African Mask Activity- A lesson plan

Chokwe Peoples, Angola and Northwestern Zambia, Ngondo Mask, mid20th century. Mixed media: barkcoth, pigment, string, sticks, gourds and cloth. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Daniel J. Crowley.


Students will use various materials (e.g., paper, glue, markers) and motor skills (e.g., cutting, stapling, collage) to create animal masks. Students will describe African masks and their uses. Students will create movements that correlate with their masks and selected music.

Material Preparation

Showing students various pictures and videos of the focus animals will enrich your instruction. Additionally, having books available for students to study animal shape and features will allow for more in depth study. Consider printing out pictures and placing on table groups, or placing books in a public space in the classroom.



Discuss with students the use of masks in African culture. All over the African continent, masks are one of the most prominent forms of art, and ceremonies that use them are an important part of many African cultures.  Animals are frequently represented in masks, often chosen for the characteristics they represent.  Explain that African masks are used in various ceremonies and other events. Here are some common examples:

Elephant – strength, royalty, patience, wisdom, longevity, happiness, luck

Lion – royalty, strength, courage, pride

Leopard – ferocity, aggression, courage

Antelope – farming, agriculture, speed

Crocodile – strength, evil (masks are sometimes used to ward them off) Lizard – life

Tortoise old age

Birds messengers between earth and the world of spirits


Show the students several images of African animal masks, including some in the headdress style.

Propose the following questions:

Describe: What animal is represented?  What colors and materials do you see?

Analyze Does this animal make noise? How does it move?

Interpret: Does this look like a friendly animal, or a fierce animal?

Judge: What do you like most about this artwork?  Is there anything you don’t like about it? Does looking at this piece help you know more about people from Africa? Why?

Connect: Do people use masks in the United States?  What are they used for?  How do you think the American use of masks is the same or different from mask-wearers in African countries?

Show the students animal photographs and examples of African animal masks.  Discuss with the students some prominent physical traits of each animal, as well as some of its other characteristics.  For example, the elephant has a trunk and very large ears, and it is also very strong.


Lead students in an activity to make their own animal masks. Demonstrate the steps of the project, including suggested ways to attach the collage materials to the paper plates.  You may wish to list the steps on the board with words and/or pictures.

Before the activity, decide how to organize the materials.  If the students sit in groups, you may want to put some materials at each table.  Or you may set them out on one table and have a few students at a time select what they need. This is the perfect opportunity to empty your “Misc. Arts & Crafts” bin!

  1. Have each student select an animal to depict. Have the photos of animals available to the students for reference while they work. Show students the materials they can use for their creations. Once students have decided on their animal, give them their paper plate to begin.
  2. Using pencils, have the students sketch animal faces on their plates.
  3. They can then decide which features to add with the crayons/markers and which to add with the collage materials.
  4. As they create their masks, circulate to help the students secire the headbands (strips of paper, yarn, etc.) and to discuss their work with them.





Clean up. Ask students to clean up and return all materials.

Conclude the activity with a celebration.  Have the students gather in a circle wearing their masks.  Allow students the opportunity to present their animal mask. Play a recording of some African music and invite the students to dance, encouraging them to incorporate movements suggested by their chosen animals.

Adapting and Extending

Consider adding these elements to the activity above, or using them in subsequent lessons.

  • Read a picture book featuring African animals. There are several African animal alphabet books available; other good choices are Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (Aardema/Vidal), Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (Aardema/Dillon), and We All Went on Safari (Krebs/ Cairns).  You probably have favorites as well.
  • Point out some animal symbolism we see in California. For example, the Bald eagle is featured on US currency. We also see an eagle on the Mexican flag. Where else do we see imagery of the eagle?
  • Show a video of an African ceremony featuring masquerade
  • Materials can be modified to fit your available materials. Do you have classroom parents who can donate used doll clothes for fabric scraps? Do we have a school abuelita with an excess of yarn to donate for mask straps and embellishments?
  • Consider assigning students to animals before the lesson begins. Does everyone make the same animal? Would it be best to group students by focus animal or allow them to sit in their assigned seats?
  • This is a popular activity for classroom volunteers. If possible, a classroom mom could be in charge of the glue gun and/or securing the mask straps.

CA State Content Standards

Visual Arts

Connecting- Anchor Standard 11: Relate Artistic Ideas and Works with Societal, Cultural, and Historical Context to Deepen Understanding
K.VA:Cn11 Identify a purpose of an artwork
1.VA:Cn11 Understand that people from different places and times have made art for a variety of reasons
2.VA:Cn11 Compare and contrast cultural uses of artwork from different times and places
3.VA:Cn11 Recognize that responses to art change depending on knowledge of the time and place in which it was made
4.VA:Cn11 Through observation, infer information about time, place, and culture in which a work of art was created
6.VA:Cn11 Analyze how art reflects changing times, traditions, resources, and cultural uses


Kinder: K.G.2 Correctly name shapes regardless of their orientations or overall size; K.G.3 Identify shapes as two-dimensional (lying in a plane, “flat”) or three-dimensional (“solid”).

2nd grade: (with math integration extension) 2.G.1 Recognize and draw shapes having specified attributes, such as a given number of angles or a given number of equal faces


Kinder-2nd grade: Because there is always more than one possible solution to a problem, it is useful to compare and test designs. (K–2-ETS1-3)


  • Images of African animal masks
  • Photographs of African animals
  • Recording of African music (Recommended: African Playground- Putumayo playlist)
  • Construction paper cut in strips to form headbands (or string)
  • Colorful paper scraps
  • Small paper plates
  • Markers, crayons, or oil pastels
  • Seeds, feathers, raffia, small beads, string, etc.
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Glue
  • Miscellaneous arts & crafts materials


60 minutes

Grade Level



  • History/Social Studies
  • Visual Arts


  • Household materials


Crocker Art Museum, adapted by Brittany Thurman