HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

Pueblo Storytellers in Model Magic

I first began teaching this lesson a few years before I saw this awesome compilation of resources from the Kennedy Center Arts Edge program. Talk about doing the work for you!

The “Overview”, “Engage” and “Build Knowledge” sections contain fabulous background information and photo resources to share with your students.  It even includes an area for peer evaluation as well as a rubric for you. What I’m going to cover here is the “Application” section, which I feel is lacking on the website.  I will break down into easy steps for you to show your students.

This lesson and awesome resources found here.

Instead of an air dry clay, I have used Crayola’s model magic for this project with great success.  However, you could absolutely do this with kiln fired clay.

In my experience, air dry clay does not work well with forms such as this so I’d recommend going the model magic route if you are without a kiln. A tip about model magic; it is often too soft right out of the package so open the packages ahead of time (still the same day though) and allow some air exposure to create a little stiffness.

As this artwork is all about storytelling, why not incorporate a book into the lesson? Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott is a “Pueblo Indian Tale” and Caldecott award book.

  Image result for arrow to the sun

If you prefer to show a video of the book, this is a very well done video with nice reading by Maestro Reads: https://youtu.be/uSpxjCB07AA

This link is for an animated short film of the story, which though old, has fascinating imagery and transformation.  It is mostly without words though so think of what level of engagement you’ll need with your class.  https://youtu.be/73GbxEhyS6A

Now, on to the good stuff! Here is the procedure on building a Storyteller doll. Your time frame is about 3-4 classes.  That's based on my own forty minute classes.  You'll need the following materials.


Model Magic- white or tan *if you buy tan then you want have to paint skin color
About 9-10 packages for a class of twenty
Tempera paints
Black Sharpies
Wax paper


  • Prep model magic packages to hand out to students. Open all the packages, use scissors to cut it into thirds. This will become the body.
  • On each piece, use your scissors to cut one line down the middle(legs) and one diagonal slit on each side(arms).
  • Cut one whole package into small squares to be rolled into head shapes (can use for the whole class)

I like to use my under the bed style plastic totes for the prep, then I can do it ahead of time and not worry about dry out. I also make a tray for each table that contains the wax paper squares as a mats, toothpicks and head pieces

  • You’ll need more model magic for the ‘listeners’.
  • Demonstrate then pass out the bodies to students.  Students will need to stretch the arms and legs just a bit. The great thing about model magic is that if the kids break anything off by mistake it’s not hard to re-roll an arm or leg and stick it back on.
  • Bend up the end of the legs to create feet
  • Students will stick a toothpick or two in the body and roll and head before attaching the two.
  • The kids will be really excited at this point! Remind them that clothes will be painted on.  Right now, there might be a lot of laughter over their lack of covering!
  • Students now need to create the face. A simple method for this is to poke the eye holes with a pencil point, pinch out a small nose and again use a pencil point to sculpt an open storytelling mouth.
  • Walk around and put more pre-cut chunks down on the trays for students to make the babies/listeners.
  • Students can shape these with their fingers, although the cutting technique can work well with the smaller figures as well. Swaddled babies can be made by just rolling and oval with a head.
  • Students have fun placing the “listeners” around the storyteller.  I like to have the students go back and review the Pueblo sculpture examples to note all the different positions of the listeners.  This is also a key time for discussion. How can we show this figure is listening and not talking? What makes a good listener/audience?
  • After this review students have free reign to place listeners where they wish. At this time, some artists choose to add sculpted hair, skirts and jewelry to the storyteller figures as well.   I do recommend using the toothpicks to attach listeners not directly placed on the lap- a shoulder dweller for example!
  • Use sharpie to gently write name and class on the bottom of the legs.
  • Allow the pieces to dry propped up against something. Again, I like to use those under the bed plastic totes or other paper box lids. Keep them on wax paper so they don’t stick.
  • Prep paint for the following class: varieties of tan,burnt oranges, blues, browns
  • The following week, begin by using Elmer’s glue to secure any loose parts. Remind students that any tiny dry model magic pieces will be fragile.
  • Students should paint the skin color areas first (ignoring any facial features) with an even, thin coat of paint
  • They should do their best to let this dry before they paint other colors. It doesn’t take long with model magic, but a thin coat is key.
  • Paint the clothing and then allow the sculpture to dry.
  • To finish off the faces, have the students use sharpies to make the eye sockets darker, as well as the open mouth.  Eyebrows and eyelashes also become a possibility as well as clothing details.  
  • Double check that the name on the bottom is still clear!


When all the pieces are finished, try out the peer assessment tool from the Kennedy Center Arts Edge, (http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/lessons/grade-3-4/Listening_Doll) which asks students to reflect on the following:

-How did the artist express "listening" in the doll (Look at pose, expression, color,
clothes, etc.)?
-Can you tell by looking at the expression and pose of the doll what kind of a story it is hearing?
I add in the questions: 

In your life, when do you hear stories?
What makes a good listener?
When you are in class or in an assembly, how do you show that you are listening? 

This could be written or oral. I think it would be a good think, pair, share activity. Then I would choose a few students to share with the class as a kind of exit slip.
To modify this project for students of varying ability, I always recommend providing a visual directions sheet. Of course, you must always consider the individual needs of your particular students. This is speaking generally.  For visual aide you could use my step by step photo collage as a tool.  I would also build an example under the document camera if available or flip this lesson? Great for everyone.  Differentiated instruction is the way to go!
I really recommend showing only two to three steps at a time and allow their sculpture to be authentic.

I hope you've enjoyed this post. If you teach this to your own students I'd love to see photos! share with me on Istagram @emily_art_teacher_smile