Standard Lesson

Designing Elements of Story in Little Blue and Little Yellow

K - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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Through multimodal activities, students will explore key elements of design such as color, shape, size, texture, density, and layout to understand and appreciate how these elements combine to convey meaning in Little Blue and Little Yellow, by Leo Lionni. Using art and digital media, they will then create their own designs to express meaning for setting, character relationships, and plot. Students will realize how to use design elements to read images and how meaning in picture books is equally conveyed in both words and images.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

This lesson teaches young children to engage joyfully in the “cues for reading that extend beyond the letters and words on the page, demanding interpretation and interaction with the text beyond the decoding of print” (Hammerberg, 207). Hammerberg asserts that these design elements of picture books are an integral part of the meaning-making process. Similarly, this lesson builds on multimodal literacy theories. The following statements from the NCTE Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies (2005) directly apply to this lesson:

  • [Literacy] is the interplay of meaning-making systems (alphabetic, oral, visual, etc.) that teachers and students should strive to study and produce. "Multiple ways of knowing" (Short & Harste) also include art, music, movement, and drama, which should not be considered curricular luxuries.
  • All modes of communication are codependent. Each affects the nature of the content of the other and the overall rhetorical impact of the communication event itself.
  • From an early age, students are very sophisticated readers and producers of multimodal work. They can be helped to understand how these works make meaning, how they are based on conventions, and how they are created for and respond to specific communities or audiences.

Thus, in this lesson, students will learn the conventions of design as they come to realize the codependency of multiple ways of knowing to express meaning within a learning community.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access and a color printer
  • Classroom computer with projection capability and speakers
  • Freymann, S. & Elffers, J. (1999). How are you peeling? Foods with moods. New York: Scholastic. Alternatively, if you have a classroom computer with projection capability, you might download some images from the book by typing in the key phrase “How are you peeling?” in Google
  • Lionni, L. (1959). Little Blue and Little Yellow. New York: HarperCollins
  • Books about color and design (see Annotated Bibliography)
  • Art supplies: scissors, glue, primary and secondary-colored construction paper, yarn, tape, pastels or water color kits
  • A digital camera
  • Chart paper and markers




This site gives an excellent introduction to children in grades K through 5 about Leo Lionni’s life, his art work, and his children’s books. The site includes excellent printable activities and videos of Lionni’s art making process.

In this interactive game at the Curious George site of PBS Kids, students can mix colors using the primary colors and white, then fill in a coloring book of pictures from Curious George stories. This is a highly engaging computer activity for children in grades K through 3.

This site in the National Gallery of Art website provides many interactive art explorations for children. A few activities in particular encourage exploration with brushstrokes, styles, colors, movement, and overall design. These activities include Brushster, Flow, Collage Machine I and II, and Paintbox. For some of these activities, students can type descriptive passages and give their digital art work titles. They can print out their finished products. This is an excellent site for students in grades 3 through middle school.


  1. If you have a classroom computer with projection capability, then for Session 1, it would help if you have a digital camera to take photos of each group’s work with Action Phrases from Little Blue and Little Yellow. You could then return to the students’ work at other times by projecting the digital images for further analysis.
  2. Preview the website about Leo Lionni. If you have a classroom computer with projection capability and speakers, you might show some of the videos about Leo Lionni’s art making process. If you do not have this classroom technology, print out Chapter 6 under the link “About Lionni” for Session 2.
  3. If you have class laptops with Internet access and a printer, familiarize yourself with the student interactive Doodle Splash with the other websites that are recommended in this lesson for mixing and exploring colors. This will be the work of Session 3.

Student Objectives

Students will:

  • identify key design elements in images.
  • express how key design elements convey meaning of story in images.
  • explore meaning through manipulation of design elements in images, and in multiple modes and media.
  • develop aesthetic appreciation for the design decisions that Leo Lionni made in Little Blue and Little Yellow.

