Chairs, Corduroys, Cottages, & Cars: Exploring the Diversity of Design

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 20, 2007

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • People's Design Award

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

One to two fifty-minute class periods


In this lesson, students will explore the extensive design collection showcased on the People’s Design Award Web site. The People’s Design Award, which is hosted each year by Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and sponsored by Target, gives the general public an opportunity to nominate and vote for their favorite designs. Students will work in collaborative groups to create theme-based exhibitions highlighting examples from the Web site collection.

National Standards

Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts Level III. 1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., electronic texts; textbooks; biographical sketches; directions; essays; primary source historical documents, including letters and diaries; print media, including editorials, news stories, periodicals, and magazines; consumer, workplace, and public documents, including catalogs,technical directions, procedures, and bus routes)
Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process Level III. 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)
Visual Arts: Artistic Expression & Communication
Standard 1. Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts
Level III. Benchmark 2. Knows how the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes can be used to enhance communication of experiences and ideas
Arts and Communication
Standard 3. Uses critical and creative thinking in various arts and communication settings
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group

Common Core State Standards

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.6-8.6 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.

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.)


Students will:
  • conduct Internet research
  • participate in small-group and large-group discussion
  • analyze, summarize, critique, and evaluate information from varied sources
  • work collaboratively in small groups
  • create and present a theme-based exhibition using resources from the People’s Design Award Web site
  • demonstrate an understanding of the elements of the design process


  • “Design Collection” handout (attached)
  • Internet Web sites


  • Computer with Internet access
  • Software to create a slideshow (if possible) or drawing materials/poster board


Building Background

Exploring Collections The purpose of this activity is to allow students to explore, analyze, and critique varied aspects of a design exhibition. 1. As a class, browse Cooper-Hewitt's online exhibition entitled Looking Forward, Looking Back: Recent Acquisitions in 20th-and 21st-Century Design at Ask your students to think about how the objects are categorized, how the objects are described, and how they might have been selected to highlight the exhibition theme. 2. Collect an assortment of thirty to thirty-five everyday objects and place them on a table in the center of your classroom. Divide the class into five groups. Ask each group to create a list of potential categories for the objects. There are no right or wrong ways to categorize the objects; instead, the purpose is to actively engage the students’ critical thinking skills and creativity. Invite each group to share its categories with the entire class.

Steps for Learning

Create Your Own Collection The purpose of this activity is to help students closely observe, evaluate, and analyze the way objects are categorized to express a specific design theme. They will create their own theme-based collections.
1. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to complete the “Design Collection” handout (attached).2. Stage a class presentation of each group’s collection. Invite guests, if possible. Host a critique/discussion after the presentations are complete.


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 presentation in highlighting the collection’s theme? -Rate how well you incorporated text and images into your design collection. -Rate the effectiveness of your group’s brainstorming in generating ideas. -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. -Rate the effectiveness of your solution. -Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. -Rate your creativity.
-Rate how well your group was able to collaborate.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Build a New Collection
Have students conduct further research on the People’s Design Award Web site and add items to their theme-based collections or create new theme-based collections.
Activity Two: Exploring Collections Around the Globe
Have students conduct research on museum collections around the globe. Have them compare the different ways items are categorized. Ask the students to share what they learned with their classmates.

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