How to Run the Color Matching Challenge!

Are you looking for a fun and engaging way to build your students’ color mixing skills? Try implementing the “Color Matching Challenge” in your classes!

This activity has students trying to match paint swatches with a limited palette under a time constraint. You can have students compete within their classes or make the competition more difficult by making it between all of your students on a given day. The student with the most matches at the end of the class period or at the end of the day wins!

Here’s how it’s done.

students doing challenge

1. Obtain Paint Swatches

Any local paint store will have its fan deck posted in free color swatches. Go grab as many different colors as you can. Try to get a range, from deep hues, to neutral tones, to pastel values. Ideally, you’ll have more swatches than you have students. If you get flack from the store for taking so many samples, tell them you will be promoting their products to hundreds of potential future clients!

paint samples

2. Introduce the Challenge

Once you have the swatches, it is time to pump up your students! I tell them they will be engaging in a color matching challenge between every student I teach. Then I drop the rationale.

Of course, students need to be adept at color mixing to create their best work. Often students will be painting with a specific color in class but only get halfway through before the bell rings. The next day, students will need to be able to remake that color.

Beyond that, it can have concrete applications for their futures. For example, there are professional occupations at paint stores called “tinters.” Tinters are people who match colors for a living (like I did for years before teaching). Students might also use these skills as crew members for professional painting companies or as interior designers. Color matching is a crucial skill for painters of all kinds.

paint palette

3. Give Students Time to Set Up Their Palettes

This activity works well with a limited palette of red, yellow, blue, magenta, red oxide, yellow oxide, and white. Give students about 10 minutes to mix as many colors as they can on the 12-color wheel. In addition, have them add some white on their palette.

4. Pass Out the Swatches and Let the Fun Begin

Once the 10 minutes are up, pass each student one random color swatch facing down. No peeking allowed! Once you give the word, have students flip over their swatches and get to matching. As soon as they get close to the color, have them apply a small amount on the swatch to really compare the two. Once you declare a match for a student, that student paints their color up on board in a square and paints their name beside it. The “board” I am referring to is simply a piece of butcher paper with a grid of several small boxes. You can lay it on an extra table or tape it on a spare wall.

student matching yellow paint

A note about your role in the process: Get ready for a workout! There will be a lot of dependence on you because you determine when students have matched the color. Students will be calling your name to check their colors for a match, asking your advice for what to add, and demanding new color swatches. Once a student matches a color, take their color swatch, wipe any paint spots off, and reuse that swatch with other students. Color swatches can be used numerous times before they become too difficult to decipher.

student matching green

5. Clean Up and Assess the Leader Board

As cleanup approaches, announce that you will be closing the window for approving color matches in two minutes. Keep a countdown or visual timer going because you’ll have students who will have a difficult time stopping!

Instead of trying to count every name and every match on the board, ask around to see who is claiming the most matches. After confirming, write down the top scores each period. If you’re having students compete throughout the day, display a running list to heighten the competition. I often find the winner comes from the last period of the day.

If you’d like, give out a prize. A new paintbrush or two is always appreciated!

students completing the challenge

The Color Matching Challenge is great way to get students to think about how to make colors from scratch. It allows them time to practice, builds skills, and is highly engaging. It is rarely difficult to motivate students to try this out, even if they do not care about the competition part. The prep work is easy enough as well. All it takes is one trip to the local paint store, and you are ready to rock!

What questions do you have about implementing the Color Matching Challenge?

What are other ways you get students to mix and make colors?

Matt Christenson

Matt is a high school visual arts and mural design teacher in San Francisco, CA who strives to cultivate maximum creative potential in all students.

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  • anna nichols

    I love this idea! Kids love a challenge and many love that sense of friendly competition. As a bellringer, I have torn out a page or two from a magazine, drawn a circle around a certain color, and assigned students to match it. What a great intellectual challenge!

    • Matt Christenson

      Thanks Anna!

  • Anne Dirilgen

    Hi Matt. I did this lesson yesterday and this morning with my Visual Arts 1 classes and they loved it. I was exhausted after about 40 mins of running around the room but got lots of steps in!! It was so much fun for them and for me. Thank you for sharing.

    • Matt Christenson

      Right on Anne! I’m pretty worn out after we are finished too.

  • Idie Weinsoff

    Matt- do you use acrylic paint for the Color Matching Challenge? If not, what kind of paint do you recommend?

    • Matt Christenson

      Hello Idie! I absolutely use acrylic paint for the Color Matching Challenge. Works wonders. In fact, that is basically the only paint I use with my students.

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  • ANNE BRAHAUM

    The kids had a blast with the color matching challenge! I had the kids work as a team by tables so instead of me checking each color they checked with their tablemates. Lots of great analyzing, critiquing and discussion between students as a result and less running for me. Each table had their own large paper to put their matches on and I just looked at the paper for each table at the end of the class to determine the table with the most accurate matches. The color swatches were then put back on the large paper on the board for the next class to choose from.

    • Matt Christenson

      Anne, that sounds great! I love the way you had the students keep each other accountable and gave them the final say on the matches…I’m going to try that method next time. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  • Mary Ruth

    Is it okay to use poster paint instead of acrylic paint??

  • Mary Ruth

    Is it okay to use poster paint instead of acrylic paint?

    • Matt Christenson

      Hello Mary! Absolutely. Get as close as you can with it.

  • Sally

    I can see that the paint colours you have suggested are quite specific. I can get:
    white, yellow oxide, red oxide, magenta.
    Of the other colour suggestions, can you tell me which one is most suitable.
    Blue: (cobalt blue, warm blue or cool blue)
    Red: (warm red or cool red)
    Yellow: (warm yellow or cool yellow)
    I have to order new colours, so it would be good to get it right.
    I’m really looking forward to it. It looks like so much fun!