Folk Art, Upper Elementary

Collaborative Papel Picado

As a substitute plan and follow-up to the lesson on papel picado, one fifth grade homeroom made huge cut-out designs using bulletin board paper. Each of the six tables of 5 to 6 students became one team. They were instructed to decide on their own what their design theme would be and how they would divide the work.

This lesson was done right before the big Michigan State versus University of Michigan game, so some students incorporated their preferred team into their design.

The center rectangle reads “Go Blue”
Other students got the idea to embellish their designs with shapes cut from construction paper

There was one more group that likewise added construction paper to their papel picado, but they wanted to take it with them immediately so I didn’t get a chance to photograph it. One other group wanted to gift theirs to the school principal, so I don’t have a photo of that one either. Still, the four that were left have been decorating the art room since!

Holiday, Lower Elementary

Expression Pumpkins

‘Tis the season for jack-o-lanterns!

For this project, lower-elementary students had to draw facial expressions on pumpkins. First, we talked about how different emotions register on our faces. For example, our eyes go wide and mouths hang open when surprised, while our eyebrows come down, shadowing our eyes when angry.

A second grader’s surprised pumpkin


Another student made a ferocious vampire pumpkin. Bold strokes of color make it seem like it’s coming to get you!


In the spirit of Halloween, eventually even Frankenpumpkins emerged. This one also seems to be part vampire, part Twitter beast?!


A Hulk Frankenpumpkin! This student imagined an elaborate backstory to explain her jack-o-lantern’s expression

Improvisation was the name of the game when the third graders got their turn. There happened to be some beads and feathers left out from the previous class’s weaving projects, which the students added to their expression pumpkins for some impromptu collage-making! Others set the mood through color and texture.

A bemused pumpkin with sequins for blushing cheeks


Fearsome yet fashionable!


The perfect Halloween combination of friendly and creepy! This student created a textured sky by coloring with the crayon on its side.

This is the jack-o-lantern I colored to serve as an example:

*Gasp!* Some students said this pumpkin looked scared or surprised.

The first graders had colored jack-o-lanterns with pre-drawn faces, but that didn’t stop us from imagining what the pumpkins’ expressions would be on All Hallow’s Eve.


Folk Art, Upper Elementary

Papel Picado

This fall, I’m at Lincoln Elementary School in Warren as a half-time student teaching intern. For the first lesson I designed and taught there, I shared the Mexican folk art of papel picado (lit., “cut paper”) with the students. A second grader had given my mentor teacher something that looked like an attempt to emulate the overall look of papel picado, and given the craft’s association with Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead,” a celebration of ancestors around November 1st), I figured the timing was perfect.

After an introduction to the holiday and the craft, and a brief Math Class Moment as we talked about symmetry, students created their own papel picado designs.

Students hard at work creating their designs. I used the document reader to do a demonstration in real time that all students could see despite the small materials.


The first class that did this was a 4th/5th split. Their work was hung up in the hallway and served as excellent examples and motivators for the other classes.

When are we gonna make those?

Below are some examples I made for the lesson’s introduction.

As Dia de los Muertos spreads out from the Mexican and Latin community, more and more people will see papel picado. This year, the Detroit Institute of Arts even has an exhibit for the holiday featuring ofrendas, altars honoring the deceased. While doing this lesson I was a bit surprised to learn that so many of the young students thought Halloween had something to do with the devil instead of being more closely related, originally at least, to holidays all over the world like the Mexican Day of the Dead, or Obon in Japan, which celebrate the lives of lost loved ones. I would like to do this project again with older students, and with more time, so that we can really dig into the meaning of these types of festivals.