Tessellation Monsters! (4th)

The first project that I decided to do with my 4th graders was a tessellation project.
On day one we looked at a powerpoint I put together that looked at the Dutch artist M.C. Escher (no -- not M.C. Usher kids -- M.C. Escher) ;)
We began by looking at a variety of his work including "Drawing Hands" and "Relativity" (they LOVED these pieces) as well as his tessellation art. We defined a "tessellation" as being "a pattern created with a repeating shape that does not overlap and could go on forever." Then we talked about how there any many different types of tessellations, but that we could categorize some of them by how the shape in the pattern moves. The first one we looked at was a 'translation', then a 'rotation', and then a 'reflection.' To help students remember the names and to differentiate them from one another.. I came up with a little dance called the 'Tessellation Boogie'. To begin with, I have students stand up out of their chairs and repeat after me "This is the tessellation boogie!" (with a tooonnnnnnn of attitude and shoulder bobbing). Then we say "translation!" and slide to the right, "rotation!" and spin in a circle, and "reflection!" and put our hands together and the jazz hands them apart in the air. THEY LOVE IT. LOVE IT. LOVE IT. Everyday they came in they would beg me to lead them in the tessellation boogie! And two of my classes even performed it for their teachers when they came to pick them up! :)
Afterwards, we look at a youtube clip of a variety of tessellations and I have the kids call out whether they think it's a translation, rotation, or reflection. 

( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2AWKgU0cN4&feature=related )

Then I tell students that we are going to begin making our tessellation art using the translation (slide) method!
We begin with a 3"x3" piece of tagboard. Students are instructed to draw a simple freeform shape along ONE side of their square. The shape should reach at least to the middle of the paper and should not touch either corner of the paper. Once I check their shape, they cut it out and slide it to the opposite side of the paper. Then using a piece of tape, they attach it (with NO overlapping). **THIS IS WHERE THIS PROJECT CAN GO HORRIBLY AWRY! For some reason, no matter how many times I said it and demo'ed it, students STILL ended up doing this step wrong. They would flip their shape, or tape it on overlapped, or any other number of things. It drove me insane! :P
The only way I found to improve student outcomes on this step was to be ridiculously involved and hover over each child's shoulder. Basically it ended up taking far longer than it should have.. but if the tessellation shape is made improperly, the rest of the project falls to shambles.
Once everyone had their piece made, we practiced drawing it a couple times on a piece of scratch paper. This is where students also were given the opportunity to make their tessellation pieces a little more interesting by making it into a character (or monster). They rotated their piece around until they could visualize their monster and then added more detail.
Once their character was designed, they started their final project on a piece of 9"x9" white drawing paper. We talked about how because the original tessellation shape paper was 3"x3" and the final paper was 9"x9", we could fit our shape 9 total times (although the last shape may be cut off).
Students traced their shapes, added their monster's details.. and then we talked about color.
Students used colored pencils and were encouraged to use a complementary color scheme to create contrast in their work! After coloring, they used fiber pens to outline their shapes.

Overall, I was really proud of what my students created.. although the process was definitely a long and sometimes frustrating one!

If you are interested in a more throughly explained lesson plan with visuals, teacher and student directions, demo videos, and an awesome PowerPoint, please check out my store!

If you are interested in this lesson, I have an incredibly awesome package posted up in my store. Seriously.. it has EVERYTHING.
Included in the package:
1. Tessellation PowerPoint: An introduction to what tessellations are, a brief history, M.C. Escher (with a link to a interview he did), his influences, his artwork, and the three main types of transformations used in making tessellations – translation, rotation, and reflections. This PowerPoint includes animated slides, which make it easier for students to visualize the shape’s movements.
2. Color Your Own Worksheets: Grid-filled pages that students can demonstrate how to draw translation, rotation, and reflection tessellations on.
3. Practicing Transformations Worksheet: Worksheet asks students to reflect specific shapes over horizontal and vertical axes, translate shapes, and rotate shapes.
4. Step-by-Step Direction Sheets: Three step-by-step instruction sheets with visuals showing how to create stencils for all three transformations. These instructions also match up with the included videos, which also demonstrate how to create them step-by-step.
5. Practice Tessellation Sheet: This page includes the base stencil for all three transformations shown in the videos and step-by-step sheets.
6. Transformation Videos: 3 videos demonstrating how to create a reflection tessellation, translation tessellation, and rotation tessellation (including how to do a graphite transfer or light table/window transfer for complex details).

Also available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


  1. This is GREAT! My student love any MC Escher poster I hang up! Thank you for explaining your lesson so well, I will be doing this!

  2. I'm excited to try this! Thanks

  3. Thank you. I have done this before, but your tips will make it go more smoothly!

  4. Thank you! You have been my life saver for a few of my projects where I was fumbling. I tried to get it right, you just said it better. I'm a brand new teacher, and it's not for the faint of heart. Thanks again.