Serving Art Educators
and Students Since 1994
Submitted by: Ken Rohrer
Owner of the Incredible Art Department
Title: Diorama Unit
Integration: Science ecosystems
Grade level: 3-5 (Ages 8-11)
Many people are already aware of dioramas made with shoe boxes. This lesson unit breaks outside of the box and provides a 360 degree look. Although girls will love this lesson too, you will find that boys will become very motivated with this project.
A problem many art teachers have is keeping the attention of boys during an art lesson. Art teachers find that lessons that motivate girls don't necessarily motivate boys. The dioramas mentioned in this unit will motivate both girls and boys. The trick is in the subject matter. Boys are interested in sports, science fiction, action, cars, trucks, etc. Because of the subject matter, the unit on this page will be interesting to both boys and girls. You can click on all the images on this page for full size.
Because of the large size of this diorama and number of items on the board, this diorama should be created in groups of students. Done individually, this project would probably be cost prohibitive. The number of students in each group depends on the number of students in the class, the amount of space in the room, the number and size of tables in the room, and storage available. This project will take about five 1-hour art sessions to complete.
The buildings and figures in this diorama are models from hobby stores that sell miniature train sets. They are also found in the model section of many large department stores. Boys are interested in this because they will be familiar with the train accessories and girls will like designing the houses as well as placing figures in the landscape. The art involved in this is in the painting and gluing. However, if you want students to be more creative and you have enough time, students can create buildings with tongue depressors and match sticks or tooth picks. They can then glue and paint them.
The ground in the photo is also located in hobby stores that sell train sets. They usually sell them by the roll. Depending on your budget, you can go the cheap route and simply use green roll paper. You can also apply a thin coating of glue on the board and sprinkle green sand, grass, or sprinkles. If your students are more advanced, you can create a landscape with hills. The hills are created with crumpled newspaper covered with plaster clothe or layered foam board like in this video.
Below you will find a video that explains well how to create landscaping. Although this is advanced high school and adult work, you can get ideas of how to adjust this down to the elementary level.
The diorama below might not be feasible in your school if they have zero tolerance or have a negative view of the military. It is best to run this by your principal / headmaster before you allow this kind of subject matter with the diorama. This type of diorama is very motivating for boys, however.
Science fiction is another subject matter worthy of a diorama. As you can see from the image below, everyone can put together a model, but creating the background and landscape around the model is another thing. Although Star Wars is the subject of the diorama below, you can pick a current movie or science fiction show from television to do.
Models can be expensive, so you may have to come up with creative ways to fund this project. You also may have to expect students to contribute a little to the cost. Again, because of the expense, it is good to team up your students to save on money. Teamwork is also a great thing for students to learn.
If you have extra time, spend some time sharing with students some best practices for model building. Some good resources might include the following links: Having Fun with Dioramas, Fine Scale Modeler Tips Database, and How to Build a Plastic Model. After they create their models, they then design the environment where the model will appear. This needs to be a cooperative project, so students may need to be walked through this. At the elementary level, students may argue or have a hard time agreeing on the subject matter.
Introduction to dioramas - Remind students of the shoe box dioramas they probably have already created in their science classroom. Explain to them that they will be creating dioramas that you can see from all sides. Inserting images into a PowerPoint created by Sandy Skoglund might be a good idea (Focus on her work after 1979. Another good link of her work is here). Discuss the environments she creates for human figures. How can these be used as ideas for their dioramas? While playing the PowerPoint presentation, you could discuss the work as a class. Divide students up into groups. How you divide them is up to you. You may divide them by their own interests. Tell them to come up with the subject matter for their diorama. Each student will sketch their own idea for the diorama and then the students will vote collectively on the winning design. If they vote for their own or there is a tie, you may open it up to the whole class for a vote on the winning idea.
Either the teacher will supply all materials, the students, or a combination of both. To give students time to buy their models or other items, it is good to have the first day on a Friday so they have the weekend to acquire the material. Each student will create part of the diorama. If the model is large, several can work together.
Continue working on models and gluing. If time, begin preparing the board that will have the models on it. They can either paint or add the grass to the board.
Continue working on models and the landscape. Begin gluing models, found objects, and other items to the board. If students are behind, feel free to give them an extra day to work on the models.
Finish the dioramas. At the end of the period, display all the dioramas and have each team talk about their diorama. They can explain how they got their idea and why, how it was working with others, and what they think of their final work.
Plywood or Foamboard.
Small toy cars to scale (if needed)
Houses made from cardboard with added accessories.
Basic Structure Modeling for Model Railroaders - Photo driven projects demonstrate the tools, materials, and techniques used when modeling plastic or wood structures.
Building Plastic Models - Expert tips and techniques on building all types of plastic models. Shows how to assemble, cement, paint, camouflage, detail, weather, and display model planes, ships, tanks, motorcycles, cars, and trucks.
Other Elementary Examples
(The examples below are from Ayu Fadira, visual art teacher from Sekolah Cikal in Jakarta, Indonesia. Click on the images for full size)
Says Fadira, "I integrate the making of diorama to their classroom unit of inquiry which is Ecosystem. The students are divided into 4 different groups of ecosystem which is lake, rice field, river and pond. Then they have to plan together with the group how they are going to create the diorama also decide who's the one making the animals. The materials we use is just cardboard box and play dough."