Designing A Mythical Creature

By kat corrigan, January 27, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Science


Humans have always desired answers to their questions, especially the inexplicable ones.  Many cultures have created myths and legends to explain natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, land structures, physical anomalies, and other such non-human controlled elements.  I wanted my students to develop an understanding of how and why people designed mythical beasts to answer some of these questions. Today's world also includes unanswerable questions that students (and adults) want answers to. In this lesson, students will brainstorm a list of happenings, problems, issues, and conundrums of the modern world that need some explanation.  They will then design creatures to answer, fix, address, or explain the situation, and will ultimately sculpt and paint representations of their creatures.

National Standards

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.)


Students will:
  • be able to recognize explanatory myths and why human cultures require them
  • design a creature that fits an explanation of a natural phenomena or a natural disaster, or possibly a terrible accident
  • demonstrate an understanding of the concept of "myth" and "legend" by writing up a fictional one for their design


This is an amazing site from the American Museum of Natural History, covering different cultures' versions of mythical creatures:   This site at The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a wide variety of mythological creatures from many cultures and time periods
  • Barnum and Bailey Circus posters
  • various books on Greek mythology
  • a variety of Harry Potter movies: I showed a few special effects clips from them depicting the griffin, Cerebus, and other strange creatures.


  • laptops for research, with access to the internet
  • student journals
  • drawing paper
  • pencils
  • newspaper
  • masking tape
  • paper mache
  • paper bags
  • paint
  • colored paper
  • wire
  • beads
  • string
  • pipe cleaners
  • foil


Day 1: 1. Have students join in a group brainstorm of all the mythical creatures they know.  List on the board. 2. Select a few of the suggestions and discuss what real animals these creatures could have been mistaken for, or which could have been combined to create them.  Discuss creatures that are still debated, such as Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster.  Ask: Why do people argue about their existence?  What other possibilities are there to explain their sightings?  How do these creatures fulfill some people's lives? 3. Next, have students go to the American Museum of Natural History Web site.  They are to find four creatures they've never heard of before and explain them in their journal.  This is to expand their understanding of composite creatures beyond our western culture.  Require them to find creatures from other countries.  Also have them look up the Mermaid in Barnum's circus.  Ask them to explain what they think it really is.  (A mummified monkey stitched to the back end of a fish carcass.) Day 2: 1. Using the info the students gathered the day before, lead a discussion about WHY people  invent creatures.  What purpose do they fulfill? 2. Brainstorm natural disasters, unusual phenomena, accidents.  Explain Godzilla and some of his adversaries like Mothra and  Rodan who developed out of pollution or nuclear accidents.  Talk about hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, tsunamis (we've had plenty examples in the last decade). 3. List a large number of these, and then require each student to select one as their basis for this project.  Students will write their selection in their journals, explaining the disaster and then writing quick little brain-teasers of ideas for a creature that caused the disaster or averted it, or came and rescued people from it. 4. Have students break into groups of three or four and share their disaster-creature brain-teaser ideas.  Using the group as a resource, students will gather information about the effects of their chosen disaster on a population, asking their group for feedback as to HOW their creature can be interpreted in the context of the disaster.  For example, the Indonesian tsunami had a world-wide impact, which could be understood and explained as the result of a malignant evil creature, or as an effect of a benign but unaware creature. 5. Students will use the collected information to begin designing their mythical creature.  The creature should include parts from at least three actual animals, and must include a fantastic and  unlikely appendage, such as a screw-nose, whip tail, or legs from branches.  No idea is too fantastic! 6. Students should begin sketching out their ideas. Day 3: 1. Demonstrate how to sculpt in newspaper and masking tape, rolling crumpled paper into solid shapes and then taping them securely.  Then have the students create their own creatures in this way.  (Note: Bodies and heads should be tightly rolled around a crumpled core, as if rolling up a submarine sandwich.  Legs and tails should be twisted tightly and taped against the twist.  Flat round pads crumpled into themselves work well as hips, large ears, necks.  All tape should go across the joins, not along them, and avoid using too much tape as the mache won't stick as well to the tape as to the paper.  Don't have an entire creature formed of masking tape.  Also include an appendage made of an alternate material, for example, legs of branches, plastic cutlery for antlers, wings made of plastic cups.) Day 4: 1. The Students should now paper mache their sculptures using newspaper for the first layer. Tell them to be sure to completely cover the creature, smoothing the newspaper over the animal to show the details of the form.  They should then do a layer of paper bag, which is tougher and will maintain the shape.  If there is time, they should do a layer of white paper; I often use recyling for this step. Day 5: 1. Paint and Elaborate: I had several students who completed paper mache-ing ahead of others, so they used their laptops and the internet to research decorative techniques of other cultures, particilarily the Oaxaca carved wooden animals from Mexico.  These students created a short slide show using the images and information they found, and we presented this to the rest of the class for inspiration in finishing their designs. 2. Using the purpose of their creature as their main influence, the students pencil in decorative ideas on their creatures' bodies.  Symbols, patterns, and shapes are painted in.  Students also can use yarn, fabric, patterned paper, or whatever else is in the scrap box to glue on and add to their forms. Day 6: 1. Students finish up their creatures. The final step is to write and illustrate their creatures’ histories, including the natural disaster they caused or averted. 2. Using the photo-booth option on their laptops, students set their animals up in position against a created backdrop.  They are required to include at least three photos.  Digital cameras could be used as well. 3. They are required to write at least a page-long history, including where their creature was discovered, what disaster/incident appeared to bring it to being, the use of its unusual appendage, how it was captured (if that occurred), and any other information they choose to include. 4 . All of the creatures should be displayed in in the classroom or elsewhere in the school. The histories should be hung on the wall near the creatures.  As a class, the students should inspect each other's work and write comments on at least six of their classmates' finished designs.  Post-its should be used so the comments can be posted near the histories.    


Students' success is determined by observation, by completion of the project, by participation in class discussions and in class.  I differentiate by grouping students of similar ability together, since this seems to stimulate them into competing in a more friendly and encouraging way.  Sometimes the low-ability students won't even try if they are near a high-ability student. There is a rubric for grading student works.    

Enrichment Extension Activities

Our school is named after St. Mark, whose symbol is a winged lion, which is a mythological creature if I ever saw one.  I want to have all the students participate in making a large concrete lion with a mosaic skin for out in front of our school.  I would need to get  community support in that I don't have any of the equipment to do such a project and would need quite a bit of advice, but I know my students would really get into it.    

Teacher Reflection

With the exception of one student who had mono during the project, all students were successful in completing both their creature's initial design project, and in writing a history. I would love to have the students do a 30-second animation of their finished creature in i-Movie for their history.  The creatures really deserve to be seen more widely than I was able to provide.  I would like to see if I can get them into a local coffee shop for an art show, or have the eighth graders use them as a Science Fair type project, where we would set the creatures up on tables in paper cages and invite other classes to see them.  The students would then be the "experts" about their "discovery".  This could tie in closely with a study in Science on natural history.    
  1. Thinking about ‘designing’ a mythical creature that symbolizes certain phenomena is quite an engaging topic for students. Researching other cultures will be an enriching experience. A focus on natural disaster to invent a creature that’s either the cause or savior, is a nice element to the lesson.

  2. I love the idea about giving students an opportunity to “design creatures to answer, fix, address, or explain the situations”. Utilizing the design-based thinking approach allows them to deeply explore and critically think about their own ideologies as well as present them in a visual manner with tangible materials. It gives them a platform to recognize and explore their concerns, frustrations, intrigue, and questions about natural phenomenon that occurs outside our control.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.