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Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 1 of 10 | Arts & Activities
Aug 2015

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 1 of 10

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 1 of 10

I’ve been teaching visual art for 23 years and I still learn every day! After working at the elementary level for 14 years, I moved over to the high school arena and, from day one, I realized my secondary students were very similar to my younger ones, and that all kids love a pat on the back for a job well done. Positive affirmation should be an everyday occurrence in art rooms around the world. 

Now in my ninth year at the secondary level, I understand that the key to the success of a high school art program is in the foundation; that is, the introductory courses students must first take before moving onto advanced courses. 

Many of my students haven’t had an art class since they were 10 years old, but they’re anxious and excited to be in their elected art course and to learn. So, it’s my job to guide and teach them the tools and techniques necessary for them to become the artists they aspire to be. Most of my intro students plan on taking art throughout high school. 

At North Gwinnett High School, we offer introductory art courses that teach 2-D first semester, and 3-D second semester. These are prerequisites before students can move on to their art II courses.

From there, we hope they’ll move on to Art III and, eventually, AP. Our visual art team is aware that in order to build our students to the AP level, we have to start from the beginning and that is where this series of lessons begins.

– Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT

Lesson 1 of 10
Name Designs

This is the first lesson that our team teaches our intro 2-D art students. This lesson is wonderful on so many levels. First, it helps us with the names of our 32+ intro students per class. It helps us get to know each student’s likes, hobbies and personalities. And, perhaps most importantly, it gives us the opportunity to teach our students the many tools of art right from the start and to see where their individual strengths lie.

On the very first day of school, we go over our “ARTY” rules (A=Act Appropriately, R=Respect Everything, T=Try, and Y=You Can!), expectations and syllabus, and then move right into our Name Design lesson.


Sanha’s final name design.

Students are taught to brainstorm and think creatively as they create a simple flow chart around their name. Each strand that connects to their name becomes a hobby, a like, an interest they are passionate about and from here, they come up with interesting symbols to use for each connection. (You may view Sanha and Teresa’s name-design flow charts on the Sept. 2015 A&A Online Web page.)

Once students have come up with symbols to describe their interests and likes, they creatively incorporate these symbols into their name—either the actual letters or the negative space, and this is when we begin to teach them about the media and tools needed to be successful artists. If students are worried that their hand writing is sloppy or messy, we remind them that we have computers that are home to thousands of really fun fonts that can be enlarged, printed and traced or collaged onto their 6″ x 12″ white papers to enhance their final pieces.

We teach them about the value of the images found in magazines and the importance of cutting and gluing neatly when collaging. That drawing from life and researching the images they are interested in, takes their art to a whole new level. That care and craftsmanship are important parts of the creative process, and how to properly mount and label their art for exhibition.


Each student’s work is included in a class display, introducing them to the school.

By the time their designs are completed, students have learned how to use all the media available in the art room: graphite, charcoal and pen-and-ink, as well as watercolor washing, acrylic painting, collaging, and oil-pastel, crayon and color-pencil embellishing. And, they’ve made artistic decisions about which of these tools worked best with their current abilities and the symbols and images they brainstormed.

We teach our students to assess their projects with our Project Evaluation rubric forms, which require them to think and reflect on the processes they used to complete their work. The forms are require them to write their thoughts and specifics about what they learned. These forms help us as we then grade their pieces. Once all of the art has been graded and recorded, we hang every piece in class exhibits that introduce our students to the school!

Students are always amazed at how well their first art project turns out. Because we took the time to introduce and model the use of each media found in the art room, the students could practice and make educated and artistic decisions about what would work for them.

Next up…Visualizing Vocabulary!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Department Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia. She is also an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor.

Yearlong High School Curriculum:
Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 1 of 10 
“Name Designs” (page 20)

View/download these related materials:

1. Lesson Plan >>download

2. Name-Design flow charts >>download

3. Visual Art Project Evaluation Form >>download



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