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Swirls: Nature's Designs

What happens when you combine an art technique called sgraffito with the beauty of spiral designs in nature? You get a comprehensive lesson plan combining art, mathematics, science and fun!

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Sgraffito is an art technique that students probably call “scratch art”. It’s fun to do, is easy and not messy when using Crayola® Dry-Erase Crayons. The word Sgraffito comes from the Italian word Sgraffire, which means to scratch. There are layers of colors and the top layer is scratched off to reveal the colors underneath.
    2. Share the book Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, by Joyce Sidman to the class. As you go through the pages, ask students to point out the spiral designs that are beautifully illustrated in the book.
    3. Compile a box of natural items with spiral patterns, like plants and mollusks, so students can examine the spiral patterns closely. Have other resource books showing spirals in nature available for students to look at and identify spiral patterns.
    4. Briefly explain that spirals in nature have a connection to mathematics. For example, shells commonly have logarithmic spirals or what is called The Golden Spiral. The placement of leaves on a stem follows the Fibonacci sequence.
    5. Students choose several natural objects to create an attractive composition. They can sketch their ideas using Crayola Erasable Colored Pencils.
    6. Using Crayola Dry-Erase Crayons, students color a piece of Marker & Watercolor Paper with all colors but black. When they are finished, students should then color over the colored paper with a black Dry-Erase Crayon. When covering the colored paper with black, students should make long strokes from the top to the bottom of the page instead of scribbling on the paper.
    7. Using a modeling tool, plastic dinnerware or a toothpick, students carefully carve their spiral designs into the black crayon revealing the colored crayon beneath. Students only want to carve off the top black layer so they don’t need to press very hard.
    8. As they are working, there will be black crayon shavings. They should carefully brush these shavings off the paper with a paintbrush or their hands and make a pile next to their paper for easy cleanup.
    9. When finished, students use a glue stick to mount their composition to a piece of construction paper in a complementary color.
  • Standards

    LA: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade level reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

    MATH: Use random sampling to draw inferences about a population.

    MATH: Represent and interpret data.

    MATH: Analyze patterns and relationships.

    VA: Students will initiate making works of art and design by experimenting, imagining and identifying content.

    VA: Students will use a variety of methods for preparing their artwork and the work of others for presentation.

  • Adaptations

    This lesson plan is effective for group work as well. Students can take turns completing the steps and create a group project. Each student adds one spiral design to create a comprehensive composition.

    In the place of creating a composition of more than one design, students can make only one design. Expand the lesson to include the mathematical connection in detail. Students write the mathematical formula that explains the design they have drawn.

    Students take it another step further by writing a report about one of the objects featured in their composition.

    Explore the art technique of Sgrafitto. Students research the history and show examples of artwork using this technique.


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