Notice, Describe & Ask

This language protocol allows children to feel seen for who they are, while building their ability to speak for themselves.
One girl whispering in another's ear about the contrasting puppet faces they're working on at their desks.

What is Notice, Describe & Ask?

Through Notice, Describe and Ask we talk about students’ work in rich detail, but without judgment. As we engage children in conversation, we help them discover their own voice, while building their language and observation skills.

  • Classroom teacher leans over a table full of collage materials looking at a student working on decorating her puppet body.


    Take time to learn about students by observing, before speaking. Notice habitual responses, and let them go. Then, notice artistic choices.
  • Teacher sitting with two students at their desks prompting them as play with their drawn puppets and settings.


    Describe specifically, enthusiastically, and without judgment, no matter where children are in their process. Call attention to varied choices.
  • Teaching artist Donna Maria DeCreeft listens with enthusiasm as a student describes what she is working on.


    Ask kids open-ended questions about their work, allowing them to speak as artists. Listen closely & repeat their words to show you understand.

    In teachers’ words …

    “Don’t tell them [what it is], let them tell you…They might have something else in their minds. You don’t want to give it a label.”
  • Teacher kneels at students' desks and listens with a huge smile on her face to a student, who is also grinning ear to ear, describing his drawing.
    An In-depth Example

    To see how this conversation protocol puts students’ artistic work at the center of classroom conversations, check out  the NDA visual arts page, where it is fully described and visualized.

    NDA is also explained and incorporated in every activity page in our resource library.

    NDA Visual Arts

Why Do We Use Notice, Describe and Ask?

  • Student with circle shaped blue glasses and a blue puffer vest observes how he has arranged pieces of orange on his desk. He has accordion folded many of the pieces so they can stand up, not just lay flat on the desk.
    Provides information artists need to develop their work

    Describing expression specifically helps students see their choices with greater clarity. When artists hear their own work described, they get ideas of what to do next. Hearing their peers’ work described gives them new ideas, opening a wider palette of choices to explore.

  • Classroom teachers sit next to two student seated at their table and watches with interest as they work on their torn paper collage settings.
    Children feel valued and seen

    The practice of close observation allows the teacher to slow down, let go of assumptions and judgment, and see what’s really there. When the teacher looks closely at a child’s choices and describes with specificity, it is deeply affirming- more so than “good job.”

  • Birds eye view closeup of student explaining their pencil drawing to a teacher looking over their shoulder.
    Language becomes an exciting tool

    The rich language environment that is created empowers child agency- giving them words they can use in naming their choices and work process. It builds new vocabulary and motivates children to use it, in speaking about things they care about. And it builds community, giving children time to talk to each other, and language for conversing about their work.

  • Student and teaching artist making shocked faces together and noticing the different facial features being made. The student points to the raised eyebrows of the teaching artist.
    Builds a foundation for inferencing

    Focused attention to noticing gives children a foundation for inferencing- a crucial skill in reading, writing, science & social studies. Taking in all the details, without jumping to an immediate conclusion, allows them to be thoughtful in their inferencing and fully grounded in the evidence. Careful noticing among peers expands social emotional awareness.


How can NDA support an Artist’s Work Process?


    Artists become aware of their artistic process

    Help artists become aware that they have a process, by closely observing and describing their artistic choices.
    Centering Artistic Choice Making
  • Closeup of student sitting at his desk looking at a black piece of torn paper with his glue stick nearby.

    Artists build reflection skills

    NDA helps artists consider the specifics of their work, and models the questions artists ask themselves to move work forward.
  • Artists learn to talk to each other about their artwork

    NDA builds observation skills and language for constructive conversation and collaboration.
  • Artists learn to work with frustration

    NDA supports artists to move through feelings to find the information they need to step back into their work process.

Notice, Describe & Ask by Artform

To find out more about using Notice, Describe and Ask in your classroom, see the links below.


    Make a describing tool for your art form

    Hear how TA SJ Munford created a new describing tool for paper sculpture. Scroll to learn how a musician adapted the tool. Make your own using the
    Describing tool template

    Make a describing tool for your art form

    Hear how TA Rima Fand adapted the music describing tool specifically for violin. Make a tool to describe choices kids make in your class. Use the
    Describing tool template