Project: Designing the Zodiac


Lesson 1



Students learn that nearly every culture found ‘pictures’ amongst the stars in the sky, and these pictures would describe characters from myths, earthbound creatures, or sometimes objects. 

They then get copies of constellation dots and they connect the dots to make their own ‘constellations’ (characters, animals, or objects). This is a day for brainstorming, and they are free to make as many as they would like. 


SW understand that authors and storytellers would use the stars as inspiration for imaginative stories. 

SW understand that different cultures had different stories for the same collection of stars. 

SW be able to define ‘constellation’. 

SW be able to define ‘brainstorm’

SWBAT brainstorm multiple pictures (constellations) from a series of dots (stars). 


Students will be working individually, so have materials prepared to go out to tables/or desks depending on how your class is set up.


Pens & pencils, constellation brainstorming sheets (see photocopies) 


  • 1 work packet per student (students will only be completing step 1, steps 2 & 3 will be completed during lesson 2):
  • If you are NOT using the video, you’ll need examples of constellations with images over them. The video compares the Greek constellation ‘Orion’ with the Lakota constellation, based on the same stars, of a hand. If you are using the video, these examples are unnecessary. 


Optional (for early finishers): computers or tablets to access the website: (a map of the sky from the student’s specific location) 


Equinox: Analemma over the Callanish Stones’, by Giuseppe Petricca

Cultures from across the world have looked into the sky and created stories about the sun, the moon, and the stars. But the objects in the sky shift and change depending on the time of day/night, the time of year, and even the time in history. 

This is an analemma, a composite image taken from the same spot at the same time over the course of a year, composed from images taken every few days at noon in Scotland.  In the foreground are the Callanish Stones, a stone circle built around 2700 BC. 

Notice the figure 8–this is caused by the tilt of the Earth axis and the ellipticity of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. At the solstices, the Sun will appear at the top or bottom of an analemma..

Note on using the information above: As your students participate in a conversation around this artwork (see ‘Inspiration’ in the lesson plan), it may occasionally be helpful to provide them with additional or contextual information. This information can and should be imparted at the teacher’s discretion. 


INSPIRATION: 10min.LOOK AND DISCUSS AN ART PIECE THAT INTRODUCES SOME OF THE LESSON CONCEPTS. Project the inspiration image where students can see it. Give students a moment to *study it silently, then begin a discussion. **The teacher should launch the discussion by asking:1. “What’s going on in this picture?”
While a student responds, the teacher should point at the areas under discussion in the artwork, then neutrally repeat what the student said for clarity. S/he should move on to the next student with the question:2. “What more/else can we find?”***If a student needs a little re-direction, or is unclear, the teacher should ask:3. “What do you see what makes you say that?”4. Use the inspiration image description as needed to provide context or enhance discussion.  *Alternately, allow them to draw or write what they notice on a blank piece of paper or in a sketchbook.**This discussion is based on ‘Visual Thinking Strategy’, an inquiry-based teaching method that encourages students to use visual evidence and build on one another’s observations to discuss an artwork. In this method of teaching, the teacher acts as facilitator, but should remain neutral as the student’s observations guide the discussion.***The student’s observations should be based on visual evidence–what can be observed within the frame of the artwork
Watch Video Lesson Summary: Nearly every culture throughout all of history imagined ‘pictures’ amongst the stars in the sky.  These pictures would describe characters from stories, animals, or sometimes objects. We call these star pictures constellations. The constellations we recognize today are mostly from ancient Greek culture.  Typically, there are stories to go along with the constellation that tell how the constellation came to be. For example:The Greek Constellation Orion. Orion was a Greek hunter. He had a pretty terrible goal: it was to kill all the wild animals on Earth. But the Mother Earth didn’t like that, so she decided to stop him. She sent a giant scorpion after him. It eventually got him and they the God Zeus placed them both in the stars so that Orion would  be chased by the Scorpion forever. While we are most familiar with the Greek constellations, ALL cultures, not just the Greeks, saw pictures in the sky. For example, the Greeks saw Orion the hunter. But, the Lakota Indians looked at the same groups of stars and saw a giant hand in the sky. For them, a hand was a symbol of peace between the Gods and humans. Today students will get handouts that have dots to symbolize groups of stars and brainstorm their own constellations. 
CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDINGCheck for understanding by asking, “Who was listening closely that can sum up what we are doing today?” Make sure that student artists can list all the steps and clarify anything that needs clarifying. In particular, make sure they: • Understand that brainstorming means they will be drawing many examples, and quickly (not polished pieces). •Are able to define and use the word ‘constellation’ and understand that the characters (or objects) in a constellation usually had a story that told how they came to be in the sky . •They can draw whatever inspires them: animals, people from stories, imaginary creatures, or even objects. •It will likely help to connect the dots, first, then try to see a character, animal, or object in the shape that was created. 
WORK TIME: 20-25min.INDEPENDENTThe students work independently on their work as the teacher circulates. Foster strong work habits by commenting on student artists who are focused on their work as well as student artist who seems be pushing themselves to try new things. 
FOCUS QUESTION: What are the character traits of your (character/animal/object)? How did your (character/animal/object) get into the sky? As the teacher circulates, the students should be encouraged to share their favorite characters, elaborate with stories, and generally have a good time brainstorming. 
The teacher should encourage discussion and interaction amongst the students, particularly if and when they begin collaborating with ideas. The teacher should be flexible during the lesson, and let the students lead with their interests and ideas. During the next lesson the students solidify their characters and stories, so the teacher can prime them by asking open ended questions that encourage students to elaborate or begin to flesh out the initial character or brainstorm. However, caution should be taken not to push too hard. The main focus of this lesson is engagement around ideas, rather than a concrete plan or story. 
Depending on the teacher’s style of classroom management, it might be helpful to only choose and train a few kids to clean. The rest of the class can be busy with the presentation. Make sure to train these helpers well in advance so that you aren’t left with a messy room. Clean-up times will vary with materials; get to know your class and allow 5-10 minutes depending on how efficient they are and whether or not the material was messy. Choose presenting student artists in advance and let them know during their work time so that they are prepared. Sharing should work as follows: Student stands in by their work. A teacher should hold it, or place it on an easel. The student presents their work, answering What they made, How they made it, and Why they made the decisions that they did. When they are done they ask “Any comments or questions?” and can take responses from the audience. A note on responses: it is o.k. if a audience member questions or wants clarification from the artist. It is also o.k. if an audience member makes suggestions. But it must be done in a kind, thoughtful, and respectful way.Always end the conversation by asking the class to give the artist a compliment.
ANTICIPATED PROBLEMSNot knowing how to get started. They can connect the dots with lines, and then see what the resulting shape reminds them of. Try showing them 2 copies of the same set of constellations and show how if they connect the dots differently, they’ll end up with a completely different shape. Ask them to imagine pictures in the different shapes. If a student is having a really hard time starting, you can see if they want to list the things they see in the constellations before starting to draw. This can be a simple list on the back of the paper (e.g., man, mouse, lion) then they can choose one to depict. Tell them they can add things outside of what is suggested by the stars (you can use the video as a visual: Scorpio doesn’t have claws or legs indicated by the stars, the stars depict the scorpions body and the details are added) 
EARLY FINISHERS:There are 88 modern constellations. However, you can’t see them all at the same time. Which constellations you can see depends on whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere (northern is above the equator and southern is below the equator), what season it is, and when in history you are looking at the sky. 
Using the following website, explore what constellations are visible in your location: 

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