Session One

  1. Show images from How Are You Peeling?, by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers.
  2. For each image, first hide the words. Ask probing questions:
    • What’s going on in this picture? How can you tell? Children will usually first comment on facial expressions. Point out other design features through questioning.
    • What do you notice about how the fruit (or vegetables) are positioned? Where are there clusters of fruit (density)? Where are fruit alone? What does this mean?
    • What do you notice about the space between the fruit? What is placed closer to the viewer (foregrounded/proximal)? What is placed further away from the viewer (backgrounded/distal)? What do the relative sizes of the fruit tell you (proportion)?
  3. Reveal the words that describe the image. Ask more guiding questions: how does the positioning, the relative sizes, the space between, the foreground or background of the fruit show that meaning?
  4. List key design elements that arose during the discussion on chart paper, such as size, position, space, foreground, background, proximal, distal, density, proportion, etc. You might label copies of some pages from the book on chart paper to support students’ understanding of these terms. In the sequence of lessons, use and encourage the use of these terms, referring to this chart for support.
  5. Put children into groups of three or four students. Give each group an action phrase from Little Blue and Little Yellow. Groups may use classroom furniture for props, such as desks and chairs.
  6. Give the groups ten minutes to plan their poses that show that action, using the design concepts that you just discussed.
  7. Have groups perform their poses for the class without telling the class what their action phrase was. Have the class discuss what the group was portraying and how they can tell. Then, have the group read their action phrase. Again, ask probing questions about what the class noticed that showed that meaning in the group’s pose. If possible, take a digital photo of each group’s pose for further viewing at another time.
  8. Summarize the session’s work by pointing out how much meaning design elements give about what’s going on in a scene.


Session Two

  1. Read aloud Little Blue and Little Yellow, by Leo Lionni.
  2. Discuss what the students noticed in terms of design elements. Which concepts from the first session did they notice in Leo Lionni’s art work? Reinforce concepts such as shape, size, space, proportion, foreground and background, density, texture. For example, you might point out the ragged edges of the shapes that reveal that Leo Lionni tore the shapes from colored paper rather than cut them. What feeling do the ragged shapes give about the characters? How would we feel differently about the characters if they were cut with clean, straight lines?
  3. Visit the website about Leo Lionni and read aloud the story about how he came up with the idea for Little Blue and Little Yellow (click on the link “About Lionni,” and go to Chapter 6, “Discovering Children’s Books”).
  4. Give students pastels or watercolors to explore primary colors and color mixing to make secondary colors. Have them label each of the colors they make. For primary grade students, you might facilitate this process by first guiding them to make the three primary colors. You might then guide them to mix red and yellow, red and blue, and yellow and blue to make secondary colors. Prepare a chart as a reference that reminds the students of these combinations. Have them use primary and secondary colors to make the shapes that they saw in Little Blue and Little Yellow.
  5. If possible create a book basket of other books that explore colors, color mixing, and design. (See bibliography of titles.) Read some of these books aloud and encourage children to read these books independently. Display a color wheel in the classroom that shows the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. (If you have a classroom computer with display capabilities, you can project a color wheel from Google Images.)
  6. You might give children opportunities to explore colors on interactive websites. For primary grades, try Mix and Paint on the Curious George site of PBS Kids. For older students, try the Art Zone on the National Gallery of Art website.


Session Three

  1. Return to a few images in Little Blue and Little Yellow and discuss some key design features such as Lionni’s use of shape and size, the ragged texture of the shapes, the spacing between shapes, the proportions of the shapes, and the overall layout. Refer to the class chart of design terms as a resource. For each image, how did these design elements combine to make meaning?
  2. Give students the same action phrases from session one (see Action Phrases for Little Blue and Little Yellow). Students will now use the online interactive Doodle Splash to draw their action using basic shapes and colors as in Little Blue and Little Yellow. If you do not have laptops with wireless Internet access and a printer in your classroom, you might: (a) arrange to use the school computer lab for this session, or (b) have students hand draw the images using all the same elements of design.
  3. Students will type in (or write) their action phrases and fill in the explanation boxes. Print their work. (You might continue steps 4 through 6 later in the day, after you printed, sorted, and cut out and separated their images from their text.)
  4. Display the students’ images in one cluster. In another cluster, display the action phrases that describe the images.
  5. Students will now come up to the gallery display and try to match up the images with the phrases (with the agreement that they are not allowed to match up their own work). Connect the matches with yarn.
  6. Discuss what design elements students noticed in the images that enabled them to match the images to the description to create each scene.


