Olmec Big Head Statue Activity

My 4th grade students recently completed an Olmec big head statue activity as part of our study of ancient civilizations in the Americas. I knew very little about the Olmec civilization before I started teaching it as part of my history curriculum, and students are typically not familiar with the group either. The Olmec settled in present day Mexico and were the predecessors to groups like the Maya and Aztec. They developed calendars, may have been the first to harvest the cacao bean, were wealthy traders, and carved giant head statues from basalt stone. To date, seventeen big head statues have been found along Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

In order to help my students understand the concept of the large head statues, I planned a hands on activity that let them build their own model of a big head statue using air-dry clay and Play-Doh. We reviewed photographs of the real statues and noted details about the facial features, helmets, and carving techniques to try to duplicate some of the key traits. The students were really excited about the project and demonstrated much better recall of the Olmec civilization after completing the heads. The activity could be adapted to fit with a study of other cultures such as the Easter Island statues, Ancient Egyptian sculpture, or the Leshan Giant Buddha in China.

Big Head Statue Materials

  • air-dry clay
  • Play-Doh in bright colors
  • paper plates
  • sharp pencils, bent paper clips, toothpicks, or other pointy tools for carving details

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

Big Head Statue Directions

  • Give each student about 1/2 pound of Air Dry clay. I have 18 students and bought two 5-lb buckets of clay. I divided each bucket of clay into 9 clay balls of roughly equal size.
  • Students put the ball of clay on a paper plate and molded the ball into a head shape.
  • Using a pencil or other pointy tool, they carved eyes, nose, mouths, etc. into the face. They also used their hands to pinch and form facial features.
  • After the basic design was finished, they took small amounts of colorful Play-doh and added details. According to researchers, the statues may have been painted with bright colors, so students used that detail from our readings to add to their statue design.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

In addition to the hands on activity with the clay, I added supplemental readings like THIS ONE to enhance our study of the Olmec people. We practiced finding topic, main idea, and details while completing the reading. To see more of my reading comprehension passages and procedure for correctly identifying topic, main idea, and details in reading passages, CLICK HERE.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

Picture Books and Paper Crafts

In order to keep students engaged during those last few days of school before summer break, I was on the hunt for some short picture books that would lend themselves to paper craft activities while still having some meaningful content. I found one picture book called Snippets that incorporated paper scraps into an activity about accepting others. Snippets led to a book called Perfect Square, which led to a book called Beautiful Oops.

Crafty Paper Techniques, tinkering, growth mindset

The list of picture books exploded. I discovered stacks of new picture books that have a STEAM/tinkering element to them. The central messages in most address either persevering through mistakes and developing resilience or appreciating individual qualities and embracing our unique gifts. One buzzword for all this in education right now is “growth mindset”.

Crafty Paper Techniques, tinkering, growth mindset

Growth mindset is all about embracing a challenge and not giving up. It’s about recognizing that you might not be able to do something… yet. Or, you might be able to do something in a completely different way than your neighbor. It’s about having an attitude where you are willing to take risks and try. It’s about recovering from a set back in a positive way. It’s part of character education, and it’s becoming an essential lesson in classrooms today.

Crafty Paper Techniques, tinkering, growth mindset

One student roadblock I see every year is the fear of completing an assignment the “wrong way”. Because students are scared of making a mistake (or an even worse fate– the dreaded start-over) they insist on checking with me for approval before completing each individual step. As a parent, I see how we train many children to be dependent on adults for permission before making choices. Kids don’t freely travel the neighborhood making up group games with rules that change and adapt depending on who joins the game, who leaves the game, who is too little or too big… Few kids sit in a room with no screen of any kind and must entertain themselves (i.e. activate their creative thinking skills) to fill the time. So, they need help to get themselves started on a task unless we build in some “let’s look at the problem and find a solution” practice.

Crafty Paper Techniques, tinkering, growth mindset

How Can You Prompt Students to Trust their Abilities?

  • Encourage them to self-solve. Don’t answer a question immediately.
  • Ask them to think about what they might have in their possession that would help them complete the task. Do they have a handout with directions? Can they look at what a friend is doing? Can they look at the materials and remember the oral directions?
  • Give them one step or hint only to get started and send them back to their work space to continue independently.
  • Have the student list what he/she thinks should be happening. Often, saying the task aloud is confirmation for a child.

The activities I used at the end of the year involved changing one type of paper shape into something new. Not only did our class see the relationship between the characters in the pictures books and how it related to our classroom community, they also had the opportunity to alter the paper from a generic shape into something that reflected their personality and style.

