Beautiful Stuff

LESSON TITLE: Beautiful Stuff
TEACHER NAME: Jennifer November
GRADE LEVEL: 4th & 5th
CLASS TIME: _1 hr, 45_Minutes _1_Days/week _1_# Session(s)

(This lesson is from a workshop based on the book Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini)


SUBJECTS COVERED – Color, Drawing, Composition


  • Students will create a thoughtful arrangement of all components of materials they find and will then draw the memory of the display.
  • Students will understand the process of creating a composition and the purpose of a good composition.
  • Students will share their thoughts on the process and notice all of the potential uses and needs for the materials.


Beautiful Stuff List


composition – he action of putting things together; formation or construction, a thing composed of various elements.

sketch – A quick drawing done with either pencil or charcoal, used to predetermine the layout of a piece of art work

monochromatic scale – the scale of one color ranging from the lightest hue to the darkest shade

color wheel – a circle with different colored sectors used to show the relationship between colors.

primary colors – any of a group of colors from which all other colors can be obtained by mixing.

secondary colors – a color resulting from the mixing of two primary colors.



Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal



Students sat at seven different tables, with about 4-6 students per table. Students only needed to bring a pencil to the lesson, all other materials were provided.

Each table had one empty clear plastic container on it. This will be used for collecting and returning items to their owners.

Tables were set at an equal distance apart so they could tour the room and see what their peers had created.



A couple months ago I had the privilege of taking a Beautiful Stuff seminar where I learned about the book Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal. This for me was an introduction to a new approach of eduction similar to Montessori, called Reggio Emilia. According to wikipedia “[The approach is based off] the assumption was that people form their own personality during early years of development and, moreover, that children are endowed with “a hundred languages”. The aim of this approach is teaching how to make them useful in everyday life. The program is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.”

The projects goal was to give students an opportunity to look more closely at “stuff” and notice the details, the color, and when a lot of “stuff” was gathered it could be categorized, organized, set up and broken down into something beautiful, creative or imaginative. This lesson would give students something personally created to love and not be afraid of taken apart to make something new and beautiful again. Here is how I taught this lesson:


When we began our lesson I started with a group game, a team organization type game. I asked the students to all meet me outside in the form of one line. I then asked a few volunteers to name me the colors of the rainbow, and what order they viewed in. They correctly told me red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. I then asked them to silently change the order of their line so that the colors of their outfits were in that proper order. After they began doing this they realized that a lot of their peers were wearing, white, grey and black, and they asked me what they should do with those colors?

I explained to them that these colors would belong in a monochromatic scale, and then asked them to form the scale in a manner from darkest to lightest. We then talked about what the meaning of the word “monochromatic” is.

After they formed these lines I had them silently get into groups of primary colors, secondary colors and grays.

After that we gathered inside and found our seats. They were then shown pictures of the lesson I had done as an example of what they would be doing. I explained to them that they to would create a composition just like I had and have a chance to make something they recognize, something creative or imaginative. Here are my examples.


I explained to them that I had brought a whole bag of goodies for them to use. but it wasn’t enough. And they needed to go out in the school and on campus to find stuff too. They were really excited to be active participants in finding the stuff. I gave them a list of materials that could be used for their “stuff” and sent them to go find these thing. I sent each table to various places on our campus. Some outside, the rest inside to different classrooms. They had 20 minutes, but ideally this lesson should have been planned a week in advanced and the students could have brought in a paper bag of items collected from home. What we did was a bit of last minute improvising. But it went pretty well and the groups all came back with successful containers of materials.

After the students came back with their “loot” I had them lay everything out on their tables. I told them to place the objects in color order just like they had lined themselves up before.

After they did this I then had the students combine all of the similar colored objects. They had to walk around the room silently collecting the various colored objects in the same bin. I then had each group randomly select a color or two depending on how many objects were available for said color.

They were now given a “placemat” to create their collages. I gave them the option of creating a composition as a table or individually. They took the various objects and laid them out in a display. Once they did this they were allowed to silently walk around the room and observe what their peers had created. Here are some of the compositions they created:

Once they had a chance to observe what their peers had done, and also took a short break from what they were working on, I handed out paper for them to draw on. They weren’t allowed to cut, glue or make any object permeant in any way. Leaving the objects in their place the students drew what they saw. This gave them a chance to see more detail. They began drawing with a pencil, and were told they were allowed to use an eraser. This was a slight variation  from when I had done this lesson. We were asked to practice drawing the composition with a capped sharpie and then we drew right onto the page with the sharpie. I was concerned that my students would become frustrated with this so I made this alteration and allowed them to draw with pencil first then trace over the pencil with sharpie. If they got that for they were allowed to color with either markers, crayons or colored pencils.

When I had done this lesson myself I felt that the display seemed easier for me to draw because I set it up in front of me. I knew the layout of the composition, but this also forced me to see more details than I had originally paid attention to. This very detailed task kept the students busy and engaged for the remainder of the class.

The steps we didn’t get to finish were the following:

  • Adding a title
  • Writing out how the process went for the participant
  • Writing how the participant came upon the display and composition (this can be done on a note card and all can be displayed on a poster board)

The students had to clean up their work and return the found items to their owners.


During the lesson I had a chance to get a few short videos of the students working. I’m excited to share these videos along with their work! For a quicker look at the students art work please see the gallery below.


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