Cut out the face of the tissue box, (shoe boxes for older children) leaving a ½ inch lip all the way around as a frame.
Paint the outside of the box with tempera paint. It takes 2-3 coats to completely cover.
Paint the inside back with water colors; blue for sky, green for grass, etc., depending on the subject of the diorama.
Diorama is now ready to fill with cut-out paper objects (or whatever your imagination brings to mind to use) that can be layered to create 3D effects. Objects can be hung from the inside top with fishing line.
These boxes can be used for theme studies - insects, dinosaurs, etc.- or to show scenes from favorite stories. You can add a language component by having students write a description of what is in their diorama, or writing their own story, then creating a diorama to go with it.
Dioramas can be easily integrated into science by creating habitats for various creatures. They can also be integrated into social studies by creating the backdrop for famous events such as the American Revolution Diorama. If you cut a hole in the bottom of the box, you can also use them for a puppet stage. (See Pitchy Patch Puppet lesson)
These dioramas are very compact and easy to store as they stack nicely on top of each other.
A similar art to dioramas is the Japanese version: Bonkei. The art of Bonkei is another word for landscape trays. The difference is that they are not enclosed like dioramas. The are landscapes created on trays. Most of the time this art consists of bonsai trees or other miniature items from nature.
Upper left: Bonkei tray with landscape, lower left: Bonkei painting by Japanese artist Satoshi Dobara. Right, bonkei tray with house, bridge and elephant. Click on the images for full size.
As you can see by the image above by artist Satoshi Dobara, Bonkeis can also be done as paintings. The paintings are surreal in the fact that there is a question as to the reality of the smaller landscape or world. Not only can students create a world of their own in a diorama or bonkei, they can also paint a surreal painting in the bonkei flavor.
Ideas for bonkeis: Well known architectural sites such as St. Marc's Square in Venice.
Diorama Man- This site has many diorama ideas from World War I to Harry Potter.
How to Build Dioramas - Learn everything you need to know about making your dioramas look real. This edition will show you how with projects, photos, and expert tips. Includes painting, weathering, and detailing tips for figures, aircraft, vehicles, and more! 290+ photos with color throughout.
The Art of The Diorama - The book covers all the important areas of diorama making from designing, to building, painting and displaying. There is coverage of boxed scenes and shadow boxes. Replete with lots of great pictures of dioramas that are quite beautiful.