Art Lesson Plan: Paper Masks

African Paper Masks

Submitted by: Larry Prescott, Madison Middle School (Archive) , Rexburg, Idaho and
Tracy Albert, May Whitney elementary, Lake Zurich, IL
Unit: Masks - African/World cultures - Paper sculpture relief
Lesson Plan: Cut Paper Masks
Grade Level: Elementary and middle school (grades 4 through 6)

Folded Symmetrical Mask Lesson Below -
Have some fun! Learn Greg Percy's song "Symmetry (I'm Beside Myself)"



Symmetry, balance, relief, ritual, ancestor, concentric, geometric, exaggeration, distortion, unity.

Examples by Tracy Albert's 4th graders of May Whitney Elementary (Archive) - and Larry's Sixth graders (Archive)


Objectives: Students will

  1. Become aware of reasons for masks in various cultures - learn a little about the meaning of masks.

  2. Study the characteristics of masks - note design elements.

  3. Create a paper mask using a variety of paper sculpting techniques.

  4. Utilize elements and principles of design in a 3 dimensional form - show balance, repetition - integrate planning.


Various mask handouts, 9" x 12" (23 x 30.5 cm) Construction Paper., assorted collage papers, Scissors., Fancy scissors. (optional), White Glue., Fish line. for hanging (optional), Feather Assortment. (if desired)


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Tracy showed her students the video Maskmaking with Paper by Peggy Flores (Crystal Productions) -- Books on Mexican, Native American, and African Masks -- Mask prints -- Internet (See below)



Spirits Speak: A Celebration of African Masks. - Images of outstanding African masks from the world’s leading museums and private collections reveal the splendor and majesty of these fascinating masterpieces.

Cut and Make Mexican Masks. - Seven authentic Mexican folk masks, each based on an authentic historic example, richly diverse in their origins and significance. Among them are two sinister devil masks, a skull mask, a spectacular bat mask and a tiger mask.

The Traditional Art of the Mask. - The masks of the Kwakiutl people of the Pacific Northwest are noted around the world for their bold colorful designs.




  1. Show video Maskmaking with Paper (if available). Show students a variety of masks from various cultures (or select one culture to feature). Discuss briefly reasons and meanings of masks in cultures presented.

  2. Demonstrate a variety of paper sculpting techniques that can be applied to mask (curling for hair - folding for noses - curving for eyelids - crimping for hair - etc) Demonstrate clipping the top and chin of mask and gluing to make three dimensional. Encouraging layering colors.

  3. Review color planning


  1. The basic form is made with a 9 x 12 inch (23 x 30.5 cm) piece of construction paper. Fold paper - draw contour for mask and cut out. The paper is held vertically and then the center top and bottom is cut in about 1 ½ to 2 inches. The cut section is pulled together and glued. Larry encourages students to hide the fold mark in some way.

  2. Students build onto the mask form considering the following: Symmetry (cut two shapes at one time - cut nose and mouth with center on the fold), breaking the edge (extending beyond the contour of the mask), layering of color, and patterns. Unity is important. "Breaking the edge" is forms that extend beyond the basic oval of the mask. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways - adding horns - hair - beards - scalloped edge - geometric shapes

  3. Layer colors. For example a yellow triangle can be added to a black mask. Then a smaller red triangle can be glued in the center of the yellow one. Then a smaller blue circle can then be glued in the center of the red triangle. Use a variety of papers (see note)

  4. Patterns are made by repeating lines, shapes, or a theme. An interesting pattern can be developed by using the small circles from left-over from punching holes in paper using a Hole Paper Punch..

  5. Try creative folding to create 3-D forms that can be glued to the mask.

NOTE: For cut-paper mask making, Larry saves every painting that students do during the year and don't want. These go into a scrap box and can be used during mask making. This allows for great color and texture possibilities as students search sections of an old paintings and make aesthetic choices. He also encourages students to bring items from home to include on the mask.


Alternate lesson idea: Mardi Gras masks See African Masks Site gives a nice overview of styles, materials used and reasons for masks of Africa - shows a few examples (graphics not photos- but still good enough for students to get the idea) -- and there is a short quiz. The hands on project is a positive/negative space design (one exactly like I did with 6th graders and 3rd graders) Look for more Mask Resources on Mask Makers Web



  1. Did students show an understanding of mask characteristics in designing their own mask?

  2. Did students try a variety of paper sculpting techniques to create relief elements?

  3. Did students show design principles of balance, repetition, and unity in placement of colors and shapes? Did students make wise choices?

