Traditional Mexican Paper Cutting: A Math Lesson
Students learn about the cultural tradition of Mexican paper cutting, using their math skills to make ABAB patterns.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
- Unit Plan:
Students will learn about Mexican paper cutting and making patterns.
- Learn that the art form of paper cutting is from Mexico
- Identify and make an ABAB pattern
- Make a Mexican paper cutting
- Red, white, and green tissue paper, 15 1/2- (vertical) by 20-inch (horizontal); directions for folding the tissue are below in Set Up and Prepare
- Rolled up construction paper (horizontally)
- KWL chart
- Look What Came From Mexico by Miles Harvey and Colors of Mexico by Lynn Ainsworth Olawsky
- Cut out green triangles, red squares, and white circles
- Paper clips
- Yarn or rope
Set Up and Prepare
- Gather 15 1/2- by 20-inch sheets of tissue paper in green, red, and white (the colors of the Mexican flag). Fold the tissue paper in half, then fold in half again, and finally fold in half a third time. This should result in a rectangular shape.
- KWL chart: K = what you know, W = what you want to learn, L = what you learned. Write this on chart paper and divide it into three sections: K W L
Reproducible: KWL Chart (PDF)
- For each student, roll one 12- by 18-inch piece of construction paper horizontally.
Step 1: Begin this unit by doing a KWL chart with the class. Ask the students "What do you know about Mexico?" Then ask the students "What would you like to learn about Mexico?" (Accessing prior knowledge is so important because it is one way to drive your instruction of the unit. When writing down the students' responses, I always write their names next to what they said and I try to include a quick draw. Not only does it improve their self-esteem, but it's also a great resource for the students to look at during journal time.)
Step 2: Read the book Look What Came From Mexico by Miles Harvey. Afterward, see if any of the questions can be answered from the KWL chart and if so list the answers under the L part of the chart. ("What did you learn?")
Step 3: Focus on Mexican folk art. Show the students an example of a Mexican paper cutting. Discuss what they see in the cutting: color, patterns, and shapes. Play the pattern stomp game with the students. Place a red triangle down on the ground and then a green square, red triangle, green square, etc. Have the students stand in line and say the pattern as they are stomping on the shape. Add a white circle into the pattern. This exposure will be beneficial to the students later, when they are making patterns with their tissue paper.
Step 4: Model cutting the tissue paper with the students. I draw an ABAB pattern onto the tissue paper, all around the paper's edges. Then cut out the pattern with scissors. I usually cut triangle, square, triangle, square. Then I fold the tissue paper in half and along the fold of the tissue paper I cut more little triangles and squares.
Step 5: Open the tissue paper to its original size. The students are amazed to see how beautiful the paper cutting came out!
Step 6: Give each student their favorite color tissue paper and have them do what you just modeled. (Have many extras prepped just in case a student needs another one.)
Step 7: Tape the paper cutting horizontally to the rolled up construction paper. Put a piece of yarn through the hole of the construction paper roll. Tie the yarn at the top.
Step 1: Read the book Colors of Mexico by Lynn Ainsworth Olawsky. Discuss which one was their favorite color. When the students are at centers, call back each student one at a time to tell you something that they've learned about Mexico.
Step 2: Type up the students' responses and glue each response to the student's paper cutting. When all is finished open a paper clip and attach it to the yarn so that you can hang the paper cuttings from your classroom ceiling.
Supporting All Learners
To meet different learning styles I would have some students make a more difficult pattern around the edges of the tissue paper.
- Read Hooray, A Piñata! Make a piñata out of a cereal box and tissue paper.
- Make an interesting fact journal about Mexico. As you read stories about Mexico, have the students choose an interesting fact that they learned and record it in their journals.
- Learn about the meaning of the colors in the Mexican flag.
- Have a guest speaker come in to teach the students how to make traditional Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, tortillas, and tostadas.
- Create a Mexican hands-on museum with chia pets, marionette puppets, Day of the Dead sugar skulls, traditional clothing that the students can wear, pictures about Mexico, dancing skeleton toys, tiles, instruments, clay animals, wooden dolls, and fabric.
- Teach the students the Mexican Hat Dance.
- Read Nino's Mask. Make masks and role play the story.
- Show pictures of the pyramids in Mexico. Have the student create a pyramid out of legos.
- Grow corn or squash.
- Explore the different habitats in Mexico.
- Have a taste test, and then sort and graph different fruits and vegetables from Mexico.
- Learn songs in Spanish by Nati Cano's Mariachi Los Camperos or Jose-Luis Orozco.
- Do a Venn diagram with the two stories "The Little Red Ant" and "The Giant Crumb" retold by Shirley Climo and "The Goat in the Chili Patch" by Lada Josefa Kratky (a reoccurring theme in Mexican folklore is that you don't have to be big to be strong).
- From sheep to yarn to looms to floor, explain the process of rug making.
Practice using different types of paper when making the Mexican Paper Cuttings.
Were the students able to work independently while cutting their tissue paper? Did the students have difficulty making a pattern on their paper cuttings?
- Can the students respond to the question about what they learned about Mexico?
- Did the students follow directions when making their paper cuttings?
- Can the students identify a pattern in their paper cuttings?