would even be fun to send the kids on a treasure hunt to see if they could find the colors in different places.

  • I began this year with a unit of Japan. We began with Zentangles (easy and a confidence-booster) and it was a good base for teaching basic design principles through culture. We were fortunate enough to receive a grant that enabled art classes (Art 1: grade 9 and up) to go to a Festival of Japan at a community college, and we ended with setting up a Japanese garden outside the parent/teacher/student conference area (the gym) that displayed student art work. This took a whole quarter, and by that time, I think students were tiring of the theme, but the community loved the show. AND the students, who rarely get to go anywhere due to no budget for travel and isolated location, loved the trip to “Japan.”