I try to incorporate the Elements of Art and Principles of Design in every grade and unit I do. I feel that students should appreciate their value and understand how to apply them both successfully and in a way that strengthens their creativity. So in 7th grade, I break them down one by one to discuss and then portray understanding. And I use the material that most 7th graders start off loving – chalk pastels! I say “start off” because by the end of the unit, there is always a number of them that never want to look at chalk again.
Now, there are always discrepancies on how long each list is but the general consensus is that whatever you include, all terms are always beneficial to students. The reason I do an in depth unit regarding the Ps and Es at the start of 7th grade is because of scheduling. I only have my 6th graders every 6 days, a total of 30 days a year – so we cover a lot of terms but we keep it simple and really try to keep it hands on for experience right away. My 7th graders come to me every day for an entire trimester, so 60 days. This allows room for longer units, more in depth conversations, etc.
To keep things balanced and easy for students to create ways to remember and apply – I stick to seven Principles and seven Elements. We start off with vocabulary and while most teachers dread the boring vocabulary lessons – we really have some fun with this. Students get a sheet of paper with the fourteen terms.
Elements of Art: Line, Shape, Form, Color, Value, Texture, Space
Principles of Design: Unity, Balance, Contrast, Emphasis, Movement, Pattern, Rhythm
Arguably, you could include proportion, variety, PLP, scale, size – etc. I include these but as branches off of the 14 main terms. By putting the terms in front of them we can dissect them – we hold a conversation about each thing and not only where we’ve heard the word before but where we see the word in action – it doesn’t take long for students to realize that the elements and principles can be found nearly anywhere, especially in art and architecture. After dissecting the words and figuring out their meaning, citing examples and building other conclusions from them (i.e. Color can have a value, Rhythm plays into variety, etc.), students create a visual dictionary for the words!
What a concept! Rather than have them drain their creativity by writing out the definitions (and anyone with knowledge of CCSS knows that’s the wrong way to do it), I have them draw pictures – not only does this help them define the word but it helps them practice and understand how to use it! Of course, I walk through it with them at times to help them understand better – but it gives way to a great discussion about how the Elements and Principles work.
When students finish the visual dictionary, which usually takes and entire class period, we revisit a couple of the elements and principles that I’ve learned students struggle with – they get what they are but applying their understanding gets tough. One of the toughest applications of terms is “value” which can be done numerous ways but we start off with some of the more known ways – hatching, cross hatching, and shading/blending. Once again, we do visual definitions and then we recreate a value scale to practice transitioning from dark to light with no breaks. This helps them prepare for the final project (don’t worry, it’s coming up).
Believe it or not, even though the students have been covering form for years, they still struggle with the basics of drawing form – or three-dimensional objects. So, of course, we practice this too – I show them multiple ways to do this – first, simply sliding a duplicate of a shape back at an angle and connecting the corresponding points – we revisit perspective (which we do in 6th grade) and talk about vanishing points – we apply whatever we can and practice shapes they are familiar with before challenging them with others. Before I combine the two concepts, I challenge them to figure out how we would make a circular as a sphere rather than a cylinder – this is always fun because students will argue and discuss with one another what the best choice is – within minutes, they realize how value can help them.
After that fun challenge, we combine the two elements into a bigger challenge – adding value to 2D objects and finally, turning multiple shapes into forms and adding each different value technique to those shapes – keeping in mind that every side of the form will vary in value. Before we move into the chalk project, we challenge ourselves one step further by discussing light sources and how they can truly effect what a shape or form may look like – this becomes the challenging part but after a good discussion and some convenient spotlights I have in my classroom – students learn how objects are lighter on the side that’s closest to the light – using this image students do their best to portray their understanding of value cause by lighting, even what a shadow may turn out as.
These processes usually take no more than 2 days of review – and the packet of pages is great (even though I hate handouts) for those students who are gone because the prompts walk them through the concepts and are able to be taken home – since it’s the first unit of the trimester, this is a life saver for those students that fall behind quickly.
Stay tuned to how my students take the 14 elements and principles and apply them to a chalk project that encompasses all of them and more! (Update: Click here for more info about the pastel project this leads to!)