Decoration · Making Books with children · Making books with elementary students

The Biography Project, with colorful borders and letters

book cover of Biography Project
The Biography Project Book cover, A bookmaking Project with Second Graders

During the last couple of weeks one of the in-school projects that I’ve been involved in is the Biography Project with Second Graders.   This project has been a real treat to work on, for many reasons, not the least of which has been the fine collaborative opportunities I’ve been able to be part of with the teachers.  At the time that I proposed the structure I wasn’t sure what to do with the cover page. Between watching what most motivated the students, as well as integrating ideas from the teachers, the covers were this blend of typography, student made decoration, and a silhouette.

I like framing the title of the book color. I had noticed that students were incredibly enthusiastic when I had given them outlines of letters to fill in, which was the cover of one of the mini-books that is housed inside the pages of the big book.

Here’s one of the mini-books, which is a book which will contain clues about the person who the student is studying.

Here’s one of the Clues books, which shows the questions at the edge of the pages.  The  readers are given clues which will help them guess whose biography is written here. On the next page (which is not shown in this post) there is a writing and drawings which are relevent to the subject..

I’m always searching for  ways to get the job done (create a compelling book structure for students to use) while adding details that make the  process more individualized as well as being more enjoyable for students. Giving the students these outlines to fill in, both on the frame of the book and the outlines of the letters, was a fun addition to this project.

Here’s some more samples:


Right now I’m deep into the busiest part of the season that I visit schools. What I am going to try to do is post as I go along, with the intent of focussing on details that have captured my interest when working with the students.  What captured my interest this week was this way of providing blank spaces which students could enliven with color.


WOW designs

I have been working with many young children lately. My goal is create a project that pleases the children, the teacher, the school and me. With young children this means that the projects often start out highly structured. Even though I know that this is a good thing there is a part of me that just wants to let the children run wild with color. This, sigh, generally does not turn out to be a good thing.

Page Decoration by first graders

I struggle to find a place where I can let students loose with color and design, but still reign in their designs in a way that shows them a new and unexpected way of approaching their work.

For years I have been trying out different ways of introducing decoration. I feel like there’s been a good bit of success in working with letters of the alphabet. But I have found that it’s good to even simplify this approach. Whereas I used to demonstrate ways of using the letters Z,O,V,W,I,C,X, and S as decoration I recently decided to just try out using WOW and I….by the time I met with the third class of the day I was down to using just WOW.

Children love to watch an adult draw.I am always happy to stand at the board and draw for them. To demonstrate this technique I draw some W’s and O’s, emphasizing the decorative possibilities of these letter shapes, and then I draw WWWWWWWWW and say that sound….the insightful teachers know just how long to let the students imitate the sound before they ask their class to quiet down. But I like that they spend a long moment with the WWWWWWWWWWWWW and OOOOOOOOOOOooooOOOO’s because it seems that vibration they make gets deep inside of them, priming them for good work.

And, of course, the coolest thing is that, even with the structure that I impose…

… their designs turn out so differently from each other’s.


decorating the page, by a first grader

Books Made from one sheet of folded paper · Decoration · Making Books with children · Making books with elementary students · origami pamphlet

Individualizing with Color

Making Books with First Graders

Origami Pamphlet Books, fully opened

This past week I worked with three classes of first graders. My goal was to help the students create books which honor their writing. I want the books to be good-looking, dynamic and individualized. I have three 75 minute sessions to accomplish this.

Origami Pamphlet Made by Chase, First Grade
Origami Pamphlet Book by Chase

All students begin by making an Origami Pamphlet using the same color paper. No choice there. But I am able to give them choice in the decorative details.

One of my favorite decorative techniques is to ask the students to create designs with geometric shapes. Just the mention of color rivets students’ attention. I try to find a place to lay out their color choices attractively. I’ve figured out that making colors available to students in a carte blanche kind of way results in designs that descend into chaos. Now I am more orderly in the distribution of color. Perhaps I am delusional, but I try to convey the concept that there are advantages in practicing restraint.

For decorative accents, students choose four colors from my palette of Brite cover weight papers . These strips of paper are 5 inches x 1.25  inches (if I were in metric-land I would cut these stips to be 3cm x 12cm). Then everyone cuts SQUARES ONLY. They do this by creating an “L” with the strips, then cutting on the line that defines where the strips overlap.

Books by First graders

Students can use their squares as squares, turn them to become diamonds, cut them in half to create triangles, or cut them into lines. I do not allow them to explore any other options. This makes me feel mean, but I explain to these budding artists they can try out all sorts of decorative options on all their works for the rest of their lives, but, for right now I want them to do it my way so that they will learn a new technique. I promise them that although they are all getting the same instructions, that their books will each have their own look.

 Book page by First Grader

They work a bit on each page, then go back and add more after each page has been treated.

We use glue sticks to adhere the shapes to the paper. I bring in the 1.41oz (40g) size of UHU Glue sticks. Then I threaten students that the shapes will fall off the page unless they apply enough glue and pressure to the papers.

The result: Same But Different.

There are other decorative technques that the students use. But that’s another post.
To be continued.

Decoration · Making Books with children · origami pamphlet

Books for Poetry by First Graders

 This week I finished up helping  96 first grade students make books for the lovely poems that they wrote under the guidance of their classroom teachers.  First, we made a large origami pamphlet from a  17″  x 23″ sheet of 67lb cover paper (lilac).  We then made a book cover with pockets for storing unfinished poetry and drawings.  Some poems were hand-written by students; other poems were type-written by teachers.  Students learned how to make decorative borders, using the letters of the alphabet W, O, I, X, and V.  A title page was added, and covers were decorated with geometric shapes
Poetry Books made by First Graders
Picture 009
Poetry Books made by First Graders
Starting a Border Design

Here the student has started making a border design using the letters W, V and O.  The green paper in the middle is a sticky note, which is acting as a “place holder;’ when the student finishes writing  a poem,  the sticky note will be removed and the poetry page will be glued in.

Book Page in Progress
More Border Designs
Cat Poem Page by a First Grade Student
A Selection of Book Covers Designed using 2 1/2″ Squares