All the World is a Stage Design

By Beverly Cook, February 24, 2008

Grade Level

  • High School


  • People's Design Award

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Two weeks or ten class periods


Stage design provides great learning experiences for a variety of subject areas. This lesson will concentrate on stage design for a Tet (Asian New Year) performance, but it is a template for any type of production. The same process can be interchanged with any subject. Because there are many roles to fill and activities to complete, every student will participate in the planning and implementation of building the sets. The students will learn how to effectively collaborate, taking a brainstormed idea from sketch to completed product. They will research the material, construct super-sized props and backdrops, and evaluate their individual and group process.

National Standards

        Common Core Standards:

Anchors for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

 Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

 Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

National Visual Arts Standards

Visual Arts Standard 3. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

Anchor Standard #10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.


Standard 3. Designs and produces informal and formal productions Anchor Standard 11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.


Students will:
  • develop a deeper understanding for the traditions and celebrations that surround the Asian New Year
  • collaborate with other students to work on the stage design
  • work as a team to produce one aspect of a larger product
  • participate in the design process from the first idea sketch to finished product



  • art supplies - craft paper
  • corrugated cardboard
  • paint
  • brushes
  • monofilament
  • duct tape
  • 2x4x8 wood


  • stage design: the art of planning theater sets
  • set: an artificial setting for a scene of a theatrical or film production
  • pho: a type of Vietnamese soup
  • mung: a type of bean, common in Asian food
  • stage left: the left side of the stage (as from the stage, looking at the audience)
  • stage right: the right side of the stage (as from the stage, looking at the audience)
  • stage apron: the part of the stage in front of the proscenium arch
  • proscenium:  the stage of an ancient Greek or Roman theater; the part of a modern stage in front of the curtain


Have students research the traditions and celebrations of Tet* in Asian communities. Research may include interviews of members of a local Asian society, or museum, or of Asian students and their relatives. Share findings with the class in a story circle. Research is a very important part of the activity, as it will inform what images and ideas the students use in their designs. Tell the students that the performance they will be designing a set for is a Tet Performance. Each student can then choose to work in one of three groups: 1) Banners 2) Props 3) Backdrops Group One Group One will design and create colorfully painted paper banners to be hung as overhangs. The banners should depict the twelve Zodiac animal portraits, six class years' and their corresponding zodiac animal (i.e. 2008-Year of the Rat), and three very large Happy New Years signs. Students working on the posters will need to research the Tet celebration, as well as the signs of the Zodiac. They should study the different symbols and design their banners based on their findings. Group Two Group Two will design large props to fill the massive space on and around the stage. As a group, students should research the Tet celebration and traditions. Through their research, they should decide on appropriate props to create. Students should also consult with the actors in the performance to find out about their needs and how they will use the space on the stage. Using all of this information, students should begin designing the props. They should consider size based upon room on the stage, the needs of the actors, and also the view from the audience. Using cardboard and kraft paper, students can build their designs. Remind them that the props must share the stage with the actors and dancers.
Group Three Group Three’s task is to design a backdrop to hang behind the performance. Students must also engineer a way for the backdrop to hang depending on the space. Have the group research the Tet celebration. They should also meet with the actors and dancers to find out about the performance and the main themes of the performance. With this information in mind, students should design the backdrop. They should be aware of the scale of the backdrop from the audience’s perspective.All groups should sketch their designs as a rough draft. Once the rough draft is complete, each group should critique the others. Changes should be made and then performers should critique the designs. Once changes have been implemented, students can begin implementing their designs.


Students write a self-assessment of their own participation and answer the following questions: What was your role in the group and how did you contribute to its effectiveness? How is collaboration and teamwork important in stage design? Provide an example from this experience. What is one thing you have learned about yourself, your peers, and the culture studied that you did not know and were surprised to learn?

Enrichment Extension Activities

The students could explore other types of stage design throughout history (Globe Theatre, Greek Amphitheater, Japanese Kabuki) or in contemporary times by attending cultural performances, plays, or ballets at local venues. They could then compare and contrast the techniques used and make a PowerPoint presentation about successful techniques.

Teacher Reflection

The number of students will determine the size of the groups and the scope of the work. The students were very successful in part because they were allowed to choose which group they worked in, thus matching their skills with the work to be done. A written assessment was more informative than a standard rubric because it lends itself to reflecting upon personal experiences throughout the whole process. Students need to revisit the difference between consensus and majority rule. Instructional strategies such as conducting interviews and communication opportunities between the groups were most effective. If given additional time, I would incorporate more elaborate materials i.e. papier mache into the prop design.
  1. This makes me think about using our dance recitials as a way for students to design scenery for the individual dances. Right now we only do lighting, but some kind of banners or large props or overhangs would be really neat and a way to do more cross-curricular work.
    Cheryl Hanson, San Antonio

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