What do we know about middle school kids? They don't usually like to be the center of attention, or to focus on themselves, or to embarrass themselves - especially in front of their friends!
Knowing this, how could I expect them to draw self-portraits? What if it doesn't come out right? What if it looks silly or dumb? What if everyone hates it? OMG! Embarrassing!!! I pictured in my mind wads of "artwork" filling the trash can. Definitely not a good art experience.
So I asked myself - what do these kids like? What would make creating self-portraits exciting and fun? After a quick bit of research, I found the answer - Manga art! Kids love Manga, and the idea of creating their own Manga avatars was a hit! I printed out a few instructional worksheets and made a set for each student. Note: We drew heads only at this point; however you can get instructions for whole body Manga art as well. I showed them some avatar samples, and then I let them go to work.
They loved it! Drawing themselves Manga style seemed to take away the seriousness of self-portrait drawing. It was more like a cartoon of themselves - and popular Mangas at that - with detailed instructions to follow for each facial feature. These could then be tweaked and colored to resembled their own individual features.
Manga self-portraits were really a hit, even with youth leaders Sierra and Mel. Their avatars look just like them, don't you think?