  4. Did students exhibit craftsmanship in cutting and gluing?


Submitted by: Larry Prescott,Madison Middle School (Archive), Rexburg, Idaho and
Tracy Albert, May Whitney elementary, Lake Zurich, IL
Unit: Masks - Symmetry (Science integration for Tracy's masks)
Lesson Plan: Folded Paper Symmetrical Masks
Grade Level: Elementary
Have some fun! Learn Greg Percy's song "Symmetry (I'm Beside Myself)"

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Tracy Albert's 4th graders (Archive) were inspired by the work of Henri Rousseau in the creation of these colorful Iguana Masks. The masks bring to mind the Ceramic Folk Art Masks of Mexico. Students added birds, plants, and animals of the jungles. They are certainly proud of their work.


Tag board. (or white Drawing Paper. and/or Construction Paper.), Ebony Pencils., black Sharpie Fine Point Markers., AquaMarkers., Colored Pencils.., Scissors..


Objectives: Students will

  1. Become aware of reasons for masks in various cultures

  2. Create a symmetrical mask with interesting patterns and textures - limit color plan

  3. Exhibit skill and craftsmanship in cutting and coloring

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Same as above (Tracy also showed students the work on Henri Rousseau) Mardi Gras could also be a theme.


  1. Show examples of masks to students (via PowerPoint or slides). Larry has his own mask collection he shows students. He introduces mask making to 5th graders by doing a simple but effective symmetrical mask.

  2. Demonstrate drawing mask on one side of folded paper breaking up space in an interesting way and transferring to the other side.

  3. Review color planning. Demonstrate marker technique of overlapping strokes in one direction.


  1. Fold a piece of construction paper (or tag board) in half and then draw the contour of some creature or mask face contour. Add an eye and half of the mouth. Make sure your pencil marks are dark. For younger children - you may want to provide a template showing the location of the eye if you want them to be able to look out through the opening.

  2. Break up the face into interesting shapes - Encourage shapes that "fit" the structure of the face. Tracy had students draw an iguana on one side and added details of flowers, birds and jungle animals. Various patterns and textures were applied to the iguana

  3. Fold the drawing side of the paper to the inside and rub with scissor handles or other smooth hard object.  The drawing will transfer to the other side.

  4. Outline with permanent marker.

  5. Color with markers and/or colored pencils. A limited palette and a dominant color to unify the mask is best.

  6. Larry had his students cut out the masks and mount onto a construction paper form made the same as lesson above.

See Larry's Lesson Plan for more details. (Archive)

See essay by Larry Prescott: Teacher Made Symmetrical Masks (Archive)


Adaptation for lower grades:

Submitted by: Judy Decker
Lesson Plan: Northwest Coast paper masks - Symmetry
Grade Level: Second Grade


Objectives: Student will

  1. Become aware of Northwest coast Indian cultures.

  2. Use design characteristics of Northwest coast culture in the creation of a paper mask

  3. Show understanding of symmetry and balance

  4. Show use of design principles of repetition and unity

  5. Demonstrate skill and craftsmanship in cutting and gluing

  6. Show creativity in embellishing their mask


Handouts of Northwest coast designs,. Prints of Northwest Coast masks, Tag board., black Crayons., Oil Pastels., black Watercolor Paint., Sable Brushes., paper towels, Scissors., Elmer's Glue., Tacky glue, Feather Assortment., fake fur, Hot Glue Sticks. and Glue Gun. (for teacher's use), Jute., Beads..



  1. Present images of Northwest Coast masks. - discuss characteristics - types of shapes used.

  2. Demonstrate making mask symmetrical. We drew on one side on folded tag board - outlined with black crayon to transfer to the other side. I provided a template to show students where eye should be located if they wanted to be able to see out the holes - Students were given the basic oval shape so masks would be large enough but were encouraged to change the shape in their own design.

  3. Students designed mask with nose and mouth on the fold. Masks combined human and animal characteristics. Mask was broken up with shapes found in Northwest Coast masks. Eyes were shaped like Northwest Coast eyes. Student used another sheet of tag board to draw ears or scalloped border. Many traced their hands to be added on like the transformation masks. Some students made eagle beaks to glue onto their masks (beaks cut using folded piece of tag board). When satisfied with design - students outlined with black crayon - then folded to the inside to transfer to the other side. Then the other side was outlined with black crayon.

  4. Masks were colored heavily with oil pastels - a limited palette was recommended. We used mainly colors found in Northwest coast masks. When coloring was finished - we "antiqued" with black watercolor - brushed on and wiped off with paper towel.

  5. Masks were cut out - noses were cut at the bottom and sides and popped out. Round eye openings were cut out.  Masks were shaped three dimensional by slitting top and bottom and folding over and gluing with Elmer's glue.

  6. Holes were punched at side for jute hanging cord. Ears, hands, scalloped borders were cut out and glued on (tabs were left on so they could be glued to back of mask).

  7. Students had a variety of materials to use to decorate their masks. Fake fur was glued on at the teacher's station (I was the only one allowed to use the glue gun).



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