SchoolArts Room

Modeling an Engaging Art Lesson

By Pam Stephens and Elisa Wiedeman, posted on Sep 6, 2019

Each semester, our pre-service art educators are introduced to the development of meaningful art lessons. These future teachers are encouraged to find inspiration for their lessons from various sources including works of art, world history, art history, quotes, or stories. After identifying personal inspiration, students are then directed to look for teacher-tested ideas that they can replicate or adapt to suit their lesson-planning needs.

Cut paper house
Modified roof house

Cactus house with dome

Optical illusion house

Mixed media house Photographs by Pam Stephens
1. Cut paper house
2. Modified roof house
3. Cactus house with dome
4. Optical illusion house
5.  Mixed media house

At this point, resources such as SchoolArts and other publications are shown. This approach provides insight into art content and pedagogy while meeting visual arts standards and allowing for adaptability, rigor, connections, and flexibility in learning outcomes.

The underlying goals for this activity were to

  • Provide a memorable activity
  • Emphasize going beyond cookie cutter projects

Teacher Planning
To model this lesson, we shared inspiration from the philosophy and artwork of Austrian artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). Significant to Hundertwasser’s philosophy was reduction of optical environmental pollution in the humanmade environment. This concept readily connected to architecture and world history. For example, at the end of World War II there was a need for quickly built, depersonalized housing in bombed out European cities; the exact opposite of Hundertwasser’s architectural ideals of individualism, curved lines, and spontaneous vegetation. From this information, a slide show of examples and non-examples of Hundertwasser architecture was created.

We next sought an activity that would allow students to make personal visual statements about a humane and artistic urban environment. We decided to combine drawing with a three-dimensional component. Online searches found multiple sites with house templates. We settled upon an unembellished template that created a 5¼ x 5¼ - inch “house”. Little did we know how successful this activity would be.


  • House template (see resources)
  • Railroad board
  • Pencils, rulers, scissors, glue
  • Markers
  • Scrap construction paper


Student Process

  1. To begin, these words were written on the board: optical, environmental, pollution, urban, and living spaces. Students were asked to define each and to provide examples.
  2. While students watched the slide show, they were asked to identify and compare characteristics of Hundertwasser buildings to other buildings. Spontaneous rooftop gardens, onion domes, curvilinear forms, varied shapes of windows, and bright colors were some of the features discovered in Hundertwasser’s work. Non-examples such as pre-fabricated concrete plattenbau apartments contrasted with straight lines, repetitious window shapes, predictable colors, and lack of personalization.
  3. At this point, students were told that they would be making a small model of a house that they could modify to fit their own idea of reducing optical environmental pollution; that is, a place they would like to see or perhaps live in.
  4. Templates (see URL below) were provided along with railroad board and necessary art tools.
  5. After house shapes were cut out, students were instructed to either draw on the surface, add cut paper objects, or combine drawing with cut paper. Some students chose to alter the overall form rather than simply adding to the “walls”.

When the houses were complete, students were asked to consider how their construction would contribute to an artistic urban environment and why they made the aesthetic choices they did. Referring back to the goals of this activity, students were asked to reflect upon how adaptability, rigor, making connections, and flexibility contribute to significant learning in and through the visual arts.

Final Thoughts
We were pleasantly surprised how well this activity was received. What had been intended as a two-day endeavor, extended into weeks. Students were so engaged that they did not want to stop working on their houses. One pre-service educator enjoyed the activity so much that she successfully taught it to fourth-grade children. We later presented a workshop at our state art education conference where again the results were outstanding.

Pam Stephens is a SchoolArts contributing editor and Professor of Art Education at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff.
Elisa Wiedeman is Senior Lecturer at NAU.

Connecting: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

Paper house template,
Little Graffiti Village,