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November 6, 2014 A Plethora of Paint Swatch Academic Activities By Lindsey Petlak
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    I have recently developed an undeniable obsession with paint swatches. It all began while looking for cute Halloween and Thanksgiving ideas for crafts. Read my blog post from last week where I highlighted a few of my favorite finds. In searching, I unearthed a treasure trove of academic activities using these free, flexible, little classroom wonders that can be found at every hardware store, Walmart, and other locations.

    Put out feelers to parents and colleagues and you’ll find that paint swatches come pouring in! Look for other tips on how to acquire these handy-dandy tools in my previous post. Check out my Pinterest board dedicated solely to collecting pins that are all about amazing classroom uses for paint swatches. If you would like to contribute to the board by adding pins yourself, just leave a comment below with your email or email me personally to request access at:

    One of my favorite aspects of paint swatch use in the classroom is how VERSATILE they are! From early childhood through upper elementary, and across all subjects, these swatches are perfect for an array of academic activities! See a few of my faves below and try them out with your kiddos this week, since they’re easy to implement instantly!



    For little learners, paint swatches can be used for a number of multi-sensory academic activities. My favorites include the color and letter recognition below.

    Use paint swatches for the following color recognition activities:

    • Rainbow Swatch Scraps: Use pieces of swatches to complete the layers of rainbow colors correctly.

    • Color Cans: Using empty Pringles cans with differently colored lids, have students place coordinating color hue cards inside matching jars/lids.

    • Clipping Colors: Clip coordinating colored clothespins onto color swatch card sections.

    • Color Concept Book: Bind together swatches to create a color concept book. Add pictures of items matching the colors on each swatch. Students add to and read from the color booklets.


    Early letter and number recognition:

    • Number/Letter Pins: Clip coordinating clothespins with letters or numbers on them with matching marked paint swatches. For numbers, you could mark numerals and/or dots on cards that match with the numerals on the clothespins. For letters, write a random sequence of letters or onto the swatch cards or spell out words letter-by-letter. For either, write coordinating letters onto clothespins that your kiddos will match by clipping the pins onto the card letter sections.


    Elementary Math: (various grade levels)

    • Place Value: Cut windows out of sections of your paint swatches. Label each section for place value (ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, etc.). Some may have three sections (representing place values up to hundreds), while others (the long, narrow swatches) may represent place values up to millions. Create pull-through number strips for each window of your swatch. Students pull through numbers to create different numerals in each place value window. Then, you may assess their knowledge via center recording sheet or small group observation by asking students to read/record the full number and identify VALUE for each digit (i.e.- A 6 in the thousands place has a value of 6,000, whereas a 6 in the ten-thousands place has a value of 60,000.).

    • Computation: Cut apart paint swatches with three sections. Write portions of computation problems (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) on each section.  Students must match sections of the problem and answer to create a correct, complete equation.


    Word Work and Figurative Language:

    • Word Makers: Much like the place value windows described above, you can cut windows into swatch sections and create pull-through strips with letters on them. On the paint swatches, write word chunks. Students pull through the letters to make real and nonsense words with the chunks written on the swatches.

    • Shades of Meaning: Using the paint swatches with at least four color hues on them, students start with a simple, boring word written in the LIGHTEST part of the swatch. As the colors get deeper, students write a synonym for the simple word that gets progressively more complex as the colors of the swatch become deeper and darker. (Ex: eat, chomp, scarf, devour)

    • Contraction Action: Using four-section paint swatches, write the two words that make up the contraction (Ex: you are) on the first two sections of the swatch. Leave the third section BLANK (for folding). On the final (fourth) section, write the combined contraction (Ex: you’re). Students can work with pre-programmed contraction swatches, or use your example to create their own. They fold over the BLANK section to show the relationship between the first two original words and the combined contraction.

    • Color Is: Students look at the color variants on swatches and write sentences for each shade to describe what that color represents. Look at the examples below for great student versions of how this could look. This task involves deep thinking and figurative language!

    • Rename the Color: Much like nail polish, paint swatches have GREAT NAMES. Challenge students to look at the colors and existing names. Then, they have to RE-NAME each color hue with a descriptive title that fits the shade and uses figurative language to create a new name for the color. This is a creative language challenge!



    • KWL: Using three-section paint swatches, have students label K-W-L on each prior to an activity. Using each section, students record what they Know, Want to know, and have Learned about a specific topic or text. Paint chips are great for this task, because the cards are durable and the color shades show the progression of learning.

    • Summary and Plot Sequence: Depending on your student age group, ability/grade level, and sections in your swatches, you can use paint chips in a variety of ways to summarize and demonstrate reading comprehension. From beginning, middle, end (three section swatch), to story elements (setting, plot, characters using a three section swatch), to more complex plot sequence (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion/resolution using five or more section swatch) paint swatches may be used as great ways for students to colorfully connect story elements and plot sequence to demonstrate their comprehension.

    • Connections: Using a three-section swatch, write TTT (text-to-text), TTS (text-to-self), and TTW separately on each of the three sections. Students take notes about each type of connection for the story they are reading on each section.


    Hopefully you are able to glean at least a couple of academic activities for paint swatches within your classroom from this post. EVEN MORE activities can be found on my Pinterest board, so check it out and add to it (by emailing me so that I may add you) so that we can maximize this versatile teacher tool!

    Do you have paint swatch ideas and classroom uses? Have you tried out some of these suggestions in your own room? If so, please share in the comments below! Thanks for reading and see you next week!

    NOTE: All original sources and more detailed instructions can be found by clicking on the images and then the original sources as pinned on my paint swatch Pinterest board.



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Susan Cheyney