Stop Signs, Musical Notes, Letters & Logos: Designing Symbols

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, October 5, 2006

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics

Lesson Time

One or two fifty-minute class periods


Beginning readers develop an awareness of environmental print, such as the signs, logos, brand names, and other print and non print items that the children see and read in their neighborhood each day. In this activity, students will engage in active problem solving as they create a design for a symbol that tells something about their identity. Students will research symbols, draw a symbol in context, and create an original design for a symbol using clay.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level I. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
1. Draws pictures to represent problems
2. Uses discussions with teachers and other students to understand problems
Standard 5. Level I. Understands that geometric shapes are useful for representing and describing real world situations
4. Understands that patterns can be made by putting different shapes together or taking them apart
Language Arts
Standard 8. Level I. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
1. Makes contributions in class and group discussions (e.g., reports on ideas and personal knowledge about a topic, initiates conversations, connects ideas and experiences with those of others)
2. Asks and responds to questions (e.g., about the meaning of a story, about the meaning of words or ideas)
Visual Arts
Standard 2. Level I. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art
3. Uses visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques


Students will do the following:

  • use varied strategies to solve a design problem
  • explain their strategies to an audience
  • design an original symbol
  • create an oral presentation


  • computer websites


  • clay
  • drawing paper
  • paint
  • crayons, markers, colored pencils
  • pattern blocks
  • tiles
  • computer with Internet access


Building Background
Signs & Symbols Around Us 

The purpose of this activity is to have students identify examples of environmental print and symbols.

1. The Read·Write·Think Street Sign Gallery interactive at   contains an assortment of street signs. Complete the interactive on this website as a class.

2. Discuss with your students how signs and symbols have meaning. Ask your students to brainstorm examples of signs and symbols that have meaning. (For example, you might use the sign for a firehouse, a hospital, a red light, McDonalds' golden arches, the Apple computer logo, a four-leaf clover, etc.) 

Steps for Learning
A Symbol of Me

The purpose of this activity is for students to design a symbol that represents their identity.

1. Tell the students that they are going to design a symbol that tells something about them. Ask them to discuss the following questions:

  • If a person loved music, what kind of symbol might they design?
  • If a person loved baseball, what kind of symbol might they design?
  • If a person loved horses, what kind of symbol might they design?

2. Tell the class that they are going to learn about designing. Divide the class into pairs. Tell the students to discuss what kind of symbol they would like to create with their partner. Tell the students that the symbol should tell something about them. For example, it could tell about a person's family, hobby, or likes and dislikes.

3. Give the students construction paper, scissors, drawing materials, and pattern or tile blocks to experiment with as they brainstorm ideas for what their symbol might look like. Encourage the children to talk about the geometric shapes they are using in their designs.

4. Ask each student to draw a picture that contains his or her symbol.

Teacher Note: The purpose of the drawing is not simply to draw the symbol, but to provide a context. For example, a student drawing a symbol that contains a variation of a musical note might also draw an instrument to provide context.

5. After the pictures are completed, have the students share their work with their partner to ask for feedback on their symbol design.

6. Provide the students with clay and ask them to create their individual symbols.

7. After the students have created their individual designs, ask each student to share his or her design with the class. Each student should include the following in his or her oral presentation:

  • The picture of the symbol
  • The clay symbol
  • An explanation of the shapes that were used to create the symbol
  • An explanation of the meaning of the symbol
  • An explanation of how the student designed his or her symbols



Teacher Note: You may wish to complete the reflection component with your students.

-Rate how well your symbol described something about you.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

-Rate how well your picture showed the meaning of your symbol.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

-Rate your creativity.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

-Rate how well you explained your thinking to your classmates.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Symbol Wall

Have your students create a collection of symbols on a classroom wall. Encourage them to look for examples of environmental print in their daily life that they can add to the wall.

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