Masterpieces and the Mass-Produced

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, October 10, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design History

Subject Area

  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

One fifty-minute class period, one homework assignment


In this activity students examine "masterpieces" and mass-produced objects as they discuss humankind's inventiveness and creativity. They will also analyze the role of problem solving in the creation of masterpieces and mass-produced items.

National Standards

Language Arts
Standard 1. Level IV. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 6. Uses strategies to adapt writing for different purposes (e.g., to explain, inform, analyze, entertain, reflect, persuade) 7. Writes expository compositions (e.g., synthesizes and organizes information from first- and second-hand sources, including books, magazines, computer data banks, and the community; uses a variety of techniques to develop the main idea [names, describes, or differentiates parts; compares or contrasts; examines the history of a subject; cites an anecdote to provide an example; illustrates through a scenario; provides interesting facts about the subject]; distinguishes relative importance of facts, data, and ideas; uses appropriate technical terms and notations) Standard 2. Level IV. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing 1. Uses precise and descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas and supports different purposes (e.g., to stimulate the imagination of the reader, to translate concepts into simpler or more easily understood terms, to achieve a specific tone, to explain concepts in literature) Standard 8. Level IV. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 1. Uses criteria to evaluate own and others' effectiveness in group discussions and formal presentations (e.g., accuracy, relevance, and organization of information; clarity of delivery; relationships among purpose, audience, and content; types of arguments used; effectiveness of own contributions) 3. Uses a variety of strategies to enhance listening comprehension (e.g., focuses attention on message, monitors message for clarity and understanding, asks relevant questions, provides verbal and nonverbal feedback, notes cues such as change of pace or particular words that indicate a new point is about to be made; uses abbreviation system to record information quickly; selects and organizes essential information) 4. Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes (e.g., to defend a position, to entertain, to inform, to persuade)

Common Core Standards

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes1:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

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.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

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.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.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will do the following:
  • compare and contrast the value of masterpieces and mass-produced items
  • analyze how the inventive and creative nature of humans is expressed in objects they produce
  • analyze and explain in writing the value of a specific masterpiece and mass-produced item


  • photographs of a variety of masterpieces, such as buildings, paintings, jewelry, etc.
  • photographs of a variety of interesting mass-produced objects, such as glasses, airplanes, clothing, etc.


Masterpiece 1. An outstanding work of art or craft. 2. Something superlative of its kind. Mass-produced To manufacture in large quantities, often by or as if by assembly-line techniques. (The American Heritage Dictionary)


Building Background What do we Value?

The purpose of this activity is to examine the value of both masterpieces and mass-produced items.

1. Write the following definitions on the board:


1. An outstanding work of art or craft.

2. Something superlative of its kind.


To manufacture in large quantities, often by or as if by assembly-line techniques.

(The American Heritage Dictionary)

2. Discuss these two definitions. Show the class photographs and/or actual masterpiece and mass-produced items.

3. Involve students in a discussion about the values of both masterpieces and mass-produced items. The following questions may be used to initiate the discussion:

  • Why was/is this object valued?
  • How does the object reflect the creativity or inventiveness of the creator?
  • What problem might have been addressed or solved by the creation of this object?
  • Do you think both masterpieces and mass-produced items should be valued equally?

Steps for Learning Masterpiece and Mass-produced Items

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to analyze a masterpiece and a mass-produced item.

1. As a homework assignment in preparation for this activity, ask students to bring in a mass-produced object that they value. Tell students to write a brief paragraph that explains why they value the object.

Teacher Note: In advance, prepare copies of images of masterpieces. Be sure to have a minimum of one masterpiece for each group of students.

2. Divide the class into small groups. Have each group choose at least one copy of a masterpiece that they are drawn to.  Tell groups to do the following:

  • Discuss why they value the masterpiece.
  • Have each group member share the mass-produced object they selected and the reasons why they value it.
  • Discuss the creativity and problem solving that was required to create the masterpiece and the mass-produced objects.

3. Ask the students to generate a list of the top three reasons why masterpieces should be valued and another top-three list that states why mass-produced items should be valued.

4. After the groups have finished, have them share their images and their top-three lists with the entire class.


Ask students to respond to these questions.1. What did you learn about the value of masterpieces and mass-produced items during this assignment? 2. What did you learn about the inventive and creative nature of humans during this assignment? 3. How creative do you think humans are in finding ways to invent objects that solve problems?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Share Your Knowledge
Create a presentation based on students' work regarding the value of masterpieces and mass-produced objects and share it with another class.

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