House of Illustration INSET: Empowerment through Illustration

Our Head of Education on using practical illustration techniques to inspire learning and teaching across the curriculum.


  • Emily Jost
  • Learning

Lots of practical and useful ideas. Really nice to have time to be creative, will certainly benefit children - Class teacher/music lead

Over the 2016-17 academic year, my team of illustrators and I have delivered 8 INSET sessions in primary schools in London and beyond.  It remains one of the most important strands of our ambitious learning programme because by working with all the teachers in a school we are effectively working with all its pupils.  We aim to empower primary teachers with the skills, confidence, ideas and techniques to use illustration techniques in art and design and embed it across all learning and teaching. 

We believe making images is a primal human urge, and that developing art skills is a human right.  All the teachers we meet agree with this, but there are many barriers to them using illustration in the classroom, starting with teacher training.  On primary PGCE courses, trainee teachers are lucky if they get a few hours on art and design in a whole year’s course.  Add to this the fact that schools are judged primarily on results in maths and English, and the fact that art is being squeezed from the curriculum, it can be tough for teachers to nurture their pupils’ creativity and visual communication skills.  And yet we know how much it can benefit learning and attitudes to learning.

We were delighted to be invited by a Folkstone school, Cheriton Primary, to spend a day with all the staff this month so we could share our passion and teach the teachers a wide range of exciting and accessible illustration skills and projects.  The head teacher had asked us to focus on inspiring literacy, so with this in mind illustrator Toya Walker and I put together a day packed full of art activities from our super-list of teacher-tested activities.

After my presentation What is Illustration? which includes lots of examples of what we do with schools, we launched into a series of three short activities including this where each teacher picked an envelope containing cut out shapes or objects, or stamps with ink pads, and were asked to make a series of quick illustrations depicting different emotions.  This acts as a fun warm-up and is a great way to tackle the daunting blankness of a new sketchbook.  We recommend it as a starter activity for pupils of all ages.

Next we spent a bit longer creating an Alphabetic Archipelago: teachers chose a letter, and then on a map frame template drew an island in the shape of a letter, populating it with features and inhabitants beginning with that letter.  Using pen and watercolour, they looked really effective and lots of great ideas came out about how to use this activity in the classroom including adventure story-writing, geography (mapping), science (biomes and habitats) and maths (co-ordinates).

Next we completed a two-stage process: creating creature collages using Victorian black and white prints, and then drawing the creatures using ink and kebab sticks (one of our favourite mediums!). Both images are artworks in their own right, and use imagination and skills but are easy and accessible.  We asked the teachers to name and describe their newly-invented creatures. Over lunchtime, Toya and I made these into an anthology booklet/fanzine showing how easy self-publishing can be. Teachers had great ideas about creating invented dinosaurs for Year 1, and Harry Potter creatures for Year 5. 

After lunch we asked the teachers to work in pairs on another, longer two-stage process to make posters depicting life cycles using coloured sugar paper for collage.  A form of sequential illustration with multiple cross-curricular opportunities, the teachers were absolutely delighted with the results.  Some may not be strictly scientifically accurate, but the teachers would obviously make sure pupils had the right facts when replicating it in class!

This method can be used for science, non-chronological writing (ie instructions) or explaining any process - one teacher suggested maths processes; another reporting on a school trip - and brilliantly creates a classroom display where the children have made their own learning resources. 

I am delighted to say that all 23 teachers rated the session good or excellent and stated that it developed their creativity, increased their confidence, will benefit their teaching and would recommend it to colleagues. Some feedback from the teachers:

Good pace, good practical activities, activities that can be put into use in the class.

The ideas provided will enhance teaching across the curriculum.

It provides great ideas/resources for use in classroom. Realistic ideas! Many CPD courses give ideas + resources which are not relevant or unrealistic for our age range.

It helped with skills and also showed that your ability to draw etc. does not affect your ability to teach.

That’s exactly what we mean by empowerment through illustration!

For more on our INSET sessions and CPD courses see here.

To contact the education team email