Lesson Plan: The Tapestry of Cultural Codes

Written By: Margaret Johnson
Grade Level: 4th grade

Time Allotment

4 class periods at 50 minutes each.


By our choices to communicate in one way instead of another, we convey important social meanings. Students will demonstrate their knowledge of the use of signs and symbols (communication) in creating a code by incorporating art with math, social studies and literacy. Students will produce interesting works of art that can be displayed to show their understanding.

Subject Matter

Visual Art with connections to Math, Social Studies and Literacy

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • be able to kinesthetic/hands on create a story or secret coded quilt
  • will study a brief history of textile art in North America, with a focus on quilting
  • use various art techniques to create an example of a traditional art form—quilt making


Avervision Document Camera, Projector, HP computer, Internet access. MATERIALS: Session One/Setting the Stage
  • Various colors of construction paper, 9x12
  • Opt. School Smart brand “Quilt Mosaics” precut paper squares and triangles
  • Black construction paper (opt. colored), 12x15
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Scissors
  • Oil pastels or construction paper crayons
  • Glue
  • Stapler
  • Ruler (18 inch ruler works best)
  • Small precut fabric squares for paper quilt border
  • Tape
  • Videos
  • Prints
  • Tar Beach book by Faith Ringgold
  • Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Pieced Symbols quilt Blocks from the Global Village by Myrah Brown Green
MATERIALS: Session Two/Learning
  • Same materials as in session one (continuation)
  • Art prints and books available.
MATERIALS: Session Three and Four/Learning/Culminating Activities
  • Same materials as before needed to complete the project
  • Art prints and books available.

Teacher Preparation

PREP FOR TEACHERS: Preview and set up media components.
  • Computer
  • Avervision (document camera)
  • Lesson on hard drive or flash drive
  • Projector that will allow computer hook-up
  • Screen or wall on which to project images
Prepare materials – Prior to starting unit Gather materials so each student has the following:
  • Colored construction paper-various colors, 9x12 (1/student)
  • Black (or other color) construction paper, 12x15 (1/student)
  • Pencil and eraser (1/student)
  • Scissors (1/student)
  • Oil pastels or construction paper crayons (variety of colors) Opt. color theories: cool (blue, green, purple) and warm (red, orange, yellow), OR complementary colors (red/green, orange/blue, or yellow/purple), add white to add a tint of a color.
  • Elmers Glue (1/student or share)
  • Stapler (1/table of 4 students)
  • Small precut fabric or paper squares for paper quilt border ( variety)
  • Ruler (18 inch ruler works best) (1/student)
  • Tape (1/table of 4 students)

Introductory Activities

Day 1 Overview of unit:
  • Students will learn about the history of communication in different cultures, learning about how Secret Codes were infused within artwork as a way of communicating.
  • Students will learn about the Thirteen Colonies in the 1600’s-quilts covering their beds –quilts consisted of congruent shapes cut from small pieces of cloth which were from clothes too tattered to wear.
  • Students will learn about cave drawings, Aboriginal drawings and Native American signs and symbols. Students will compare the Secret Codes in different cultures. If one sign or symbol had one meaning in one culture, when judged according to the another communication had a different meaning.. These are cultural differences. They are systematic, they are learned, and they are important.
  • Students will create story quilt square using their own signs and symbols within their artwork.
  • In doing so, Math, Social Studies, Language Arts and Visual Arts will be integrated into this unit of study
Activities View: Communication Timeline http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?category=Communication Day 2 Demonstration to begin our learning activities. Pass out materials: (4 students per table)
  • Colored construction paper (student color choice) 9x12 (1/student)
  • Opt. precut quilt paper
  • Pencil and eraser (1/student)
  • Rulers (1/student)
  • Oil Pastels (share one box of variety of colors) opt.
Demonstrate as students follow along:
  • Discuss and show examples of story quilts (secret coded) and other examples that show communication.
  • Discuss ideas of stories that visually tell incorporating their own signs and symbols within quilt design.
  • Demonstrate drawing; sketching lightly, filling 80% of page from top to bottom/side to side. Terms: Background, midground, foreground (for story quilt only) Use geometric shapes for secret coded quilt square.
  • Show examples of color choices (opt. primary, secondary, cool/warm, complementary)
  • Demonstrate how to use oil pastels or coloring tools by using little movements, pressing hard to create layering colors – mixing/blending and building up surface texture.
  • Students work
  • Clean area/put papers in drying rack.

Learning Activities

LEARNING ACTIVITIES: Day 3 and 4 Pass out materials:
  • Pencil and eraser (1/student)
  • Ruler (18 inch ruler works best-1/student)
  • Scissors (1/student)
  • Elmers Glue (2/table)
  • 12x15 black or your color choice construction paper for border of quilt square.
  • Have quilt pieces (pre-cut or student cut) available for border design.
  • Pass out papers to students.
  • Review previous instructions
  • Introduce how to finish quilt
  • Work day to complete quilt square.
  • Consider adding embellishments on top of your quilt square.
  • http://www.pbs.org/teachers/connect/resources/7685/preview/ Navajo and math…..#30, an interactive site creating tessellation and symmetry.
  • http://www.shodor.org/interactivate/activities/Tessellate/ interactive site to create tessellations on computer.
Day 5 (if needed):
  • Finish quilt square
  • Explore more!
  • Display quilt squares when completed.
Discussion: In looking at the finished quilt squares: (opt. questions to ask)
  • Color choices and why?
  • What secret code did you use?
  • Which one would you like to have and why?
  • Which one would sell the most if for sale?
  • How come?
Discussion Topics
  • Textile Arts
  • World craft/art form
  • Native American signs and symbols used in different tribes and why.
  • Early quilts/textile art forms can be found back in history.
  • Other examples of communication and how they used it.

Culminating Activity

CULMINATING ACTIVITY: After creating the hands-on artwork assignment(s), students will: (Visual Art)
  • Display finished artwork within their school.
  • Share and reflect with peers.
  • Each student can verbalize about their artwork using academic terms (terms to be taught in a given course)
  • (Social Studies)
    • Identify the location/region of cultures studied or represented.
    • Explain how background and history influence people’s actions (e.g., farming methods, hunting methods, economic decisions)
    • Explain the contributions of various ethnic groups (e.g., Native Americans, immigrants) to the history of North Dakota (e.g., food, traditions, languages, celebrations)
    • Use a variety of strategies to solve problems; drawing pictures to plan out finished artwork.
    • Describe the attributes of two- and three-dimensional shapes. Identify, describe, and model (e.g., using straws or other materials) parallel, perpendicular, and intersecting lines and line segments

    Cross-Curricular Activity

    • Visual Art – Create a simple story quilt square using paper
    • Social Studies – A characteristic of significant features of different cultures
    • Math – Draw pictures to solve problems, describe 2D and 3D shapes.
    • Language Arts – Write to understand and improve comprehension.

    Community Connections

    COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: Students in ND and northern MN can relate to many of the artworks found at these museums in Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN. The exhibits change throughout the year, so I am providing these links that could be used to preview and select an art work that will complement the lessons. (Art works always need to be previewed for appropriateness before displaying them for students.)
    • Visiting with ELL teachers in your school.
    • Lutheran Social Services
    • Charism program in Fargo Public Schools