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Fossils Lesson Plan

Author: Jeffrey Cornwall

Year: 2015

Artform: Visual Art

Subjects: Science

Grade: 5th

Duration: 2-3 Sessions

Overview: Fossils are amazing discoveries. Many of the things we know about the past are a result of fossils. Think about the dinosaurs. We have never met a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Triceratops and yet we know so much about them. They are relics of the past. For this project, students can choose what type of fossils they would like to make.

One group was inspired by the geological time scale. It was decided that the oldest students would create fossils from the oldest geologic time periods and the youngest students in the class for the newest periods. Another class created modern day fossils, asking the question, “In a million years, what would people find from my lifetime?” This led to all sorts of technology based fossils. The last group thought it would be fun to create a full dinosaur with each student creating a piece. They chose a Brachiosaurus.

Standards and Objectives

Brainstorm multiple approaches to a creative art or design problem.

Collaboratively set goals and create artwork that is meaningful and has purpose to the makers.

Through observation, infer information about time, place, and culture in which a work of art was created.
Students will understand how fossils are formed, where they may be found in Utah, and how they can be used to make inferences.

Identify features of fossils that can be used to compare them to living organisms that are familiar (e.g., shape, size and structure of skeleton, patterns of leaves).

Explain how fossils can be used to make inferences about past life, climate, geology, and environments.
  • Consider the purpose of relief sculpture
  • Identify bas, high, and sunken relief sculpture
  • Investigate ideas of what is left behind



Begin the lesson by reviewing fossils. Discuss how fossils are made and the different types of fossils. Transition into a lecture/discussion on relief sculpture relating the history and usage of relief sculpture. Identify the differences between bas, high and sunken relief. Introduce the idea of modern day fossils by showing students the artwork of Christopher Locke. Locke creates fossils of outdated modern technologies such as floppy disks, old cell phones, and boom boxes. Discuss with students how technology changes so rapidly that even recent technologies of a decade ago can seem as ancient as dinosaur bones.

After discussing these ideas, ask students about the possibilities for fossils that they can make. The two general types they will probably suggest are ancient and modern. If choosing ancient fossils, students can consider the geologic time scale which includes periods of time when organisms evolved, including the Jurassic period, Devonian period, Cretaceous period, etc. If choosing modern fossils, have students think about their possessions and consider what they might leave behind for a future generation to discover. Encourage students to think and investigate about what types of materials could be fossilized.

Using their sketchbook or a piece of paper, have students brainstorm ideas for their fossils. Allow students access to resources such as books, handouts, or the Internet to help them plan and inform their artwork. Especially for ancient fossils, students should have the opportunity to discover the variety of ancient organisms.


Students will need to be shown some techniques in preparing and carving the drywall to create their fossils. Explain to students the structure of the drywall; that there is plaster sandwiched on either side by paper. One side of the paper needs to be removed to access the plaster to carve. Using the spray bottle, moisten one side of paper. Begin peeling off the paper. Once all the wet layers of the paper are removed, spray again and continue to remove the paper. Repeat until all the paper is removed.

Once the paper is removed, a pencil can be used to draw the fossil onto the plaster. Once the drawing is complete, use the spray bottle to dampen the plaster. Carve away the large areas around the drawing first with the craft stick. This should result in a block shape of the fossil. Carve about halfway through the plaster. Carving too deep can result in cracking. Getting the plaster too wet can also result in cracking. Once the large areas are carved away, use the skewer and tooth picks to create details in the fossil. Carving details can easily be done even after the plaster has dried out for subsequent classes.

A good measure for students in the quality and craftsmanship of their work is having them see if other students can identify their fossil. The final step is to paint the fossil. Especially for the modern fossils, help students realize that a fossil is usually made of compressed stone and not the original material. Thus the color for their fossil should be neutral colors like browns and grays.

  • How are fossils formed?
  • How do fossils help us learn?
  • Why would an artist choose to use relief sculpture?
  • What do we, as humans, leave behind?
  • What might future generations learn about the things we leave behind?
  • Bas Relief
  • High Relief
  • Sunken Relief
  • Mold
  • Cast
  • Geologic Time Scale
  • Unakoti Bas-Relief Sculptures
  • Sunken Relief at Luxor Temple in Egypt
  • Madonna and Child, unknown north Italian sculptor, 1500
  • Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1884
  • Jeff Nishinaka - Paper Sculptor
  • Christopher Locke - Modern Fossils series


  • Dry Wall/Sheet Rock
  • Craft sticks
  • Wood Skewers/Toothpicks
  • Spray Bottles
  • Tempera Paint