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Masks are such a great way to introduce your students to other cultures. They can also help students explore their own identities or celebrate people they admire such as fictional characters or personal heroes. Creating masks with plaster gives students the chance to work with new materials and ensures they’ll be able to enjoy their finished work for years to come.
When introducing your students to mask making, it is important to share many types of masks from a variety of cultures. Share the many uses for masks and talk about the similarities and differences between the masks you view. I like to show my students a slide presentation, so I can cover a lot of material at once. You might include masks used for special ceremonies, those used for a masquerade ball, and even masks worn by children for Halloween.
By sharing a variety of masks, your students will begin to get ideas for their own work.
We all know our students may need a little push in the inspiration department from time to time. Give your students an opportunity to research on their own.
Give them a variety of resources such as:
It is important to remind students not to directly copy designs but to use a variety of images to design their own creative sketches. This would also be a good time to share information about copyright laws and originality.
Have students sketch in their sketchbooks or on a sheet of paper you will collect. They can refer to the sketch when they begin making their masks. I even have my students list ideas for colors they want to use and what embellishments they may want to add.
It is important to have your materials ready to go so students can finish the plaster portion of the lesson in one class period.
Here is what you will need:
Before students begin, you’ll want to do a quick five-minute demonstration of how to use the plaster strips. If you haven’t worked with this material before, you simply dip a strip into a shallow container of water to activate the plaster. Then, you can add the strip to the mask form, similar to what you would do with paper mache.
Make sure you give your students the following tips:
Once your materials are set up, and you’ve done your demonstration, students can begin the mask making process below. I recommend covering all tables in butcher paper for easy cleanup.
Day 1: Creating the Mask Base
The masks usually dry well overnight. If storage is an issue, pop the masks off the forms the next day and place the masking tape with the students’ names inside of the masks themselves. Then, you can nest them to save space until the next class.
If you have time, you can also consider giving your students a day before painting their masks to practice blending and making values with acrylic paint. This will help their masks look more realistic.
Day 2: Paint the Masks
Days 3 and 4 and Beyond: Add Embellishments
The following days will depend on how much class time you have available to dedicate to this lesson. On the third day, once the masks are dry, students can continue painting, adding details, and adding their embellishments. My fifth-grade students work on this lesson for about five class periods total.
Make sure to have your students share their masks with the class when they are finished.
Have students answer the following questions when they share:
Overall, this lesson is a great way to focus on creating masks while giving your students room to bring in their own ideas for their final piece. If you don’t have room in your budget for face molds and plaster, try similar techniques using paper mache and balloons! Another great tip is to send a note home to parents to let them know about the project. You might be surprised by the embellishment donations you receive!
What type of masks do you create with your students?
What other tips would you give for mask making in the classroom?