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Taino Petrolglyph Plates as Masks

Petroglyphs, or rock carvings, made by the Tainos still remain in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and tell the stories of their history. Students will practice creating petroglyphs in preparation for designing a three-dimensional decorative masks using historical symbols.

  • Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Write the term 'symbol' on the classroom white board and ask a student to pronounce the word. Have all students repeat the term together and discuss what they think it means. Inform the class that symbols are more than just a picture but a piece of an even larger idea. Provide a variety of recognizable symbols and logos for student to view and discuss as a "pair share" activity. What do these symbols mean to the students? What do they mean to adults?
    2. Ask students to share what they know about Christopher Columbus' expeditions to the Americas. Have a map of the world available (from the 1400s if possible) and show the path of Columbus' voyage from Spain to the New World, particularly the Caribbean. Circle the location of the islands of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Share some of the history of the indigenous people from these islands and their peaceful lifestyle. Upon being received by the Tainos, Columbus admired their gold jewelry and commanded these pieces be forfeited to the Spanish throne. The Tainos agreed and offered their gold necklaces to him as a sign of good will.
    3. Write the word "petroglyph" on the board. Ask for a student to read it, assisting as needed. Display a photograph of a Taino petroglyph for students to view and discuss. Ask students to contribute to the discussion by sharing the meaning of the symbols in the art they are looking at and how might they collectively reveal the story, or history, of the native people of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Students of this age level should recognize that these works of art were typically created on rock surfaces. Invite students to ponder why a rock was originally used as a drawing surface. When was artwork created on rocks? How old could these pieces of artwork be? Share a timeline with students.
    4. Distribute white paper and direct students to write the words "Taino Petroglyphs" on the bottom of their papers. Share a collection of various Taino Petroglyph symbols for students to view and practice drawing. Demonstrate looking at a selected symbol from the packet and translating the image onto paper using Crayola Construction Paper Crayons or Erasable Colored Pencils. Invite students to try to use thicker lines for clearer and bolder visibility of their drawing. Demonstrate drawing parallel to drawn symbol or thickening existing line(s) with additional parallel lines.
    5. When enough sketching time has passed, ask students to circle their three favorite drawn petroglyph symbols. Have class members identify any and all connections made between the selected symbols and their meanings in the artwork. How do they help to tell a story?
    6. As a tribute to the Tainos, students will be challenged with creating a mask using Taino symbols within the design. Distribute a mask or face mold and 4-5" piece of masking tape to each student. Demonstrate sticking the piece of masking tape on the back of the mold; students write their names and "Taino Mask" on the piece of tape using a permanent marker. Set the molds aside and demonstrate cutting newspaper into 2" x 3" (5.08 cm x 7.62 cm) strips. Students will cut their strips of newspaper and store them in a large bin for easy access later.
    7. As each group finishes, direct them to cover their work area with open pages of newspaper. Distribute strips to each group in a tray and invite the class to demonstration area. Using one strip at a time, dip and coat both sides of the newspaper and apply smoothly to concaved side of plate (the side without tape). Layer and overlap moistened strips while forming to the plate mold. Be sure to gently squeeze excess glue solution off of strip between your fingers into container of glue to prevent waste. Students return to their work areas and practice the technique until one side of the mold surface is covered to its perimeter. It is ideal to work within the interior of the mold. The paper mache will reduce in size and release easily from the mold. Students should work to cover the area 3-4 times for a sturdy surface once dry. Store projects on drying rack.
    8. Once projects are dry, demonstrate gently removing the paper mache project from the mold. Students use a permanent marker to rewrite their names on the back of the paper mache mask. Hold the project up to a light source. Inform students that if light seems to penetrate through the plate, that area is thin and more paper mache should be applied. Students can "highlight" the areas with a marker and an oval for a quicker process of reapplying more paper mache.
    9. On a clean work area, distribute brushes, white acrylic paint, and dry paper mache plates. Demonstrate coating concaved surface with a base coat of white paint. Allow students to practice this step and return their plates to the drying rack. Students would benefit from reviewing their sketches and making additional design decisions before the completion of the project. Show students images of decorative masks from around the world. Highlight how some masks use radial symmetry, repetition, and color relationships in their design. Encourage students to use the symbols or be inspired by the various cultures and mask makers.
    10. Distribute students sketches and dry, white painted masks. Demonstrate drawing a design on the white side of the mask using a pencil. Use lines and shapes to plan for additional paint application and embellishments. Select a variety of brush sizes for different sized shapes. Black paint or permanent marker can be used to outline or smooth out details after primary and secondary colors have been used. Students will practice this step and can consider painting or cutting the plate to appear cracked or chipped.
    11. Students might want to tribute characters from pop culture they admire. Encourage them to consider the mask as a representation of their own identity or personality. These characters can be incorporated with a creative composition and matching color schemes. Other students may desire increasing the volume, or form, of the mask with additional three-dimensional elements.
    12. Discuss presentation and the importance of considering the display of an artwork. Provide students with yarn, scissors, wire, tape, and glue. Demonstrate or display the different material uses for hanging the project. Each member of a small group will prepare a short speech which shares the symbols selected, why it was chosen and how it related back to the Taino culture of Columbus' time.
  • Standards

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

    LA: Tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking audibly in coherent sentences.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    MATH: Reason with shapes and their attributes.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools such as atlases, data bases, grid systems, charts, graphs, and maps to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.

    SS: Describe how people create places that reflect ideas, personality, culture, and wants and needs as they design homes, playgrounds, classrooms, and the like.

    SS: Explore ways that language, art, music, belief systems, and other cultural elements may facilitate global understanding or lead to misunderstanding.

    VA: Make art or design with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.

    VA: Re-purpose objects to make something new.

    VA: Categorize images based on expressive properties.

  • Adaptations

    Review masks from around the world using a graphic organizer of a world map. Students should label geographical locations and coordinate colors for each country.

    Read Jane Yolen's picture book, Encounter, with illustrations by David Shannon. While this story takes place in San Salvador, it provides some insight for students about the indigenous people and Columbus' visit to their land.

    As a follow-up activity, have students design a mask using contemporary symbols to tell a present-day story.


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