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Art Partners Lesson©

Lesson Title:

Breastplates of Power and Protection: Inspired by African Culture

Author: Lucy Andrus
Grade/Age Level: Elementary
Written here for:
3rd Grade Inclusion Class

Conceptual Basis For This Lesson:

Unit/Theme, Relation of Lesson to the Unit, Major Concepts to be Learned:

This lesson is the third in our series on African culture as part of the larger unit on exploring world cultures. We have studied West Coast textile arts and how cloth is created and then made into garments to be worn, specifically in the art of kente weaving. We have also explored the symbolism of African animal imagery and its relevance to developing and expressing positive personal qualities. Today’s lesson will focus on the idea of empowerment and protection as expressed in body adornment in African culture.

The students will view and discuss slides of various forms of body decoration, with a particular focus on jewelry and its socio-cultural meanings in African culture. We will carry over concepts of personal meaning through symbolism in the use of art elements and principles, as well as specific iconography of various African peoples and traditions. We will apply these concepts to the creation of mixed media breastplates that will use visual symbols to represent ideas of personal power and protection based on our abilities to make choices, develop competencies, and cultivate creativity.

In addition to the use of other media and materials inspired by African culture, the students will incorporate the weavings they have created into their breastplate designs (the weavings already symbolically reflect personal characteristics through color use), and the breastplates will, in turn, be used in a culminating ritual that will complete this series on African culture.

Relation to Life:

In addition to the life relevance described in the previous lesson plan, this lesson attempts to reinforce the development of the children’s’ self-images as being ones that reflect worthiness, competency and potential. Conscious awareness and acknowledgment of positive personal qualities and/or the power and potential for acquiring these, is the first step in helping children to accept, develop and mobilize personal resources and capabilities more purposefully in the task of growing up, especially for those children who may be at risk.

Learning Standards

Goals Specific to Lesson/Unit (reflecting NYS standards, & targeted learning areas. See Abbreviation Key at end):

The students will:

  1. Increase awareness of and appreciation for African culture (Std. 4, AH, S)
  2. Develop appreciation for art and design in everyday life: clothing and other forms of personal adornment (Std. 3, AE, L)
  3. Understand that all artist and artisans around the world use art elements and principles in their designs and artwork (Std. 3, AC, AH)
  4. Develop abstract thinking and reinforce understanding of symbolism in visual self-expression (Std. 3, AC, A/C)
  5. Increase cross-cultural understanding and appreciation for diversity (Std. 4, AE, S)
  6. Increase self-awareness and develop positive self-concept (E, S)
  7. Understand the connection between possessing/using positive personal qualities and behaviors, and positive outcomes in living (S, E, L)
  8. Expand knowledge and skill with diverse materials and processes for artistic expression (Std. 1, 2, AP, E, M/P)
  9. Increase/improve attending skills (E, S, W/S)

Peformance Objectives for Observational Assessment (reflecting goals):

The students will be able to:


  • Recall/name the culture we are studying. Goal 1
  • Name at least three aspects that culture comprises (language, beliefs, traditions...). Goals 1, 2, 5
  • Recall/describe one use of symbolism in royal oba crowns (last lesson). Goals 2, 3
  • Describe at least one example of body/personal adornment in African culture, and correlate with similar practice in American culture. Goal 1, 2, 5
  • Attend to the slides with minimal disruption. Goals 7, 9
  • Define negative space.


  • Identify/list minimum of 2 positive qualities to strive for (i.e., how/what can you improve?) Goals 6, 7
  • Create a breastplate that reflects/symbolizes these qualities by:
    • incorporating completed weavings into the breastplate design in the negative space (weavings represent current personal qualities)
    • incorporating at least one string of beads on wire using colors to represent a quality(ies) they’re striving for in the negative space (cut-out area),
    • Using additional available media and techniques to symbolize both the achieved positive quality and at least one positive quality to strive for Goals 4, 6, 8, 9
  • Demonstrate use of art elements and principles (overlapping, pattern) in overall design Goal 3
  • Assist with clean up as directed by S/T Goal 7


  • Name/describe one quality possessed, and one quality to strive for, and how/where these are symbolized in breastplate Goals 4, 6, 8
  • Describe at least one way they behaved like artmakers (use of elements, careful decision-making for aesthetics, etc.) Goals 3, 8
  • Describe at least one positive quality about another’s breastplate Goal 7

Tools Needed For Application

Vocabulary (in child-friendly terms):

  • Adorn: to decorate, to make beautiful by adding something that looks good.
  • Breastplate: a piece of metal or other material worn over the chest to
    protect the wearer; these can be functional or decorative and include symbols of power, protection, leadership, status (created and worn by various cultures).
  • Culture: a way of life of a group of people; includes language, customs, traditions, art forms, beliefs, etc.
  • Negative Space: the empty space (shape) surrounded by positive shapes.
  • Symbol: something that stands for an idea; like a shape, color, line or image that stands for another idea such as a heart to symbolize love or caring, or the color green to symbolize hope or growth, etc.


