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Enticing Tessellations

Use math skills to create designs like M.C. Escher! A tessellation is a shape that, when drawn, makes even the negative space positively amazing!

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Dutch artist M.C. Escher experimented with a lot of different tricks in his art. Students figure out what is the real subject and what is the background by looking at his work!
    2. Escher created art with a mathematical shape called a tessellation. To create a template for a tessellation, cut a 2 1/2-inch (6.4 cm) square of oaktag with Crayola® Scissors.
    3. Begin at the top of the square to draw a simple curved line (no curlicues) with a Crayola Erasable Colored Pencil. Start and end the line at the top without touching any other sides of the square. Cut along this line.
    4. Place the top straight edge of the cut-out piece along the bottom straight edge of the original square. Tape the two pieces together.
    5. Turn the entire piece one-quarter turn. Inside the original square, draw another curvy line from what is now the top, back around to the top again. Cut out the new section. Tape it to the new bottom edge to make the template. What shapes are seen when looking at the template?
    6. Place the template anywhere on Crayola Color Explosion paper. Trace around the edges carefully with the Color Explosion color-reveal marker. When the line is completely dry, slide the template until it lines up with the right edge of the first shape and trace again. Repeat until your designs fill the paper. Parts of the template should go off all four edges!
    7. Decide what details are needed to draw inside the shape so people can understand what the object is. Draw these shapes the same in all of the tessellated shapes.
    8. Challenge classmates to find the background of the picture--there is none! Students compare their designs to Escher’s. How are they similar? Different?
  • Standards

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Read and comprehend literary nonfiction at the high end of the grade level complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing one's own clearly.

    MATH: Draw polygons in the coordinate plane given coordinates for the vertices.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Official M.C. Escher website is located at

    Working in small groups, students create an original geometric shape using knowledge of the coordinate plane to assist with the design. While students work in a group while creating the shape, they work individually when creating the tessellation, allowing for varying color schemes, shape positioning, etc. Display completed tessellations in the classroom.

    Students create a tessellating shape as described, then alter it to model Escher's Sky and Water I by only tracing the shape horizontally across the paper and blending the forms above and below this strip.


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