George Lucas Educational Foundation
Arts Integration

Using Art to Boost Students’ Social Skills

Integrating the arts throughout the elementary school curriculum gives students the tools they need to express themselves.

September 1, 2023
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While going through the National Board process in 2006, I discovered the power of integrating art into the classroom. Since then, I have gone out of my way to provide students with opportunities to explore various forms of art using an interdisciplinary approach. Today, art is the cornerstone of my second-grade classroom, and I have watched many students soar academically when given the freedom to thrive and lead in a safe and productive environment through art exploration.

After seeing my students struggle when they returned from online learning during the pandemic, I decided to create more opportunities for students to express themselves through art. I knew my students’ mental health and social skills needed to be addressed before they could enjoy learning.

In my experience, art in the classroom is most effective when each art learning experience is followed by a discussion to provide students an opportunity to share, collaborate, and express their emotions further. I ask thought-provoking questions to push their thinking, and I collaborate with artists, dancers, musicians, and even museum curators to help create experiences for my students.

7 Forms of Art to Integrate Into the Classroom

1. Music. In my classroom, I play music that the students request to get them engaged and excited. At the beginning of the year, I have my students tell me their favorite songs, and then I compile them into a playlist. Every day, I let my students pick a song, which creates a positive mood. Even a short clip played at the beginning of a lesson or midway through the class can quickly reengage and refocus students.

2. Acting. Role-playing allows students to practice expressing themselves appropriately in scenarios they are likely to encounter. They are able to identify and interpret their feelings in a creative way. When my students share their personal experiences, I am able to use role-playing to help them work through specific challenges.

For instance, one student shared how his siblings would disturb him when he tried to do his homework. The next day, he role-played this scenario and possible solutions with a classmate. Afterward, he was able to have a conversation with his classmates to discuss how he felt and how he could respond in a positive way.

3. Singing. Singing provides my students with an opportunity to join together and express themselves in a joyful way. They love to sing songs that I create to motivate them, transition to the next topic in a lesson, or celebrate their achievements. Sometimes we interpret the meaning of a song or discuss what inspired us about it. We sing songs throughout the day. It warms my heart to hear my students’ voices.

4. Painting and drawing. My students love drawing. They draw for many different purposes, including showcasing their learning and expressing themselves about what they want to see in the world and their hopes and joys. I also include visual art in class projects. I encourage students to illustrate their writing. They create kindness and empathy signs, and they collaborate to design murals.

As one example, my students had the opportunity to collaborate with Tsipi Ben-Haim from City Arts in New York, a nonprofit that brings professional artists and students together to create art. My students Skyped with artists who shared their creative artwork. After the call, my students were inspired to create their own portrait to represent peace. Ben-Haim later visited my students as well.

When they paint or draw, I encourage my students to analyze and interpret their work to discuss what they see. We talk about colors, numbers, captions, graphs, images, texture, and lines.

5. Dancing. My students get excited when they have a chance to groove to their favorite tune. It makes them so happy. When my students dance, I get to discover their personalities. I can see which students are shy and which are confident. It is amazing how everyone moves to their own beat, yet when we dance together, we become one unique unit.

Once, when some of my students were dealing with an emotional situation, a ballerina surprised them and danced to a “A Change Is Gonna Come.” We discussed how the dancer and the song made them feel. Some of the girls shared that they take dance class, and they even shared their favorite moves with the class.

6. Poetry. Having students engage with poems is a great way to promote reading, learning, memorization, and interpretation of language. Poems teach my students how to comprehend why and how people express themselves. The right poems also brighten up my students’ day.

I challenge my students to learn their favorite poems, and I allow them to share them in front of their peers, if they wish. My students’ confidence is evident when they share these poems. Students can also write poems to express themselves.

7. Storytelling. To support instruction, I use a free online platform called Harmony SEL. It encourages “personal treasured days,” which remind me of show-and-tell. Students bring in an artifact hidden in a bag, and their classmates get to guess what they brought. Then the student shares a story about the object. Finally, their classmates get to ask them questions about it.

I am always fascinated by what each student chooses to share. One of my students surprised her classmates by bringing in her tap shoes. She even showed us a few steps. Sharing personal stories in this way gives students and teachers alike a chance to learn about and connect with each other.

When students are allowed to create through art, they open up their minds to new possibilities and imagine how things could be. Art has allowed my students to gain empathy, hope, and a desire to dream for themselves and others. It has also allowed them to collaborate and find belonging in a space where they feel valued, safe, and appreciated. By incorporating social and emotional learning, I have fostered a lasting relationship with my students because they know that their well-being is at the center of my heart.

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Filed Under

  • Arts Integration
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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