Mixed Media Self Portraits in Middle School

The start of every school year is a crazy time, however in middle school it can be made even more so. There you find students from many different elementary schools converging together for the first time. Bringing hundreds of tweenagers together is a challenge all in itself, but getting those same students to engage in the learning process and escape from their self-centered bubbles that’s a whole different challenge!


I like to start off every school year embracing the self-involved nature of kids that age by having them do a self portrait. In the past, when I taught younger grades this process involved a lot of teacher involvement (and work!) However, in middle school you can really step back and let them create something that they feels reflects who they are and who they want to be seen as. Plus, you can sneak a little learning in there when they aren’t looking.

I broke this activity into several days worth of activities. I didn’t want to stress the kids out and I wanted to make sure they weren’t rushing through it. Although, some of them definitely did rush, the majority took their time and their self-portraits turned out amazing.

One thing I did do to prepare was take a photograph of each of them on the second day of school. I used those photos to create the overlay for this project. I simply (bahahaha) uploaded them one at a time using this website and created a halftone image. I printed those images onto clear transparencies.  This step really made this project in my opinion!  If you have access to Photoshop, you can do this whole process as a batch and save yourself a few hours!

Day 1

I projected this slide for the students and set out all the supplies on my back counter. Students realllly  struggled with keeping their colors either warm or cool so there was a lot of me circling the room reminding them which colors they could use!


Day 2

Oh my goodness!  This was surprising challenging for some, especially because I only had National Geographic magazines for them to use. Somehow they persevered though, and most managed to find all of their words. It was a great chance to see how my groups helped one another and found words for each other!


Day 3

This was probably the hardest art day of them all. I gave each of my students a glue stick at the beginning of the year and many of them struggled with using enough glue to adhere their photo to their paper!


Day 4

Maybe it has to do with my schooling (thank you liberal arts college!) but I think it’s important to reflect on the process of creating. So often in school we are rushing through our lessons trying to get to the next one and not stopping to acknowledge the hard work we put in on a daily basis. Taking a day for students to go back and reflect on their process really makes them think about why they did what they did, and what they are getting from it.


Day 5

Rubrics!  Again a throwback to all of my higher education is the idea of a rubric.  They are super time consuming to make at first, but the amount of time it cuts out of grading is incredible!  It really helps you be objective instead of subjective, which can be a challenge when it comes to art. I also really like this because the kids know EXACTLY what you are looking for and what grade they can expect to get. Plus, not everyone is a gifted artist and it isn’t fair to grade them based on this idea of perfection. Instead I grade on their ability to complete steps, follow instructions and finish the task.  For this assignment I had the kids grade themselves on the rubric via our Google Classroom. This way I could quickly scan through and see how they honestly rated their product!  Also, I have found that kids are surprising honest for the most part and their rubrics matched mine!


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