Visually United

By Teresita Herrera, December 14, 2010

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

260 minutes for classroom activities


When our nation was created, the revolutionaries needed an emblem and national coat of arms to give visible evidence of a sovereign nation and a free people with high aspirations, grand hopes for the future, and a powerful symbol of unity in a crucial time.

In order for students to understand the importance of this emblem – the Great Seal – students are expected to know the causes, effects, results, and critical figures and events surrounding the creation of this symbol.

As a result of this social studies lesson, students will have a greater understanding of how the Great Seal came about and how it was designed, who played an important role in its creation, the meaning behind its symbols, the difficulty of compromise, and the Great Seal’s uses throughout history.

Students will achieve the curriculum standards and other expected outcomes by creating a new kind of graphic that applies to a similar challenge in the 21st century.  Students will need to decide the purpose of the graphic and what means of delivery they will use to convey their message.

National Standards

Common Core Literacy for Other Subjects Strand Reading for History/Social Studies Grades 6-8     RH.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.  RH.6-8.7. Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.  Common Core English Language Arts Strand Speaking and Listening Grade 6-8 SL.6.1., SL.7.1 & SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. SL.6.5., SL.7.5 & SL.8.5  Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.

Visual Arts 1. Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts 3. Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts 4. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures


Standard 9.  Level II. Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy

4.  Knows how various symbols are used to depict Americans’ shared values, principles, and beliefs and explain their meaning (e.g., the flag, the Statue of Liberty, Statue of Justice, Uncle Sam, great seal, national anthem, oaths of office, mottoes such as E Pluribus Unum).

Historical Understanding

Standard 2.  Level III. Understands the historical perspective

2. Analyzes the influence specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history


Students will be able to:

  • understand the purpose of the Great Seal of the United States
  • explain the design and the process of the creation of the Great Seal
  • identify and explain the meaning behind the symbols found in the Great Seal
  • create a visual graphic that applies to a challenge currently facing the 21st century
  • decide the purpose of the graphic and what means of delivery they will use to convey their message



  • handout – “The Great Seal: A Reading”
  • handout – “The Great Seal of the United States”
  • handout – “The Design Process”
  • white paper (copy, butcher, or oak tag board)
  • crayons
  • pencils
  • markers
  • pastels
  • scissors
  • cardboard
  • glue/glue sticks
  • Post-it notes


  • annuity coeptis: Latin phrase meaning “He (God) has favored our undertakings”
  • coat of arms: a heraldic bearings of a person, family, or corporation
  • constellation: a group or configuration of ideas, feelings, characteristics, objects, etc.
  • E Pluribus Unum: the Latin motto of the United States, meaning “out of many one”
  • emblem: a sign, design, or figure that identifies or represents something
  • the Enlightenment: a philosophical movement of the 18th century, characterized by belief in the power of human reason and by innovations in political, religious, and educational doctrine
  • Eye of Providence: the “all-seeing eye” symbol found on the Great Seal
  • heraldry: a coat of arms
  • intangible: not definite or clear to the mind
  • motto: a sentence, phrase, or word expressing the spirit or purpose of a person, organization, city, etc., and often inscribed on a badge, banner, etc.
  • Novus Ordo Seclorum: Latin phrase meaning “a new order for the ages”
  • olive branch: a branch of an olive tree which is seen as an emblem of peace
  • talon: a claw, especially of a bird of prey
  • zenith: a highest point or state; a culmination


Step 1: (15 minutes)

1. Students will be asked what symbols, items, or people they believe represent the United States with the teacher writing the responses on the board.

Step 2: (45 minutes)

1. After discussing the students’ answers, the class will then take an in-depth look at the Great Seal using the handout provided (or, if you have the facilities to do so, viewing it projected on a screen).

2. Students will then read the handout “The Great Seal: A Reading” as a class, with the teacher highlighting and clarifying the information found in the article.

3. The teacher should use the “Great Seal of the United States” handout while students are reading and ask students to identify the symbols found in the Great Seal and their meaning.  Important vocabulary terms, as listed above, will be discussed as well.

Step 3: (10 minutes)

1. Once the article has been discussed, the objectives of the lesson and the directions of the design challenge will be given to the students.

2. Explain to the class that they are going to create a new kind of graphic that applies to a similar challenge in the 21st century using the original Seal as an inspiration.  Students will need to decide the purpose of the graphic and what means of delivery they will use to convey their message. (For example:  phone app, welcome screen, LED display, commercial, “old school” movie preview, etc.)

Step 4: (20 minutes)

1. Divide the class into heterogeneous groups.  Every group must then complete a design process worksheet where every member of the group must contribute to the design activities.  Remind students that they:

  • are going to create a new kind of graphic that applies to the 21st century using the original seal as an inspiration
  • need to decide the purpose of the graphic
  • need to come to a decision about the means of delivery they would use to convey their message
  • must choose which issue they wish to tackle
  • must plan how they are going to solve the issue

2. Have students go through the following steps in their groups:

a) REVIEW the challenge.  Define the challenge in your own words.  Be sure to include any problems or opportunities present in the challenge. (Students should analyze the question thoroughly and figure out what it is they need to do to tackle the problem).

b) INVESTIGATE the problem.  Gather and analyze information from prior knowledge, books, the Internet, and textbooks. (Have students do some research on symbols, people, or items that represent unity and how they have been used historically.  Have them identify the items and present them to their group.)

c) FRAME/REFRAME the problem.  Rethink, reexamine, and redefine the challenge and its problems.  Did you identify the correct problems?  If not, rethink it, and redefine it. (Have students go back and revisit the challenge.  They need to decide whether or not they are still headed in the right direction or need to change their original idea).

d) GENERATE possible solutions.  Show your ideas on a separate piece of paper. (Each group should generate several possible solutions.  They should then discuss them as a group using Post-it notes listing the pros and cons of each idea).

e) EDIT and DEVELOP ideas.  Choose the design ideas with the most potential and create a prototype through writing a modern Great Seal of the United States. (Groups should then select the idea they believe best fits the challenge of a visual graphic that applies to a challenge currently facing the 21st century and create a prototype of it).

f) SHARE and EVALUATE your ideas.  Each group should quickly present their prototypes to the teacher and make any needed adjustments.

Step 5: (60 minutes)

1. Students will then be asked to create a rough draft where they will input their design ideas using the supplies given to them.

2. Students need to make sure that they consult with the teacher so it can be assured that they are headed in the right direction.

Step 6: (15 minutes)

1. Let students know that they have five minutes to finalize their drafts and start practicing their presentations.  At this point, the groups should be ready to finalize their visual graphics.

2. The groups will take this time to practice their presentations and fix any issues they may have.  Remind students that it should be clear in their presentation as to how they arrived at their final solution.

Step 7: (30 to 40 minutes)

1. Each group gives a brief presentation.


The teacher should informally assess students through observation as the design process and rough draft portions of the activity are taking place.  The teacher can also assess if students are understanding the purpose and objectives of the lesson, if students are properly using cooperative learning, and if they are following directions.

Grading their design and rough draft worksheets will also assess students and evaluate how well students grasped the concepts and objectives of the lesson.

Students will be graded in the following manner:

  • 30 pts. – Final document
  • 15 pts. – Design Handout
  • 15 pts. – Rough Draft
  • 20 pts. – Understanding
  • 20 pts. – Participation
  • Total = 100 pts.

Enrichment Extension Activities

After everyone has presented their visual graphics, have students write about which presentation they believe to be the most idealistic, the most realistic, and the most likely to succeed!

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.