NOW READING: 10 Activities to Bring Inquiry-Based Learning and Art Together

10 Activities to Bring Inquiry-Based Learning and Art Together

Providing opportunities for students to pursue their artistic interests in school not only allows them to explore new talents, but also strengthens their connection with standard subjects such as English and math. Help your students engage with academics by bringing these 10 inquiry-based art activities to your class!

Like we did with our activities for mathematics and high-school English, we’ll use the Wabisabi Inquiry Cycle below.

THE WABISABI INQUIRY CYCLE

THE GLOBAL CONCEPT

The Global Concept is the “big idea” or focus of inquiry. This is usually summed up in just a few words, or even only one (e.g. Sustainability, Inclusion, Tolerance). Learners should be encouraged to pursue these concepts in ways that speak to them personally, creating a stronger connection to the material.

The Essential Question

This is the driving question that sets the inquiry cycle in motion. It’s the focus of the lesson and from this, more specific or “herding” questions will arise. We have developed an entire book on how to write and assess essential questions which you'll find very useful in your practice.

THE 4 CS
  • Curious: This is about the concepts embedded in the content that learners can think about and discuss to drive their curiosity forward.
  • Connect: Bringing the content to learners by making relevant connections to different concepts inspires real learning.
  • Communicate: Here, we state what message and essential learnings we want our students to gain.
  • Create: This is what learners will present to demonstrate their understanding of, and appreciation for, what they’ve learned.


The overarching Global Concept for these activities could be something along the lines of "art" or "expression" or simply "colour." As for the essential question, we'd try to keep it broad in scope so that learners are naturally guided to ask more increasingly focused (herding) questions about it. Something like "why do we need art?" or "what is art?" would be a suitable start.

We can also create one overarching line of inquiry for all these activities, which would look much like this:

Learners are inspired to be curious about art and make connections to its practical applications in both life and learning to communicate the significance of art in culture by creating projects for activities based on artistic expression and understanding.

1. The color wheel

Have students familiarize themselves with the color wheel then introduce them to color schemes, providing them with vocabulary such as triad, complementary, and analogous. Give your students paint sample cards arranged in a specific scheme and ask them to identify which theme they are looking at.

Ask your students how each color combination makes them feel by having them assign each one an emotion (happy, sad, calm, etc.). At the end of the exercise, have them identify which color schemes they find the most appealing and why. This activity works well with almost all grade levels and can be adapted depending on the age of the class.

2. Color and mood

Have your students research the relationship between color and mood. Which colors make people feel relaxed, energetic, or angry? How is this information used by people who design grocery stores, hotels, and restaurants?

Then have the students try a design project themselves. Assign each student a specific room and a specific mood that room should reflect. Students shouldn’t let anyone else see what they were assigned. Their job is to come up with design elements and color schemes that will create that mood. Once students are finished with their project, have them exchange their completed work with another student. Can the other student tell which mood the room was meant to reflect?

3. Art assessment 

This is another activity that can be adjusted to work for all grade levels. Divide your students into groups of three or four and provide each group with a painting or other piece of art. You can choose any genre you’d like so long as each group has a different piece. Have your students examine the piece you’ve given them focusing on color use, medium, and genre (contemporary, abstract, modern, etc.).

Next, have the students individually record their thoughts on what the artist was trying to convey through their piece. After students are finished with their assessment, have them share their evaluations with the others in their group. Did they all come to the same conclusion?

4. Match the genre

For this art activity, you will need to lead your class in a discussion about the different genres of art. While showing pictures of each, talk about what makes every genre unique and what all pieces within a genre have in common. Next, provide your class with a few basic images such as a star, a flower, or a rainbow then have them try to draw the image following the styles of each genre.

At the end of the assignment, take each student's set of images and arrange them by genre. How did one person’s representation of an abstract flower differ from another’s? Have students compare the differences and similarities of each image and genre completed by the class.

5. Color mixing

This activity can be adapted to fit a variety of grade levels. Explain to your class what the primary colors are and how they are mixed to create all other colors. Then provide your students with paint, brushes, and water. Ask them to experiment with the red, yellow, and blue paint you’ve given them to see if they can find a way to make green. When they have succeeded in this task, have them write down which two colors they mixed to make green.

Continue this process until students have made the secondary colors (green, orange, and purple) as well. For older classes, this activity can be made more detailed by requiring your students to not only record which two colors they used, but how many drops of each color they used to reach the specific shade of the third color.

6. Origami

Origami teaches students how to pay attention to instructions while also requiring them to utilize their knowledge of geometry. For this activity, you can either provide your students with step-by-step instruction sheets or conduct the class verbally, making the piece along with them as you explain each step. Encourage your students to identify the shapes they are making with each fold.

For higher grade levels, you can also have them record what type of angle is being formed. At the end of the activity, encourage your students to create more origami pieces that can be displayed in the classroom or in their rooms at home. Help them understand that origami is math turned into art.

7. Tangrams

Provide students with a pattern sheet and a selection of tangram blocks. Before they can begin to fill in the pattern, they must identify each shape being used. How many diamonds will they need? How many triangles and squares? Then have students complete the pattern.

Once they have finished, have your students look at the completed image to find any larger shapes the smaller blocks may have been used to create. Were triangles combined to form squares? For older students, try using a pattern sheet that does not have the individual shape lines provided inside the pattern. Have the students try to create the image using only the image’s outline and the tangram blocks provided. This often proves to be more of a challenge.

8. Experiment with mediums

Talk to your class about the different types of mediums artists use to create their work. Show examples of each. Then provide your class with different mediums and allow them to experiment with them on their own. Have them observe the unique effects that can be produced by each medium and choose the ones they like the most.

Depending on the grade level of your class, you can provide mediums as simple as crayons, colored pencils, and markers or as complex as watercolors, pastels, and acrylics. Ask your students to identify the mediums used in a few sample art pieces of your choosing.

9. Junk art

Explain to your students that virtually any material can be used to create art. Show them pictures of art made from trash, metal, and other unconventional items. Then provide your students with a large bin of junk items they can use to create their own piece of junk art. Items you provide can include buttons, broken jewelry, feathers, and shells.

Before selecting their junk pieces, have your class decide on what object they would like to create. They can select anything from a 3D piece to a collage on paper. Once they’ve chosen their object, have them sift through the junk bin until they’ve found the items they think will work best for their piece. At the end of the activity, have your students show their piece and explain why they used the items they did.

10. Nature art

Just as random, everyday objects can be used to create art, so can things from nature. Have your class select an object or image they wish to create then take them on a short nature walk or a walk around the grounds of your school. Tell your class they may only collect nature items that are already on the ground to prevent any damage to living things. Examples of items they can collect include fallen leaves, acorns, pinecones, flowers, pieces of wood, seeds, moss, grass, and rocks.

Once back in the classroom, have students complete their piece by gluing their nature items together or onto a sheet of paper. Discuss how turning to nature for art inspiration can lead to the creation of many unique pieces.

Artful Learning

Help your class realize that art doesn’t always require coloring within the lines by allowing them to explore it through the use of these 10 inquiry-based learning art activities. You can get even more activities for stimulating their interest in inquiry-based learning with our free ebook 10 Great Activities for Exploring Inquiry-Based Learning. Real-world scenarios with discussion questions and research suggestions are included. Get it now only from Wabissabi Learning.

10 inquiry-based learning activities