  • Teacher-made: finished breastplate showing use of the minimum required components: weaving, beading, and use of other symbols (2 or 3-D); personal qualities list for each S/T (at end of lesson plan).
  • Art Resources: slides showing/explaining personal adornment in African culture (jewelry, body/hair decoration); actual relevant artifacts from Africa: jewelry, clothing, cloth.

Materials and Preparation:

NOTE: If incorporating weavings, be sure to tie these off prior to the lesson

  • Cut outer breastplate forms from corrugated cardboard, app. 6x8 inches depending on size of students; then cut out two smaller shapes within the larger plate to create negative space to hang weaving and beads strung on wire (poke wire ends into the corrugation on each side, dab ends with glue to secure)
  • Pre-cut rawhide (or yarn) hanging strings for each breastplate
  • Pre-form some copper or brass wire coil pendant pieces to hang from the bottom of breastplate (inspired by Masai coil pendants signifying strength and leadership)
  • Awls (or large nails) for poking holes in breastplate to string rawhide, and make holes for hanging other items as desired
  • Children’s weavings from previous lesson
  • Scissors
  • Raffia that can be hung from breastplate or glued on in smaller lengths
  • Wire and glass beads for bead stringing (to be placed in the negative cut out space)
  • Extra copper, brass or other kind of wire for hanging things, making jump rings, or fashioning decorative pieces to hang (element of line)
  • Needle nose pliers, small wire cutters (or old scissors) for working the wire
  • Wooden beads and any other decorative items to be used (cowry shells, etc.)
  • Colored papers
  • Markers in assorted colors
  • Black Sharpie markers
  • Glue sticks (for light items like paper) and tacky glue with Q-tips and shallow dishes (for heavier items like beads, shells or wooden pieces)
  • Glue guns/sticks for heavier items (adult use only)
  • Pencils and paper
  • Slide projector
  • Masking tape
  • Trays with divided sections to place all the decoration items in
  • Mirror
  • Djambe drum


Adaptations: None required for this lesson, except for seating children with
attention difficulties up front during slide presentation.

Procedural Steps (details on procedures from opening to closing of lesson with ability-appropriate language scripted in as needed:


NOTE: S/Ts should have personal qualities list, and pencil and paper with them to record children’s qualities during discussion.

1. Teacher leads Hello Song using djambe drum, and then has children recall the culture and continent we have been studying: Africa.

2. Recall: Who can tell us what the word culture means? Who can tell us something that is part of a people’s culture?

3. Teacher recalls the previous lesson on making our crowns, and the symbols we used to tell something about ourselves. Teacher also mentions the weaving lesson and has children recall the meanings contained in their weaving (personal qualities they possess that are symbolized by their chosen colors).

4. Teacher presents idea that there are other ways that African people adorn themselves (make themselves look beautiful) besides the beautiful fabrics they create, or the crowns that royal people wear. Can you think of any other ways that a person can decorate themselves? How do we do this in America? What are ways that we make ourselves look good? Clothes, hairstyle, jewelry, body art like piercing, face paint/makeup, tattoos, etc. Teacher explains how African people do this, too.

5. But, teacher reminds children that these ways that African people adorn themselves, have special meanings, and often symbolize an idea about the person who wears them. For example, wearing cloth of a certain pattern, or a certain hairstyle, or a certain kind of jewelry, might tell something important about the person.

6. Teacher suggests that we look at slides to see some of these ideas, and reminds children of slide-watching behavior.

7. Following slides, teacher explains that we can borrow some of these ideas from African culture to create another piece of personal adornment that will tell something important about us: a breastplate (a piece of metal or other material that is decorated with special symbols and worn over the chest area for power and protection).
Teacher gives examples of how breastplates worn in different cultures have special meaning: like in Native North American culture, a breastplate of cow pipe bones can only be worn by a man who has proven himself to be brave. We have seen how certain kinds of jewelry worn by African people may have similar or different meanings.

8. Teacher presents idea of making our own breastplates that will have certain meanings: we will use the art materials, and the elements of art to symbolize two things about ourselves. One will be a symbol of something good about ourselves, a quality we already have, like we thought about for our weavings (recall the personality quality lists and colors used to symbolize them). The second will be a symbol of a personal quality we need to develop, that we ought to have more of, which would make us a better person.

