HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

The House

I am always trying to come up with engaging  and meaningful theme units for my special needs art students.  This year I have a class of special needs students with very low fine motor capabilities as well as two preschool classes with a mixed population.

This art unit on The House has been creating excitement and interest with my students week after week!  I have also been able to incorporate books into each segment of the unit, which makes an important literacy connection.  It ties in great with pre school classes, who focus on buildings through one of their creative curriculum studies.

In this post I’ll outline the books and projects I used throughout the unit.

  1. book: Vincent Paints his House. by Ted ArnoldAmazon.com: Vincent Paints His House (9780823436866): Arnold, Tedd ...

The book is a great little pattern book that focuses on color identification and a fun play on Vincent van Gogh.  As I read aloud to students I adapted their level of participation asking students to either vocalize the new color or identify different shades of that color.

My Pre K students really enjoyed calling out the new color on each page.  While my special needs students were prompted to name or just repeat the color.  Using speech in class is one of my goals with that group.

Art Activity: collaging collograph plates

For our art project we created the collograph plates, although I didn’t tell the students that’s what they would become.  We began with a house outline in pop sticks on our paper. Then talked about texture as corrugated paper and burlap were added to fill the house frame.

In the special needs group I really stop to focus on the texture of each piece.  Children are encourage to  pet the materials and really feel the texture. I also ask them to repeat the description of the texture- bumpy or rough, etc.

Next we spoke about features a house might have, such as doors and windows.  Students were given trays of loose parts to create these.  Then art was put on the drying rack until the next week.


  1. book:  Building our House. by Johnathan Bean

In Building our House, we watch a family go through the steps to build their own home beginning with mining rock for the foundation and ending with moving in the furniture.

Students enjoy spotting all the construction vehicles in the illustrations as well as pointing out tools they know.  I used the opportunity to ask the special needs class to repeat the names of the tools. If you have toy tools, it would be great to incorporate them into the experience.

Art Activity: Printing the Collographs

In this class I print the collographs with the students by working in small groups.  Now you should know that my pre K classes come with one aide and the special needs class comes with four aides, so I am all set on extra adults! Anyway, I pull two to three students at a time, allow the kids to roll black paint over their printing plate and then lay the paper on top of the plate, instructing the kids to rub the paper.

While the children are rubbing, take the opportunity to review vocabulary by stating, we are making a print of your collograph.  Can you feel your printing plate through the paper? I feel the texture of the sticks and burlap through the paper.

When they peel up the paper, it’s like magic for them!  What great fun to watch their faces.

While I’m printing with small groups, I have the other children acting as architects, building with blocks. They can select a house photograph to “replicate”.  When I have a moment or two in between I ask the builders about their creations.  Where is the bedroom?  How do the people get in? etc. Children love explaining their thinking!

  1. book:  The House in the Night.  by Susan Marie Swanson

This book has beautiful scratch board illustrations with yellow additions that pop out.  Kids can work on speech by identifying common items inside the house or naming the items that are emphasized with yellow.

There is also a video of this book that I really think is well done. I enjoy the extra sound effects added into the story.  You can find that link here:

Click here for a You Tube video read aloud of book by “One More Story”:

Art Activity:  The House in the Night artwork

We are adding to the collographs today, but going back to the printing plate rather than the print.The printing plate is all black now from our activity in the last class.  I mount the printing plates on 12x18 black construction paper.

sequin or foam stars from a craft supply place make this next step easier. After reading or watching the read aloud of the book, students will make their printing plates their nighttime house by adding stars and moon in the sky.  I use scraps of metallic paper to create a border design.

Depending on the class’ capabilities, students can cut smaller squares off of long strips of paper to collage a border or they can use pre-cut shapes.

As an extension activity, students work on scratch art paper to mimic the illustrations of the storybook. With my special needs class, we used star shaped cookie cutters as stencils and scratched inside the shape.

  1. book: Roberto the Insect Architect. by Nina Laden

This is one of those books that entertains the adults reading it as well as the children listening! With the references to famous architects and styles from the canon of art history, the book puts a twist on each name, morphing it into a bug name.  Roberto draws up blueprints for a bug city to house all the displaced bugs of the world!  It’s a good story for the last art project of the unit, a blueprint. 

Art Activity: “Blue prints” with plastic play blocks.  

This is done on large navy blue construction paper with carboard pieces and blocks dipped in white paint.  I used megablocks, because I have a ton of them and like that they are so large and sturdy. The edge of a piece of newsboard or cardboard makes a nice line.  I introduce the lesson and show an example before doing a quick demonstration of the printing.  It is useful to emphasize that students can build up the printing from the bottom just like one would do with real blocks.  Start stamping shapes at the bottom and go up.


Students can go back into the middle after they have the structure outlined.  You can prompt more work or responses from them by asking, Where would you put the bathroom? Where will the bedrooms be? This activity echoes the work they did when they were “playing” with the blocks in the class when we printed the collographs.  It is an extension of that activity and allows students to approach the same idea in 2-D.


If you have enough adults in the room, it would be fun to label the parts of the blueprint!  

Just for fun, here is a link to a musical number from the Nickelodeon kid’s show, Phinneas and Ferb, all about blueprints!  My special ed students were old enough to recognize the show, but I don’t think the pre school kids will know the show! 


Final Thoughts

Although I've never approached the special ed classes or pre K classes with a unit before, I am anxious ot do it again.  I’ve displayed the whole unit together and it is a beautiful culmination of work!  I really enjoyed extending the theme out so far and felt that each class was a meaningful addition to our experience.  It is for sure something I’ll repeat next year and I hope to add more art units to my repertoire for this level.  I'm thinking something about shadows next...