Lesson #1: Experimenting with Composition

Part of the unit: Discoveries in Collage |


How can we create a composition with shapes?
Students will be able to:
Tear paper into a variety of shapes
Arrange shapes into a composition
Layer shapes
Students will understand that:
Artists experiment with compositional elements
Black and white construction paper (cut into 4.5”x6” pieces), multi-colored construction paper (9”x12”), glue/brush, scissors.

Collage illustrations by Eric Carle from books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar; The Grouchy Ladybug; Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?


Invite students to share their experiences with one of the Carle books. Direct them to an illustration:

  • Describe what you see in the picture.
  • What materials were used to make this picture?
  • What do we call an artwork made with paper and glue?

Teacher demonstrates how to use paper and glue to make a collage composition. Begin by focusing on shapes:

  • How can we change this rectangle shape? Invite a student to change the shape by tearing the paper. Ask a second student to change the shape again.
  • Now there are several new shapes. How are these shapes different from the original? As students respond---curves, rough edges, irregular, smaller---develop a word wall.
  • Notice that Panda Bear… is made of many shapes---large and small, and overlapping. Notice the details in the face and paws. How did the artist do this?

Explain to students that they will be creating a collage composition with torn shapes glued to a background. Demonstrate how to tear shapes and arrange them on a colored background. To reinforce the concept of experimenting with composition, ask questions such as:

  • Where on this background should we place these shapes? (middle, top, bottom, side, corner?)
  • Where should we place these shapes in relation to each other? (far away, closer, almost touching, on top of each other?)
  • What happens when we connect the shapes? (creates larger shapes, may take on a recognizable form)

Show students how to apply glue and secure shapes to background paper.

Supply tables with glue, black and white paper for tearing, and a selection of colored construction paper for the background. As students work, circulate about the room to remind them to use the entire surface for their composition. Pose questions such as:


  • What are you making?
  • Where might you connect some shapes?  

Invite the class to compare and contrast the work of two students.

  • How are these collages similar?
  • How are these collages different?

To prepare students for the next lesson explain that they will be creating a collage of a figure in a setting. Encourage them to think about a place they like to visit, such as a park, beach, sports field, or garden.

Art Making: Gain knowledge of compositional elements Literacy: Hone observation skills; develop vocabulary to describe art making