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Complementary Color Experiments

Discover complementary colors! Then see how the brain can trick your eye into seeing images.

  • Grade 2
    Grade 3
    Grade 4
  • 30 Minutes or Less
  • Directions

    1. Experiment 1--Complementary colors. Have students mix primary colors—red, blue, and yellow—to make secondary colors (green, purple, and orange). Try it with Crayola Dry-Erase Markers on an individual white board. Work quickly for best results!
    2. After secondary colors are mixed, erase the experiments. Students draw a color wheel. Figure out how to place the primary and secondary colors in their correct order. Look at a color wheel to verify the placement.
    3. Colors that appear directly opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors (red/green, yellow/purple, and blue/orange). Ask students what sports teams or other groups use complementary colors in their logos? Why do these colors "pop" when you look at them?
    4. As a class, read a book such as Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle. The concept of complementary color is fascinating at any age!
    5. Experiment 2--Optical illusion. With a red dry-erase marker, have students draw a small heart in a corner of a white board. Place a black dot in the center of the remaining white space.
    6. Have students stare at the center of the red heart while you slowly count to 10. Then shift their gaze to the black dot. Ask if they see a green heart floating in the white space? Try this experiment with several other colors and simple images. Ask students if they can explain this colorful optical illusion? Students find out how it happens by researching this phenomenon.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grade level text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

    LA: Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate conversational, general academic, and domain specific words and phrases, including those that signal spatial and temporal relationships.

    LA: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade level topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

    LA: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    MATH: Draw and identify lines and angles, and classify shapes by properties of their lines and angles.

    VA: Know how the differences among visual characteristics and purposes of art in order to convey ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Upon completing the colorful optical illusion, students post a personal explanation of what happened to create the illusion to a class blog.

    Encourage students to create a color wheel using a compass, ruler, and paint on white construction paper. Investigate the number of degrees that should be in each angle formed.

    Students research the artistic style of author Eric Carle. Students write an original short story and illustrate it using Carle's graphic style.

    Invite a science teacher and/or the school nurse to speak with the class about the workings of the brain and how the illusion of an image in a complementary color was created. Students experiment with other optical illusion activities.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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