Crystal Blue Persuasion

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

Grade Level

  • High 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 IV. Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life 1. Understands the importance of established ideals in political life and why Americans should insist that current practices constantly be compared with these ideals 3. Knows historical and contemporary efforts to reduce discrepancies between ideals and reality in American public life (e.g., union movements, government programs such as Head Start, civil rights legislation and enforcement)
Standard 13. Level IV. Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface 1. Understands how cooperation and/or conflict can lead to the allocation of control of Earth's surface (e.g., formation and delineation of regional planning districts, regional school districts, countries, free-trade zones) 6. Understands how external forces can conflict economically and politically with internal interests in a region (e.g., how the Pampas in Argentina underwent a significant socioeconomic transformation in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a consequence of European demands for grain and beef; the consequences of the French colonization of Indochina in the 19th century to procure tin, tungsten, and rubber; the friction between Hindus and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent in the 1940s which led to the formation of India and Pakistan) Standard 17. Level IV. Understands how geography is used to interpret the past 3. Understands the ways in which physical and human features have influenced the evolution of significant historic events and movements (e.g., the effects of imperialism, colonization, and decolonization on the economic and political developments of the 19th and 20th centuries; the geographical forces responsible for the industrial revolution in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; physical and human factors that have led to famines and large-scale refugee movements)
Historical Understanding
Standard 2. Level IV.  Understands the historical perspective 2. Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specifies how events might have been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs 3. Analyzes the effects that specific "chance events" had on history and specifies how things might have been different in the absence of those events 4. Analyzes the effects specific decisions had on history and studies how things might have been different in the absence of those decisions 11. Knows how to perceive past events with historical empathy

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.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

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.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

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.


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: National Archives "Powers of Persuasion Poster Art from WWII" Smithsonian Press "Jailed for freedom" pin, 1917 (U.S. Suffragists Movement) "Longest Walk" poster, 1978 (Native Americans and tribal rights) Button from March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963 Antislavery medallion, about 1787 Equal Rights Amendment charm bracelet, 1972-74 Panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, 1987 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            Poor Would 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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