Crystal Blue Persuasion

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 23, 2006

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Two-fifty minute class periods, one homework assignment


Throughout history people have used design to communicate their political beliefs. In this activity, students will examine historic posters, jewelry, quilts and buttons that were created to protest or call attention to a political issue. After evaluating how these items were used to communicate a political message, students will create an item that conveys a message about a historic or current-day issue.

National Standards

Standard 14. Level III.Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life 4. Knows some of the efforts that have been put forth to reduce discrepancies between ideals and the reality of American public life (e.g., abolition, suffrage, civil rights, environmental protection movements) 5. Knows how various individual actions, social actions, and political actions can help to reduce discrepancies between reality and the ideals of American constitutional democracy
Standard 13. Level III. Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface 1. Understands factors that contribute to cooperation (e.g., similarities in religion, language, political beliefs) or conflict (e.g., economic competition for scarce resources, boundary disputes, cultural differences, control of strategic locations) within and between regions and countries 2.  Knows the social, political, and economic divisions on Earth's surface at the local, state, national, and international levels (e.g., transnational corporations, political alliances, economic groupings, world religions) Standard 17. Level III. Understands how geography is used to interpret the past 2. Knows historic and current conflicts and competition regarding the use and allocation of resources (e.g., the conflicts between Native Americans and colonists; conflicts between the Inuit and migrants to Alaska since 1950) 4. Knows significant physical features that have influenced historical events (e.g., mountain passes that have affected military campaigns such as the Khyber Pass, Burma Pass, or Brenner Pass; major water crossings that have affected U.S. history such as the Tacoma Strait in Washington or the Delaware River near Trenton, New Jersey; major water gaps, springs, and other hydrologic features that have affected settlement in the U.S. such as the Cumberland Gap, the Ogallala Aquifer, or the artesian wells of the Great Plains)
Historical Understanding
Standard 2. Level III. Understands the historical perspective 2. Analyzes the influence specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history

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: Reading Informational Text

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

English Language Arts Standards: History/Social Studies

Grade 6-8

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.3 Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

Craft and Structure:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.10 By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.


Students will do the following:
  • analyze how people have used design to express political beliefs
  • design an item to call attention to an issue


  • National Archives Website
  • Smithsonian Press Website
  • "Power of Persuasion" Worksheet


  • a variety of art supplies and materials based on students' designs


Building Background Political Artifacts

The purpose of this activity is to provide an opportunity for students to examine how design has been used by governments and individuals to convey political messages. 1. Share and discuss the following political artifacts with your students: 2. The following questions might be helpful to stimulate a discussion: How does the item deliver its message? What emotions does the item convey? Is the item effective in communicating its message? How do the colors or materials used in the creation of the item reinforce its message? What effect might this item have had on people of different ages and backgrounds living in the given time period?

Steps for Learning Design a Statement

In this activity, students will design an item with the intention of persuading a particular group of people or the population as a whole to take a certain action.  This activity may be shaped to fit the specific needs of a variety of topics and subject areas. 1. Ask students to design an item to call attention to a specific cause or event. Their intention might be to educate or raise awareness regarding a situation of which people are unaware. Listed below are a few specific ideas of how this activity can be used. These are suggestions, but the activity can be use in a wide variety of topics and subjects. History Possible topics for a history class might include the following:
  • Rome's major problems during the Roman Republic
  • Conflict of ideas between the Judeo-Christian system of values and the Classical Greco-Roman system during the Renaissance and Reformation
  • Opposite views of patriots and the loyalists regarding the decision to break away from England
  • Child labor during the industrial revolution
  Geography Possible topics for a geography class might include the following:
  • AIDS in Africa
  • Land conservation
  • Refugees
  • Scarcity of water
  Civics Possible topics for a civics class might include the following:
  • Local issues in your community
  • Tolerance
  • Urging people to vote
  • Poverty
  2. Before beginning the activity, brainstorm with your class a list of ideas for items that they might create for this activity. The following are a few suggestions to get you started: poster, quilt patch, t-shirt, coffee mug, postcard, button, jewelry, ceramic plate, placemat, hat, etc. 3. Have students complete the "Power of Persuasion" worksheet as they design their item. 4. Have the students create their item as a homework assignment. If students don't have access to some of the materials in their design plan, you may choose to have a class brainstorming session to discuss where they might find the needed materials.


-How effective is your design in communicating your message? Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor-How effective is your design in conveying emotions? Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor-How well did the colors and materials you used reinforce your message? Excellent             Good            Adequate            PoorWould you have done anything differently? Explain. List three things you learned while completing this assignment.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Share Your Work
Display students work in the library or other areas of the school.

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