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The Calabash Unit Lesson Plan

Teacher: Kristin Roberts (Art Student Teacher)
Calabashes and Gourd Bowls
4th Grade students at Sheridan Elementary School, ASD
Time and Sessions:
6-8 sessions of about 40 minutes
Standards addressed / assessed:

1.      Arts and Humanities 9.1.3 A- Know and use the elements and principles of each art form to create works in the arts and humanities.

2.      Arts and Humanities 9.3.3 L- Identify, explain, and analyze traditions as they relate to works in the arts.

3.      Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking 1.6.3 B- Listen to a selection of Literature.

   The goal of this lesson is to have students identify patterns and symbols in African calabash and Caribbean gourd bowl designs and to use this skill to create their own unique bowls. Students will begin to think about patterns in a more complex way and give thought to the meaning behind symbols in pieces of artwork. Students will create their own bowls using papier-mâché and create their own complex patterns and symbols to decorate their bowls. Through out this lesson students will examine bowls created in Africa and the Caribbean and compare them to their own works.

Students completing this lesson should be familiar with art room policies and procedures. Students should also be able to listen attentively to a presentation of new material. Students will be familiar with sculpture making vocabulary and basic patterning. Through other art lessons, students should also be familiar with papier-mâché and the procedures and materials necessary for its craft.  

To accommodate students with special needs, I will provide these students with visual materials. Visual materials, such as pattern sheets and symbol sheets, will hopefully allow these students to see the direction of the lesson, if they are not able to see it abstractly. I will also make it a point to conference with these students each class period to check the status of their work. These students may also benefit from a buddy, who could help them with details of the project and answer questions for them. For students with tactile sensitive issues, I would expose them to new materials ahead of time so as to help them become more comfortable with the different sensations new materials may elicit.  

A.     Session One

I will begin the first class session by introducing the students to Calabashes and Gourd Bowls. After explaining to the students the origin and function of gourd bowls, I will use a PowerPoint presentation to further explain these unique craft pieces. The PowerPoint will introduce the students to the various forms and functions of gourd bowls. The students will also be introduced to the decorative characteristics of these bowls and the various ways in which they were decorated. Students will be exposed to the rich patterns and symbols often carved into these bowls. The definitions of design, pattern, and symbol will also be reviewed at this time.

After the PowerPoint presentation, the students and I will spend some time discussing patterns and symbols. A demonstration board and books will be used to provide the students with visuals of patterns and symbols. Together, using these materials, the students and I will create complex patterns. Rather than create patterns in the form of AB AB AB AB AB, I will challenge the students to create more complex patterns such as ABA C DED C ABA C DED C ABA. The students and I will also look at symbols and attempt to uncover the meaning behind various symbols.

After our discussion on patterns and symbols, the students will be given a blank Calabash worksheet on which to practice challenging patterns. The students will be encouraged to use visuals as inspiration and encouraged to create complex, challenging patterns. Worksheets with various symbols will also be distributed so students can practice drawing symbols as well.

 B.     Session Two

I will begin the second class session with a brief review of what we talked about the previous week. I will use the demonstration board to review the origin, function, and decoration of Gourd Bowls. I will also review the definitions of design, pattern, and symbol.

After our review, I will explain to the students that we will be beginning the construction of our bowls. I will review with the students the elements of sculpture such as three-dimensionality, relief sculpture, in the round sculpture, and armature. I will then explain to the students that we will be beginning our armatures.  I will demonstrate to the class how the armatures will be created. Each student will receive a paper cup and a paper bowl. The students will need to tape their paper bowls on top of their inverted paper cups. It will appear as if the bowl is resting on top of a pedestal. After my demonstration, supplies will be handed out and the students can begin building their armature. It will also be very important that the students write their name on the inside of the paper cup as everything else will be covered in papier-mâché.

If there is time left the students may continue working on their blank Calabash worksheets.

 C.     Session Three

I will begin the third session by briefly reviewing with the students the important aspects of the lesson and the steps that we have completed so far. After our review, I will demonstrate to the students the procedure for working with papier-mâché. Each table will receive a bucket of paste and a tray of newspaper strips. The students will need to coat their bowls several times with the paste before painting. It will take several sessions before the students will be able to move onto painting. I will emphasize the importance of caressing the newspaper strips onto the bowl so as to secure the papier-mâché. After my demonstration the students will have the remaining time to papier-mâché. Ideally, the students will finish two coats of papier-mâché. The students will have at least the following week to papier-mâché.

D.    Session Four

Session four will also be spent working with the papier-mâché. If the bowls seems strong enough, after at least four coats, the student may possibly begin painting by the fifth session.  Hopefully the students will be able to apply two coats a class session.

   E.     Session Five

During class session five (?), the students will begin painting. I will encourage the students to look at their Calabash worksheets as a guide. As review, I will also show them Calabashes and Gourd Bowls decorated and carved with designs. I will remind the students about the complex patterns and unique symbols that decorated the bowls. I will also remind the students of basic painting strategies. Backgrounds should be painted first as well as lighter colors. I will encourage them to paint a base color before adding their symbols and patterns. After our review, the students will be allowed to begin painting. Ideally, everyone will finish their background color during this session and begin working with their patterns and symbols the following class session.

    F.      Session Six

The sixth session will also be spent painting. Hopefully the students will begin working on their patterns. I will encourage them to sketch in pencil on their bowls if they feel more comfortable drawing first. The students will be allotted the entire class to paint and the following class if it is needed. After the bowls are finished and dried, a display will be made of them for the school to see.


      -         The Kids Multicultural Art Book  by Alexandra M. Terzian
-         Crafts of Many Cultures  by Aurelia Gomez
-         The Magic Gourd  by Baba Wague Diakite
-         Calabash Cat  by James Rumford
-         African and Caribbean symbols and patterns worksheets
-         Blank Calabash Worksheet for students to practice their patterns
-         Books illustrating gourd bowls
-         Paper cups, paper bowls, and masking tape for the armatures
-         papier-mâché paste
-         newspaper strips
-         tempera paints
-         paint brushes
-         acrylic gloss
-         scissors
-         loose-leaf paper
-         pencils



    I will evaluate the students’ finished bowls as well as their ability to follow instructions and their work ethic throughout the project using the rubric below. 

Techniques and Behavior







Directions and use of materials

Followed few directions and did not handle materials properly

Followed most directions and handled materials well

Followed directions and handled materials with care

Worth ethic and participation



Did not work well with teachers and fellow students, was uninvolved in the class

Mostly worked well with teachers and fellow students, typically participated in class

Worked cooperatively with teachers and  fellow students, participated in class

Bowl Design


Bowl is decorated simply, student put forth little effort

Bowl is decorated with an adequate pattern, student put forth effort

Bowl is decorated with a strong pattern, student clearly challenged himself

Understanding of Lesson

Demonstrates little understanding of the patterns and symbols in the artwork studied

Demonstrates some understanding of the patterns and symbols in the artwork studied

Demonstrates an understanding of the patterns and symbols in the artwork studied


What were the strengths of this lesson?

          What were the weaknesses of this lesson?

          How did the children react to this lesson?

Analyze the difference between the original objective of this lesson and what the students actually attained?

 What modifications need to be made to this lesson?


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