9. Teacher asks children to name a personal quality they would like to strive for/have more of in themselves, as S/Ts record on the list. S/Ts help children by showing them the personal qualities list. Can you remember what your teachers or parents are always telling you to try and do more of, or how to be better? Maybe an adult has advised you to try and be more patient, or more kind, or more active, or have a more positive attitude.

10. Once qualities are identified, teacher reminds children how we can use a color or line or shape or pattern to symbolize the personal quality we want to work on having more of in ourselves.

11. Using the teacher product as example, teacher then explains and demonstrates as necessary, the different media and processes we’ll use to create our breastplates and symbolize our ideas:

a. We can hang one of our weavings inside one of the negative spaces (define/show negative space on an undecorated breastplate: the empty space surrounded by positive space or shapes). The colors in our weavings show positive personal qualities we already have in ourselves.
b. We can choose colored beads to symbolize the quality we are working on improving, and string these in a pattern on wire and put inside another negative space (demonstrate)
c. We can hang wire shapes and lines from the bottom of the breastplate to show more ideas, like the Masai coil pendants we learned about; and we can add more things just to make our breastplates look beautiful if we use our artist’s eye to see what elements and principles of art (like pattern and overlapping)
would look good.


12. Children go to their small groups with their S/Ts and begin their breastplates as per the following steps:

- Begin by filling in the positive background space surrounding the negative space with pattern as per suggestions (TBA!)

- Then fill in the negative spaces. First, suspend the weaving inside one negative space (qualities we already possess): poke hole in each top corner of open space, and tie end string of weaving through hole on each side to suspend)

- Next, add the symbol for the personal quality we are striving for by choosing colored beads to represent this quality, stringing them on a piece of flexible wire in desired pattern, and poking ends of wire into the corrugation at either end of the other negative space. Children can string more than one row if there is room and time.

- Once the above is accomplished, children can then add others items to decorate their breastplates and symbolize power and protection as desired. Some possibilities include:

- Can add wire coils by hanging from bottom edge of breastplate
- Wooden beads can hang on yarn or raffia from bottom
- Raffia grass that can be hung from bottom hole made with an awl, putting loop end of raffia piece through hole, and then putting two free ends of raffia through loop end and pulling up to fit hole
- Cut short pieces of raffia which can be glued on around the outer edges of the breastplate, like a border (use the tacky glue for this)
- Gluing on or hanging cowry shells if available

13. When breastplates are finished, S/Ts help tie on the rawhide cord or yarn,
long enough so it can fit over the head, allowing the breastplate to hang in the chest area (be sure names are on back!).

14. Children can look in the mirror to see the results.

15. Once finished, children help S/T’s clean up: KEEP LIKE MATERIALS
TOGETHER IN THE TRAYS!! So, proceed in an orderly fashion: S/Ts ask for all the glass beads first, then collect all the wooden beads, then the wire pieces, then the raffia, etc.


16. Finished breastplates are displayed and discussed. Teacher has children recall the idea of symbolism of personal qualities, asking some to come up and describe theirs.

17. Teacher takes time to have group describe another’s breastplate, what they like about it, how it uses elements of art, uses symbolism, shows artmaker behaviors, etc.

18. Teacher explains what we will do with the breastplates, and our crowns, for the last session in our study of African culture (ceremony of power and protection next week!).

19. Everyone sings the Good-bye Song to drumbeat.


In addition to observation of Performance Objectives described above, questions to ask might include:

  • Were students able to identify and illustrate more than one idea through symbolic use of materials, elements and principles?
  • Did students demonstrate use of pattern, overlapping?
  • How well were students able to verbally articulate the meanings contained in their breastplates?

Personal Qualities List:

Helpful Speedy Dutiful
Friendly Thoughtful Ready
Brave Generous Protective
Quiet Faithful Patient
Serious Hard Worker  
Funny Self-Control Sticks with it (doesn't quit)
Heroic Caring  
Smart Confidence Artistic
Good Listener Peacemaker Alert
Creative Honest Mindful
Curious Tolerant Careful
Clever Wise Gentle
Just (fair) Strong  
Active Determination  
Loving Cooperative Understanding
Humble Independent Trusting
Daring Risk-Taker Devoted

Abbreviation Key

NYS Standards for the Arts:
AH = Art History Std. 1 = creating, participating in art
AC = Art Criticism Std. 2 = knowing art materials and processes
AE = Aesthetics Std. 3 = responding to works of art/artists
AP = Art Production Std. 4 = knowing cultural dimensions of art

Needs Assessment Areas for Developing Skills and Abilities:
A/C    = academic/cognitive M/P = motor/perceptual  E = emotional
C        = communicative status W/S = work/study habits S = social
Pre-V = prevocational skills  L = living skills  

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