Sesion Four

  1. Return to a few images in Little Blue and Little Yellow. Today focus on color mixing. Use the color wheel as a reference. Pose questions about Leo Lionni’s choice of colors and how these choices contribute to the meaning of the actions and relationships and setting on the page. For example, on the page with the action phrase, “Then they went to the park to play,” it shows a ragged forest green circle inside a long, ragged, tunnel-like olive green shape. Show the students how these are adjacent colors on the color wheel. What effect does choosing these “next door neighbor” (analogous) colors have on the meaning of the phrase? Why did Leo Lionni choose these particular colors to show playing in the park?
  2. Give students the same action phrases from Little Blue and Little Yellow (see Action Phrases for Little Blue and Little Yellow).
  3. In this session, students will use construction paper of primary and secondary colors. They will use one or two pieces of construction paper as the background. Display the color wheel, and encourage the use of “next door neighbor” (analogous) and “across town” (complementary) colors, as Leo Lionni or Lois Ehlert or Saxton Freymann and Joost Elferrs did. They will tear construction paper into basic shapes (as Leo Lionni did) of various sizes. (For primary grade students, you might prepare the shapes ahead of time for them.) They will move their shapes around the construction paper, playing with proximal and distal images, layering, density, proportion, pattern, balance, and layout to create the scene that fits with their action phrase.
  4. Students will display their unglued work at their desks with their action phrases.
  5. Tour the “gallery” with students. Discuss the design elements students used – color, layout, proportions, patterns, density, foreground, and background – to express the meaning of the action phrase. Compare to Leo Lionni’s design decisions in Little Blue and Little Yellow.
  6. Students will next return to their desks, make revisions to their designs based on the gallery tour, and glue down their shapes. They should not glue down the action phrases. (You might continue with steps 7 and 8 later in the day, after the students’ art work has dried and you had the opportunity to sort through it.)
  7. As in session three, display students’ work in one cluster, and the action phrases in another cluster. Ask students to match the phrases with the images. Connect the matches with yarn. Discuss how students figured out the matches, focusing on design elements. Display the class chart of design elements as a reference.
  8. Summarize by again discussing how design features give meaning to story elements, such as setting, character relationships, and plot.
  9. Have students write a reflection about their art work (see Design Reflection sheet). For primary grade students, you might lead this reflection as a whole class discussion and shared writing: What did you learn about designing a story?



  • Gather and share other books by Leo Lionni. Give students opportunities to explore the website about Leo Lionni, by clicking on the various links. The Activities link has excellent printable art activities that give students experiences with Leo Lionni’s art making process.
  • You might elaborate and develop students’ concepts of design and color mixing by studying the books of Mark Gonyea (see Bibliography). Add key concepts to the class chart for easy reference.
  • Upper elementary school students might write a reflection about their art work in which they describe their design decisions to express the meaning of the action phrase. They might also compare their choices with Leo Lionni’s choices for the same action phrase in Little Blue and Little Yellow.
  • For primary grade students, their art work and the action phrases would make an excellent literacy center during work time. Students could match the images with the action phrases. Write the phrase that goes with each art work on the back so students can verify their matches. You could use plastic sheet protectors for the art work and keep the phrases in an envelope for easy storage.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Observe students for their overall participation. Listen to their discussions as they participate in the group process of creating their poses. Listen to their comments during interactive read aloud of Little Blue and Little Yellow or other books about color and design, or when discussing images from How Are You Peeling? Are they using the language of design to express their thinking?
  • Notice students’ design decisions for their group pose (session 1), for their Doodle Splash work (Session 3), and for their Little Blue and Little Yellow art work (Session 4). What design elements are they integrating to convey meaning? The students’ writing on Doodle Splash (“Summary of the Text,” “Explanation of Doodle,” and “Significance of Doodle to Text”) will also provide insights about their understandings of the relationship of design to story meaning.
  • Have students write a reflection about their art work (Session 4) (see Design Reflection Sheet). For primary grade students, you might have them talk through these reflections in table conferences. Perhaps audio record these conversations for later analysis. Are they applying design concepts and expressing the connection between design and meaning in stories?
  • Observe students as they read other picture books during reading time or as they work on their own picture books during writing workshop. Are they paying attention to design as part of the meaning-making process as they read? Are they consciously using elements of design as they compose their own stories?


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