Tea for Two

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 24, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design History

Subject Area

  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

One fifty-minute class period


Throughout history people have designed objects that helped them connect and communicate with other people. In this activity, students will examine how certain items can link family and friends together in unique and interesting ways. Students will analyze how historic artifacts have helped people connect in the past. They will examine and write about an object in their personal life that serves this same purpose.

National Standards

Language Arts
Standard 1. Level IV. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience's background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers) 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) 10. Writes descriptive compositions (e.g., uses concrete details to provide a perspective on the subject being described; uses supporting detail [concrete images, shifting perspectives and vantage points, sensory detail, and factual descriptions of appearance]) 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) 6. Organizes ideas to achieve cohesion in writing

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.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

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.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

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.

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.

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


Students will do the following:
  • analyze how artifacts can serve to foster connections with people
  • write a description of object that has helped them connect with friends or family members


  • Internet websites


Building Background

 Artifacts that Connect People

The purpose of this activity is to provide an opportunity for students to examine how historic artifacts helped to connect people in the past. 1. Show students the photograph of the silver teapot from 1742. https://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=249 Share the following description of the item with your students: "As artifacts are made, used, and passed on, they create a web of relationships. This silver teapot, centerpiece of the social ritual of taking tea, also linked family members across generations." 2. Discuss the role that the teapot played in the life of this family. 3. Brainstorm a list of artifacts that have served to connect people throughout history.

Steps for Learning Personal Connections

In this activity, students will reflect on what objects in their everyday lives serve as vehicles to connect and communicate with friends and family members. 1. Ask students to write a description of an object that has helped link them to their friends or family members. 2. Explain to students that they need to answer the following questions in their description:
  • How would you describe the item?
  • Do you think people connected during the designing of the item?
  • Do you think people connected during the making/production of the item?
  • How has using this item helped you to connect with other people?
  • Do you think this item will create a web of relationships when it is passed on?
  3. Have students find a photograph of, or draw, a picture of the item they described. Teacher Note: Google is a good resource for finding photographs. Tell students to go to https://www.google.com/ click on the "Images" button and type in the name of the item. 4. After students have finished writing their descriptions, have them paste the description and the image of the item on a piece of construction paper. 5. Create an "Artifacts Connect People" display. 6. Before displaying students' work, you may choose to have students play a game of Twenty Questions based on the objects they described.


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their writing process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.-How effective are the ideas and content of your paper? Excellent          Good            Adequate            Poor -How effective is the organization of your paper? Excellent          Good            Adequate            Poor -How well do the details explain your topic? Excellent          Good            Adequate            Poor -How well do your reasons support your topic? Excellent          Good            Adequate            Poor - Rate how well your writing flows between topics. Excellent          Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate the grammar, spelling, and punctuation of your writing. Excellent          Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Have students interview people from previous generations about the artifacts that fostered connections in their teenage years.
  1. This is such an excellent activity. I particularly like how this project has students design their own rubric. Design within design!

    As I was reading this project, I kept thinking how this project is a good way for students to really think about how objects can be designed t evoke a response. In this project, the response is to recognize how a tea set’s design fosters community.

    I would love to incorporate this project into a larger project or use it as an activity in order to help students analyze how design causes action. Or how intended action requires a particular design.

    I would like to use this as an activity for students that would precede prototyping. Maybe after their initial brainstorm session students could complete this activity before prototyping as a way to think about design as an intentional endeavor.

    Good stuff!

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