I distributed ordinary white copy paper to my students as the background paper for our masterpieces, but you could print THESE TEMPLATES to use with your group’s paper tinkering. Any of the picture books in the list below would make great first week of school read alouds as you begin to set the tone for the year. If you need more specific activity ideas, click HERE and HERE to view and purchase my complete activities for Snippets and Perfect Square.

Crafty Paper Techniques

Crafty Picture Books (a starter list)

  • Snippets: a story about paper shapes by Diane Alber (and others by this author)
  • Perfect Square by Michael Hall
  • Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg
  • Perfect by Max Amato
  • The Dot and Ish by Peter H. Reynolds (and others by this author)
  • What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada (and others by this author)
  • The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
  • You are Light by Aaron Becker
  • The Color Monster by Anna Llenas
  • I Can Only Draw Worms by Will Mabbitt
  • I Have an Idea by Herve Tullet (and others by this author)
  • The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
  • Shape by Shape by Suse MacDonald

MatchBook Summaries

As a culminating activity for our latest novel study, my students created MatchBook Summaries. For each chapter in the book, students wrote a summary about key events in the chapter, provided a related quote, and designed a matching illustration. The writing and drawings were displayed on cardstock paper strips that were folded like a matchbook. The MatchBook Summaries were attached inside a manila folder to provide an outline or overview of the whole novel. The project has been a great way to practice writing thorough explanations about story details and locating specific quotes that provide text evidence to support student responses.

MatchBook Summary Materials

  • manila file folders
  • 12-inch rulers
  • white cardstock cut into strips
  • colored pencils, markers, crayons, etc.
  • glue stick or Elmer’s glue
  • paper cutter
  • paper scorer (recommended)

MatchBook Summaries writing activity

Directions

  • Each student will need cardstock strips for each chapter of the novel you are using. For our novel, Kavik the Wolf Dog, the book had 13 chapters. I have 27 students. 27 x 13 = a lot of cutting, so prep your materials ahead of time for this writing activity! Cut the cardstock into strips that are 7 1/2″ x 2 3/4″.

  • I have THIS PAPER CUTTER that has grooves for paper scoring. You use a tool that looks like a dull knife and press lines into the paper strips. The score lines make the students matchbooks fold perfectly every time. I made the grooves on the paper strips at 1″ from one end and 3 1/4″ from the other end.
  • Have students create grid lines in light pencil on the interior of their manila folders. Many will make mistakes while they measure, so I model where to measure and draw lines as they measure at their work space. Because the folders are wide, I have students mark 2-3 dots across the folder at the spot where we need lines and then the ruler lines up against the dots to draw a straight line. It took some time for the students to create the grid, but it was great measurement practice.

  • After students have pencil guidelines in the manila folders for their MatchBook cards, they begin creating the chapter summary matchbooks. The folded cards have the chapter name or number on the outside of the small flap at the bottom. The outside top has a simple illustration that relates to the chapter. The interior of the matchbook has the chapter summary and supporting quote (optional). The students had been writing summary statements while we were reading the novel, so they had the sentences ready to transfer to the folded cards. I gave them a graphic organizer like this Chapter Summaries Chart to keep in their language arts notebook while we were completing the novel unit.

  • Students glue the back of the matchbook inside the grid lines in the manila folder. We had trouble with some of the matchbooks falling off if students were not heavy enough with the glue stick, so you may want to use Elmer’s liquid glue. Remind students not to over-squeeze the Elmer’s glue, or you will end up with the opposite problem.
  • Once all matchbooks were attached to the inside the folder, students designed the outside to look like our book cover.

MatchBook Summary Tips

  • I encouraged students to complete all cards before gluing to the interior of the folder. Some grid spaces were not big enough for cards due to the notches for the file folder tab. The cards need to be in numerical or chapter order, so the students may want to place all cards before gluing. I let students decide if they wanted to place the cards in order by going all the way across horizontally and then starting a new line or stacking the cards in columns from left to right.

  • If cards are glued to the interior before designing the outside, the surface is bumpy. I had some students create the book cover style illustration on a separate piece of paper and attach it to the outside of the file folder.

To see my complete novel unit for Kavik the Wolf Dog, CLICK HERE. To check out more creative writing activities to go with any novel study, CLICK HERE. I got inspiration for this activity from THIS BLOG POST.

Mason Jar Snow Globe Toppers

Bookmark this idea for next Christmas. In fact, go buy the clear plastic ornament sets at a major discount at Michael’s Crafts right now, so you are ready to make these next year. That’s what I did. Even two weeks before Christmas, Michael’s had already marked down the ornament sets to 50 cents (originally $1.29). I bought a class set, so my students could make personal Mason jar toppers to take home as gifts for their families. They are fun to make, and you can fill the jars with all kinds of treats.

