Paper to Product - Paper Mache

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SWBAT create an art project from used paper by recycling.

Big Idea

Kids learn that used paper materials can be transformed into beautiful art instead of being thrown away to fill landfills.


20 minutes

I begin this lesson with the exploration. The kids have already changed paper into another form of paper in the previous lesson so they understand that paper can change from it's original form to a new form. For this lesson, I want them to be able to observe and explain how the paper has changed from its original state. 

I call the kids to come sit on the floor one table at a time. I tell them that we are going to jump right into today's exploration. Their job is observe the steps in changing the newspaper and be able to explain HOW the paper changed in appearance, texture, strength and use.

I have my own workstation prepared and ready to use before the kids come into class the day I teach this lesson. The day before, I prepare the paste. It can be as easy as watering down Elmer's Glue or mixing flour with water. I also cut the newspaper strips over the weekend before this lesson is taught.

 I demonstrate each step one at a time at a quicker pace than they will work. 

  1. I hold up a piece of newspaper and explain to the kids that I read this newspaper last week and didn't want to just throw it away. That would be a waste, so I cut it into small strips so we can make something useful out of it. 
  2. I tell the kids that we will be making a paper mache bowl that we can put small objects in at home. I ask the kids if they've ever heard of paper mache. Every once in a while, I get a student whose families are crafty. 
  3. I hold up a 1 lb. deli container (from the previous lesson) and tell the kids that we will be using the container to shape, or form, our bowls.
  4. I next show them the paste that we will be dipping our paper strips in. I demonstrate how they will be dipping and placing the strips onto the container.  
  5. I explain to the kids that we are going to cover our containers with 3 layers of paper strips so we are going to cover it, cover it again and cover it again.

I tell the kids that they are not to touch any of the supplies until I tell them to. They are to keep their hands in their lap. I call one team at a time to go sit at the table where there is a tub of supplies.

I then slowly lead the class through the above steps until we get to number 5. After we do the first layer together and I have checked that everyone has completely covered their deli container halfway down, I let them loose to work on their own while I roam the room and assist when needed. 



5 minutes

Once we have finished our paper mache and have settled on the floor as a whole group, I ask the kids to think about what we did and how the paper changed. I give them 30 seconds on a timer to silently think to themselves before turning and talking to their floor partner. Each partner is given 20 seconds to share.

I then ask for volunteers to share their ideas. As the kids share their thoughts, I list them on the board. I write, "How did the paper change?" at the top. This is done quickly because this is the kids second experience with changing paper and the kids make the connections easier in this lesson. They are able to synthesize what they've learned about the properties of paper with what they experience here.

Once our list is complete, we review it and tell the kids that I will leave it up for them to refer to during their time with their science journals in case they need it.

I do it this way to provide the kids an opportunity to process what they've experienced and to provide them a support tool for their journal entries.


10 minutes

Once the kids have exhausted their ideas, I read the book, The Piñata Maker by George Ancona. When the kids see the front cover and hear the title, they get excited because most of my students are Hispanic and they are very familiar with piñatas.

 We stop at points of interest to the students to discuss what is happening to the paper and why it's changing.  

As we read the book they begin to connect what we've experienced in this lesson with how the piñata maker makes piñatas. One student raises her hand and says that she's going to turn her paper into a little piñata when she gets home. Another student asks if we can decorate our bowls.

I don't have to do much explaining because the story does it for us. We stop at points of interest to the students to discuss what is happening to the paper and why it's changing.  


When we are finished reading and discussing the book, the table leaders are asked to come up and get the science journals for everyone at their table. 

The kids are asked to do an entry similar to the one they did in the previous lesson. They draw a line through the drawing are of the journal page. On the left the draw a picture of a newspaper and on the right, what they're going to use their bowl for or what they're going to turn it into.

As the kids work in their journals, I roam the room and intervene as needed. I also ask kids questions to check for understanding. 


  • Do you think the paper strips will be hard to tear off when they're dry?
  • How do you think the paper changed in this activity?
  • What effect do you think the paste had on the paper?


I call one table at a time to bring their science journals to the floor. They are asked to share their entry with their floor partner. Once all of the kids have shared with their partner, I pull 3 sticks from the name stick can and invite each child, one at a time, to sit in the teacher chair and share their work with the entire class the work they did in their journal. 

This practice allows all children to have their work validated by others while still respecting class time and patience. 


5 minutes

What can something like this be used for? What else can we do reuse, recycle?

The kids stay on the floor as we discuss the closing question. After all, paper mache is fun to make, but can it also be useful? I pose these questions to the kids and then give them 20 seconds on a timer to think silently about the possible answers. Once the timer goes off I have them turn to their floor partner to share what they think.

After everyone has had a chance to share their thoughts to the questions with their floor partner, I pull three random name sticks from the name stick can to come sit in the teacher chair one at a time to share the ideas discussed with their floor partner. Its so fun to hear the variety of ideas they come up with! One student said she would put a plastic bag in the paper mache bowl and give her dog water on a hike! How creative little ones can be!!