Creative Conflict

Resolving and avoiding conflict in group art projects


Putting together a school play, writing a group composition, or creating a class mural can be an incredibly rewarding and fun experience for students. But with grades at stake, artistic differences, and varying levels of commitment, conflicts between students are par for the course. Here are ten tips to help you avoid and resolve conflicts in creative group projects.

  • Every individual is important. Before a project begins, foster an environment in which students are comfortable expressing themselves. Try this activity: Have students sit in a circle. Hand a ball of string to a student. Ask the students to state their name and an interesting fact about themselves. Then, while holding the end of the string, the student should roll the ball to another student who, in turn, holds the string taut, shares his name and an interesting fact, then rolls the ball to another student. And so on. After everyone has spoken, the students will be linked together by a strong web. Toss an object like a stuffed animal or volleyball into the middle of the web. Just as every single person must hold the string in order to keep the object from falling, every individual's voice is important in a collaborative project.
  • Cooperate for first-rate art. Show students that beautiful works can be created when everyone shares their unique skills and ideas. Amira Westenburger, School Counselor at Rockledge Elementary in Bowie, Maryland, groups students in teams of four for this excellent activity: While playing music, have each group member sit at the corners of a piece of butcher paper. Invite them to draw anything they wish. When the music ends, students must stop drawing and move clockwise to the next corner of the butcher paper. When the music starts again, students must add on to their peer's drawing. After each student has drawn on each corner, students will see first-hand how cooperation can create unique art.
  • Be a taskmaster. Avoid conflict by ensuring everyone involved knows exactly what is expected of them from the get-go. Try drawing up student agreements that list how each student will participate and cooperate. If you find that some students aren't pulling their weight, remind them of their decisions and promises. You could also involve the whole group in creating checklists of tasks for each person. Turn these checklists into rubrics and you can easily assess each student's performance.
  • Peers can be taskmasters, too. Before embarking on a project, tell students they will be filling out rubrics that assess whether each member of the group did their share of the workload. If students know that their peers will be keeping an eye on their performance, slackers often step up to the plate.
  • Listen first, second, and always. Teach students to respect each other by carefully listening. If a student is angry and is expressing his anger to his peers in an excited way, remind his peers to listen to his words rather than watch his body language. This ensures that students listen to a viewpoint rather than react to their peer's anger. If there's a heated conflict, avoid unnecessary arguments by telling students to count to ten before saying anything. In those ten seconds, students should be thinking about what they want to say and how they want to say it. This way, students can catch themselves before blaming or attacking another.
  • Act it out. It is often difficult for students to be objective about a conflict, so it is helpful for them to hear others describe the situation. Lillian Hasko, Dance teacher in Silver Spring, MD, suggests that students involved in a conflict should explain their view of the conflict to another student who will represent them as their "actor." The actor will work with students to represent each side fairly. The conflict is then presented to the class or larger group, who will offer suggestions for a resolution. When all suggestions have been shared, students in the conflict can provide additional suggestions before deciding on the best solution.
  • Role-play real-life conflicts. When students have different cultural, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, a wide variety of perspectives is the norm. If students take the time to examine conflicts that occur outside of the school community, they can learn to develop empathy for others' perspectives. In Dr. Robert McCarthy's American Civilization class at the Key School in Annapolis, MD, students are asked to role-play leading figures in Supreme Court cases, including the plaintiff and defendant, lawyers, and the nine Supreme Court justices. Before the "trial," students must conduct considerable research to gain a sense of the cultural, religious, and socioeconomic background of the person they are role-playing.
  • Two heads can be better than one. One of the most common conflicts among students is learning how to negotiate. When two students both have brilliant—but different—ideas about how a work should look or sound, help them see that both ideas might be able to exist together. For example, if one student believes that a costume should be made of tulle and another prefers a shiny fabric, perhaps the costume can include both fabrics, and would, as a result, have more texture and variety.
  • Exercise your mediating muscles. Ideally, students will work out conflicts on their own. Students can also be trained to act as peer mediators. But in more complicated scenarios, a mediator can provide a much-needed neutral viewpoint. Help alleviate a conflict of opinions by meeting with the parties involved. Have each side write down their viewpoint, including reasons why their viewpoint would lead to successful results. Then have them critique their own ideas, including whether their ideas are logistically possible. Invite each side to share their opinions, then help them decide what would be best to attain the main goals of the project.
  • Who gets to use the markers first? Students must learn to respect each other's opinions at a very early age. In kindergarten, students are tasked with keeping their frustrations in check if they are not given their first choice. It is important to encourage students to voice their opinions, and learn to bend or negotiate when their opinions are countered. Whether deciding who gets to use the markers first or which screenplay will be chosen for a high school play, persuade students to express their ideas and encourage their peers to challenge them.

Conflict resolution is a life lesson. Teach students that voicing their opinions—as well as negotiation and compromise—are indispensable skills in the real world, whether in the field of the arts and humanities or the sphere of business and politics.



Theresa Sotto
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

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