Black, Striped, White, & Plaid: Changing Patterns

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 12, 2006

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute activites, plus one homework assignment


Design is an innovative process. Often, in everyday life, we don't question why things look the way they do. Why are cars almost always designed in a palette of solid colors? Why are garbage cans usually green? Why do beach umbrellas typically have stripes? In this lesson students are asked to create a new design for an everyday object using color and patterns.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level III. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 1. Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., makes outlines, uses published pieces as writing models, constructs critical standards, brainstorms, builds background knowledge) 5. Uses content, style, and structure (e.g., formal or informal language, genre, organization) appropriate for specific audiences (e.g., public, private) and purposes (e.g., to entertain, to influence, to inform)
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level III. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques
Visual Arts: Artistic Expression & Communication
Standard 1. Level III. Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts Benchmark 2. Knows how the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes can be used to enhance communication of experiences and ideas

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
  • Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards Writing 

Grade 6-8

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.


Students will do the following:
  • observe and record information
  • brainstorm ideas
  • respond to writing prompts
  • conduct surveys
  • analyze and evaluate information
  • create a design for an everyday object
  • evaluate group work
  • write an advertisement
  • create a presentation


  • "Change the Look" handout


  • paper
  • crayons
  • markers


Building Background Observation Central

The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to observe the use of color and patterns in everyday objects. 1. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to conduct a brief observation of the objects that surround them in your classroom. Tell each group to record five examples of objects that are either solidly colored or patterned. Have each group share its list with the class. As the students present each item, discuss whether or not the color or pattern on the item is a typical example. For example, if they have selected a white computer, ask the question, "Are computers typically white?" 2. Tell your students that you want them to try to imagine a wide range of objects and what they typically look like. As a class, brainstorm a series of questions that follow the sentence patterns below:
  • Why is a __________________ usually _____________?
Possible examples include the following:
  • Why is a plastic trash can usually green?
  • Why is a garden hose usually green?
  • Why is a car usually a solid color?
  • Why is an umbrella usually striped?
  • Why are mailboxes usually black?
  3. Browse the Internet to showcase the wide variety of color and patterns of everyday items. For example, you may wish to view the following websites:
  • Picture Frames (search for picture frames)
  • Sneakers %20%20safari&rls=en-us&q=Sneakers+footwear+&btnG=Search
  • Dishes 4. Give students the following homework assignment. Compile a list of 25 everyday objects of varying colors and patterns. 5. Review the homework assignment by having students share their lists. Examine each item to see if it has a "typical" color or pattern, and discuss why objects tend to have a typical color or pattern. The purpose of this introductory activity is to help students think "outside the box" as they begin to plan their design project.

Steps for Learning Make It New!

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to use the steps of the design process to create a new color or pattern for an everyday object 1. Tell the students that they are going to use color and pattern to create a new look for an everyday object. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of the "Change the Look" handout. 2. Provide time for each small group to present its work to the class. 3. Discuss the different elements of each group presentation, and how each group expressed its thoughts through design.



Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric. -How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate the effectiveness of your solution. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate your creativity. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Survey Time
Have each group share its work with people of varied ages to get feedback on its design. As a class, create a series of questions to get feedback on the newly designed object. After students have collected their data, analyze and evaluate the students' survey responses. 
Activity Two: Business Changes
Ask the students to look for examples of everyday products that have had their packaging changed to create a new look. Create a class list and have the students work in small groups to conduct research to find out why businesses choose to update and change the look of their products.
  1. Great way to get students to ‘look’ at their surroundings closer. I enjoy the idea of taking color and pattern out of typical contexts. A brainstorm session of successful pattern/object designs and those that didn’t work would be interesting to discuss with students.

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