Let’s Get Started


Students generally love sculpting. It gives them the opportunity to work with something tangible and malleable. This is something unique, as most art classes focus  mostly on painting and drawing. In this lesson students will create a Diorama that is based on an “outdoor scene”. This lesson can be done with any type of modelling clay that will not dry out. Play-doh, store bought or homemade, and plasticine are perfect for this task.


Covering the tables with plastic sheets will save a lot of wear and tear.  This can be simple shower curtains bought at a dollar store, or more industrial rolls of plastic for craft use. If students desks are pushed together, one piece of plastic can cover multiple desks. The reason for this covering is both plasticine and play-dough leave a residue on desks that can be difficult to remove. If there is a covering on the desks, then clean up is fast and easy.

The Bristol board can also be folded into a card shape that the dioramas will sit on. Pieces of tape can be placed on the corners to ensure that the back stays up. This will be the setting for their diorama.


Note:  Have the example image of Alex Colville’s print on display for the class to refer to. For the sake of this activity, the mentioned material will be plasticine, however, this can be substituted for any modelling clay.

  1. During the class the teacher will display the image of Alex Colville’s Snowplow to show the concept of a “scene”.
  2. Students will be encouraged to discuss the image and have a short discussion about the “scene”. Is the person going towards the machine? Were they walking away and just turned around for a second to look at it? Were they walking by, and stopped for a moment? Is the machine stopped or driving away? Why is the person there at all? These discussion questions open up the image to individual interpretation. Allow the students to give their ideas and thoughts on the image.
  3. Following the short discussion, students will be told that they are going to create their own scene, a plasticine diorama.
  4. The teacher will have an area set up before class where the plasticine will be placed. This is the designated area where students will go to retrieve their supplies. It is important to have a specific area as it helps with clean up and helps to avoid confusion within the classroom.
  5. After the initial discussion period, students get their piece of folded paper that will be their base and background. The first step they need to complete is to draw on their background and base. Do they want to have buildings in the background? Trees? Mountains? What about the base? Will there be grass? Roads? Sand? Does their scene take place on a beach, or in space?
  6. Students need to plan their backgrounds and draw it with marker or colured pencil. Stay away from crayons, as the wax will prevent the plasticine from sticking to the paper.
  7. Once they have completed drawing the background, students will get their plasticine. When they have selected their needed colours, they will begin sculpting the figures, buildings, machines, trees, or objects that are in their scene.
  8. This scene can be anything they want as long as it is an “outdoor scene”. Let them know that they can use their imaginations and create a world of their liking; they have the freedom to make what they want.
  9. The pieces that they sculpt will be placed in the card and pressed down to the bottom of their decorated paper base. This will stick the pieces enough so they don’t tip over.
  10. The pieces are not permanently attached so make sure students don’t drop pieces when transporting their diorama. They have now completed a 3-dimensional diorama.
  11. For students who have completed their assignment early, they can try to create a different background that they believe would also go along well with their sculptures.
  12. Once all of the dioramas are complete, students can take turns guessing what the scene was about. Funny stories can be created, and the lesson can extend to creative writing in Language Arts class.

Tips and Tricks

When it comes to plasticine and Play-doh it must be said that both materials have their advantages and drawbacks. Plasticine is harder, which is a drawback and a bonus as it holds stronger and can be shaped with more detail. Play-doh will stay soft for a considerable time, but eventually will dry out so it should be used and stored with care.  

Try not to mix the Plasticine. Keeping the colours separate insures variety. So, no mixing please!