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Lesson Plan

Behind the Masks: Exploring Culture Through Art and Poetry

E-mail / Share / Print This Page / Print All Materials (Note: Handouts must be printed separately)

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Approximately 4–6 weeks
Lesson Author

Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon

Tucson, Arizona

Diane Roderick

Tucson, Arizona


International Literacy Association







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1. If possible, coordinate with the art teacher and teacher–librarian to teach this unit collaboratively. Decide who will be responsible for each component of the study and when sessions will be scheduled. If collaboration is possible, four weeks should suffice for teaching the unit. If you will be working alone, two additional weeks may be required to allow students sufficient time to make both the cultural and personal masks. If time is limited, you can adapt this lesson by eliminating the mask making activities or by having students draw masks instead of reproducing them.

2. Review the Cultural Masks Resources Pathfinder. Notice which cultures are well represented on the Web and which cultures will present challenges for students seeking online resources. If students search the Web independently of this pathfinder, they will discover a great many commercial mask sites (.com sites), which for the most part lack background information about the cultures from which the masks originated. The Venetian mask site, which is included on this pathfinder, is a notable exception.

3. Use the Suggested Booklist for Cultural Mask Research to gather print resources on a wide variety of cultural masks.

4. Pair images of cultural masks with selected published mask-themed poetry, paying careful attention to the relationship between the image and the mask. For example, "Aztec Mask" by Carl Sandburg can easily be paired with a photograph of an Aztec mask, which can be found in Masks and the Art of Expression (Mack, 1994). "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar can be most appropriately paired with a photograph of an African mask, which can be found in The Art of African Masks: Exploring Cultural Traditions (Finley, 1999). Both of these books are on the Suggested Booklist for Cultural Mask Research.

5. Review the Poetic Devices webpage, which includes terms, definitions, and examples of poetic devices. Note that the examples given were taken from students' mask poems. Note also the hyperlinks at the end of the page, which provide examples of published mask-themed poems.

6. Review the sample web and poem. Students will create similar webs to generate ideas for their own cultural and personal mask poems. In the web, ideas for the poem can be organized in a number of different ways. In this sample, ideas are organized by mood or tone (shown on the left), unique observations (shown at the top), physical attributes (shown on the right), and cultural uses of the mask (shown at the bottom). The mask for which this sample web and poem is based can be seen on the Mask and Poetry Museum PowerPoint slide show.

7. Review the Poems Behind the Mask: A Mask and Poetry Museum to see examples of personal masks and poems created by high school students.

8. Select a photograph of a cultural mask from the print or electronic resources provided in this lesson to use as a prompt for the shared writing of a class cultural mask poem. Make sure to also research the cultural origin of the mask and how it was originally used.

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