Art Lesson Plan: Thaumatropes - Color String Spinners

Spinners of Color

Submitted by: Juli Fraher, Art Instructor, Pontiac Junior High School, Pontiac, IL
Unit: Color Theory
Subject Integration: Art-Science

Grade Level: Middle School
Thaumatrope Activity



Students will:

  1. Review color theory and apply scientific principles to their knowledge of color schemes

  2. Make predictions on paper on color combinations and their properties

  3. Create a string spinner to test color combinations


Matt board scraps, Color media such as AquaMarkers., Colored Pencils.., etc., Compasses., Protractors., String or Yarn Assortment., Scissors., Sharpie Fine Point Markers. and Gel Pens.


Students at Pontiac Junior High experimented with color and color mixing by using Mat board. scraps and colored media to create spinners– small cardboard discs strung on string and spun to mix colors. Students were introduced to color theory in the art room with me and studied the light spectrum with Mr. Bob Voigts in Science. The lesson on making the spinners was team-taught.


2 3

This is an example of a spinner divided into 3 sections.


Students reviewed primary, secondary, and intermediate colors. Students used a worksheet to select the combination of colors they wanted to try on the spinners. They predicted the outcome of the spinning colors.

Students used 2 ½" to 3" (6.4 - 7.6 cm) diameter circles. They must be drawn with a compass to create the center point, critical in the use of the protractor. Students measured ¼" (.64 cm) from either side of the center point of the compass for the string holes. Students divided the circle into 2, 3, 4, or 6 sections by calculating the number of degrees for each section and marking the edge of the circle. A ruler was used to draw the sections. Students colored the sections with marker, colored pencil, and/or tempera paint. The holes were punched with a compass point. 40" (1.02 m) of string was cut off, threaded through the holes and tied. The spinners were spun and the results were recorded on their sheets. Some of the spinners refused to spin. It was usually due to poor craftsmanship on the part of the students (i.e. holes measured incorrectly, circles drawn unevenly, etc.)


1Once the scientific experiments were recorded, students were free to experiment with Uni-ball Gel Pastel writers. We also used Sanford Sharpie markers. Students drew patterns over the colors, such as spirals, stars, checkerboards, and arrows. It was fascinating to see the changes in color frequency.


Questions or comments, please contact me-


After recording the results, students decorated the spinners with Sharpie markers and Uni-ball gel writers. It was fun to see the results.


Thaumatropes - Optical toys

Random Motion- by Ruth Hayes.

Similar activity:

See Digital Thaumatropes:


Book: Optical Illusions Lab: The Ultimate Optical Illusions Pack. - This book has projects that make science fun for kids. The kit had most everything kids need for the "experiments." The 3-D lessons are popular as are the "impossible pictures."


Activity for making a Thaumatrope Motion Device (posted by Deb Sterner)


The history of animation (and movie-making) begins with a simple device called the thaumatrope. This optical toy was in wide circulation by 1826, and it may have been known much earlier than that. The thaumatrope is the most basic of motion toys. It consists of a disc that is attached to two pieces of string. When twirled, the images on the sides of the disc are perceived together as a single image.


Like all animation devices, the thaumatrope works on the principle of persistence of vision. Persistence of vision is the eye's ability to retain an image for a fraction of a second after the object is gone. In this case, the eye continues to see the two images on either side of the thaumatrope for a split second after each has appeared. As the thaumatrope spins, the series of quick flashes is perceived as one continuous image.


Students will understand the phenomenon of persistence of vision, which is the basis for all animation.


• Heavy stock paper (index cards are fine), Illustration Board., or cardboard
• Heavy string or yarn
Hole Paper Punch.
Crayons. or AquaMarkers.

The Activity:

Begin by having the students cut a circle or rectangle from the paper. On one side of the paper, ask them to draw a lightning bolt, and to outline it with a dark color such as black. On the other side, they should draw and color a sky. After they have finished drawing this, they will make one hole on each side of the thaumatrope, approximately in the middle (Have them measure it with a ruler to incorporate math skills). Next, they will cut two pieces of string, approximately 8 inches long. Loop the string through the holes and tie it. SPIN UP A STORM! (Students will see a lightning bolt superimposed onto the sky.)


Note: The lightning bolt/sky combination is an easy one to start with because you do not have to worry about one of the images being drawn upside down. For thaumatropes that have a definite UP position for viewing, one of the images must be upside down in relation to the other.

Other thaumatropes to try:

Side 1: a bird. Side 2: a nest (upside down)
Side 1: a fish. Side 2: an ocean habitat (upside down)
Side 1: Students write the first 2 or 3 letters of their name. Side 2: Students write the remainder of name (upside down)
Side 1: Have students bring (or make) photographs of themselves, or cut pictures out of magazines. Glue to one side of the thaumatrope. Side 2: Draw beard, hats, glasses, or grass, sky, sun, etc. (upside down). Thaumatropes do not have to be round or rectangular! Students can also experiment with shape. Colored paper also makes interesting effects; try black paper with brightly colored chalk drawings. See some of the sample thaumatropes included in this packet.


As you begin making thaumatropes, you will quickly see that the placement of the images involves considerable understanding of spatial relations and mathematics. For this reason, thaumatropes are excellent tools for teaching these concepts. It is also useful to incorporate thaumatropes into the curriculum by animating subjects being studied. For example, if the class is doing a unit on the desert, students could animate desert landscapes and animals. Also, persistence of vision is a perceptual phenomenon that can be studied as a part of a science unit on light or the eye. See the listing of resources at the end of this unit for suggested books on light.


Animation: Turning still pictures into moving pictures.
Motion Toy: Motion toys are the ancestors of today's movies. They were Persistence of Vision: A visual phenomenon where an image is retained in the eye for a short period of time, creating an illusion of continuous motion when viewed in rapid succession.

Thaumatrope: One of the earliest motion toys, the thaumatrope can be traced to 1826, and may be even older. It consists of a disc with pictures on both sides, tied to two pieces of string. When spun, the images on the disc appear together as a single image.


National Standards:

6. Content Standard: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines


Achievement Standard:

      Students will:

      b. Describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts.


State Standards:

State Goal 25: Know the language of the arts.

      As a result of their schooling, students will be able to:

      A. Understand the sensory elements, organizational principles and expressive qualities of the arts.

      25.A.3d Identify and describe the elements of value, perspective, and color schemes; the principles of contrast, emphasis and unity; and the expressive qualities of thematic development and sequence.




Add to or Comment on this Page:

More To Explore