A Creative Way to Get Your Secondary Students Excited About Art History

It’s no secret getting kids to engage with art history can be like pulling teeth. In my county, our common assessment is full of art history questions our students are required to know. As their art teacher, I feel like it’s my duty not only to ensure my students know the material but that they understand and appreciate it as well.

Several years ago, I noticed our art class stools were in need of a face-lift. I put two-and-two together, and art history learning stools became a reality!

This project is a foolproof way to get kids invested in art history. It’s proof art history can be fun! And, it can be done in three easy steps.

Art History Stools in 3 Easy Steps

art history stools

Step 1: Research

The first step is to introduce your students to the span of art history, from pre-historic to contemporary art. Using our county’s assessment as a starting point, I put together a document similar to the one below as a quick reference for my students. I also make sure to highlight a plethora of female artists and artists from all different cultures. This gets students thinking about the full range of artists and movements available for inspiration.

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Then, students select an art era or a specific artist and conduct their own research.

I have my students gather the following information:

  • Date and Place of Birth
  • Education
  • Associated art style/movement with dates
  • Where we might be able to find their exhibited art

Once students have this information typed up in their own words with citations, they are ready to begin Step 2.

art history stools

Step 2: Create

After students research, they are challenged with creating a circular piece of art that shows what they have learned in their own artistic voice.

First, students trace their stool seats onto white drawing paper and neatly cut out the circle. I require a mixed media approach where students must include a graphite drawing, pen and ink or rendered painting, collage, and text.

You could change the requirements based on your students and your objectives. However, by having students incorporate collage into their composition, they have the opportunity to use imagery of actual works done in that era or by the master artist. The text can help reiterate the inspiration for the piece as well.

Finally, have students glue their circles onto the top of the art room stools and seal them with a protective coating. Sealing stools is an excellent job for National Art Honor Society students or other volunteers. Polyurethane or another weather-proof sealant will ensure they last throughout the year.

As an option, students can paint the rim and legs of the stool to match the top, creating beautiful finished pieces.

art history stools

Step 3: Finish and Display

Since I teach this lesson to all of my intro art students, I have more art than I do stools. I hang the remaining circles from the ceiling with fishing line and adhere the research to the back, making an engaging art history exhibit. These are hung in both the art hallway and in the classroom, ensuring that all students get a chance to see the fantastic work.

hanging cirlces

With the stools, you can have students laminate their research, cut it into a circle, and hot glue it to the underside of the seat. By doing this, the class stools become interactive learning devices!

info under stools

This project has become a favorite for our department, and it’s exciting to see a hands-on art history lesson take our students test scores to the next level! Who knew art history could be so fun?!

How are you creatively teaching art history to your students?

Have you ever considered using your stools in a meaningful way?

Debi West

Debi West, Ed.S. and NBCT, is a veteran art teacher teaching at the high school level near Atlanta, GA. She loves sharing with others, and her motto is, “Together We ART Better!”

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  • Leo Barthelmess

    I like this idea especially the art hanging from the ceilings… Unfortunately I do not have stools in my room. We do a similar project in my class but the pay off (the art) has been less than desirable and I might change it to this. Thanks!

    • Debi West

      Awesome! Please share your kiddos result! I’m telling you, the added collage makes a world of difference and sets them up to be super successful!
      Thanks for sharing!

      • Laura A Zlatos

        If I do say so myself, I have a fabulous project on comparing John James Audubon and Charlie Harper, using birds from a biodiversity website of our Maryland birds. It’s a collage.

        • Debi West

          Ohhhh – that sounds amazing!!!

  • Laura A Zlatos

    Most of the projects created in our art room are based on artists from the time frame they are learning about in history. Changing the shape of the work is a favorite of the students. I will work with this multimedia one. Love it!

    • Debi West

      I LOVE that!!! What a great way to teach across the curriculum!
      Can’t wait to see how you springboard from this! Please share your kiddos results!

  • Cindi Kugell

    I love this idea! Questions: Do you reuse the stools? Are they in your budget or provided by the school as classroom equipment? Thank you so much for sharing this idea.

    • Debi West

      Hey Cindi,
      These are the same stools we’ve had for years so yes, we redo them. Sometimes we will redo them every other year and just hang them from the ceiling, it’s up to the kids because sealing them can take some time and has to be planned for after school so they are dry by the next morning!
      Thanks for asking!!

  • Leah

    Whattttt!!!?? This is by far one of the greatest ideas. Thanks so much for sharing! Was recently thinking of a way for my 8th graders to “leave a legacy” behind in the art room. Brilliant! -L.Mills/Gwinnett County Schools

    • Debi West

      Ok Leah – what an AWESOME response!! Can’t wait to see what your kiddos do! Please share! And GOOoOoO Gwinnett!!!

  • Karen Scoles

    Hi! Great idea! I would love to get stools in my room! If not, maybe I can order some cheap colored frisbee’ s and have them seal their work on those! That’s what i thought tour’s were on when I first looked at the picture! Lol! If I do get stools, when you re-do them yearly, do you just seal the next one on top of the old one? And I am sure some students may not want to put it on The stool because they won’t get it back? Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Debi West

      Frisbees!!! Love it! And GREAT questions! You’re right, some kids want to take them home and since I have 40 stools and over 100 works we let the kids vote on which ones go on the stools. If they glue the outside only and we get ready to take them off, it’s not difficult, slide a knife under it and rotate it and 9 times out of 10 they come right up with a little wiggling!
      Then you just add the new art!!
      Thanks for posting!!

  • Bob Scroggins

    I see I’m not the only one that’s had students create artwork on ceiling tiles :) Unfortunately, after our school moved to a new campus I have a room that has an open, industrial-type ceiling, so no more tile paintings.

    Our art department has painted wooden chairs before, but there’s no lasting explanations to go with them. I really like the idea of gluing the info to the bottom.

    • Debi West

      Thanks Bob! I love the idea of making them interactive and it definitely makes the learning that much more fun!
      Thanks for taking the time to post!