Materials

  • plastic ornament in two halves (2.75″ diameter– fits 4 oz. and pint mason jar lids, regular mouth)
  • full body photo printed on cardstock that shows above the head and below the feet (printed ~1.75″ and then cut down)
  • mini trees, presents, snowmen shapes or other accessories for the scene inside the snow globe (found these at Michael’s in the snow scene section– these materials did sell out close to the holidays)
  • fake snow flakes (sold in bags during the holidays– a little different than glitter)
  • sparkly pipe cleaners
  • hot glue gun
  • Elmer’s glue

Directions

  • Remove the lid pieces from a Mason jar. Separate the ring from the flat lid part. Run a bead of hot glue around the flat edge of one half of the plastic ornament. Quickly and firmly, press the dome to the edges of the lid ring. The hot glue cools quickly, so you have to move fast. If you attach the ornament part off center, carefully pull it apart, remove the cooled glue and start the process over.

  • In small sections, run a bead of glue along the line where the plastic ornament half attached to the Mason jar ring. Press the pipe cleaner into the glue. Keep running a small bead of glue and press the pipe cleaner as you move around the edge of the ring. When you have finished the circle, let the glue cool and then snip the extra pipe cleaner length off.
  • If you want to personalize the snow globe topper, take a photo of a loved one that shows the full body and has space above the head and below the feet. Pet pictures would work well too. To look more authentic, have the subject look cold in the photo or hold hands up like it is snowing. We added props like scarves and Santa or elf hats when taking our photos. Print the photo on cardstock or another stiff paper. Set the height of the photo to 1.75″. You will cut around the shape of the body and may need to cut the bottom part of the legs off too. Cut around the entire figure and when it is time to attach to the jar lid, you can make adjustments to the height of the picture after testing to see if it stands straight inside the plastic dome.

  • Using a hot glue gun, attach the photo and scene accessories like a mini present or mini snowman foam sticker to the flat plate-like part of the Mason jar lid. Attach the objects, so they stand straight, and they should be as close to the center of the jar lid as possible. Test the height of the objects to make sure they will not get squashed down when the ring with the plastic ornament is screwed down. Cut off the the bottom of any little figures as necessary.

  • Drizzle Elmer’s glue all over the rest of the flat part of the lid and around the edges of the little figures in the center. This piece of the Mason jar lid has a slightly raised edge, and it makes it easy to fill the center area. Avoid the edges of the plate.

  • Scoop fake snow onto the Elmer’s glue and let dry.

  • Fill your glass jar with its contents. There are many fun options– cocoa mix, cinnamon sugar, soup mix, spiced nuts, candies…
  • Carefully lift the flat part of the lid with the snow scene onto the top of the jar. Gently put the domed ring over the snow scene and carefully screw the ring down to tighten.

 

Tiny Books

Kids love to self-publish and there are so many fun ways to make booklets with materials you already have in your classroom or at home. One easy booklet I like to make with students uses one piece of copy paper and scissors. I call it a Tiny Book. After it is finished, the book will have six interior pages.

There are many ways students can fill the Tiny Books. I have students use these little books to practice procedural writing and make “How To” instructional manuals. When we read Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, the students create a step-by-step guide for one of the poaching methods.

While practicing Helping Verbs and Verb Tenses, the students re-write and illustrate nursery rhymes in past, present, and future tense using a Tiny Book.

When we study colonial life, students research a specific role in the settlement and describe the colonist’s life in a tiny book. They write about clothing, food, housing, and jobs for a specific person and add illustrations with captions. It does not take too much time to complete and reinforces non-fiction text features.

For back to school, you could have students create a Tiny Book that shares facts about the student as a way to introduce each other to the group. Students could create a Tiny Book promoting any favorite summer reading they completed. I love the books because they do not involve a lot of prep and can be used for many different lessons… and they are mini, and I am a sucker for anything mini.

Materials:

  • basic white copy paper, 8 1/2″ x 11″, (one per student)
  • scissors

Directions:

  • Step 1: Gather your paper and scissors.
  • Step 2: Fold one piece of paper in half the hamburger way. Repeat two more times. Unfold the paper and make sure you have 8 rectangles on the paper.
  • Step 3: Fold the paper the hamburger way again, one time. Your paper will be 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ with 4 rectangles showing. From the folded edge of the paper, cut down the middle along the fold line to the center of the paper.

  • Step 4: Open the paper flat. Fold it one time the hot dog way. Hold each side with one hand and push towards the center until your fingers meet. The center of the paper will push out creating 4 flaps.

  • Step 5: Press down, so pages line up into the booklet shape. The finished booklet is 6 pages.