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Learning Activity

Mask Making
Becoming an Other


Art Form
sculpture plus
Art, Science, Drama, Language Arts
Gade Levels
You will need
a partner, a roll of masking tape to share, two large sheets (18” x 24”) of newsprint, extra newspaper, reference photos of animals, plants and other natural phenomena, brushes, student grade acrylic paint, scissors, glue, decorative materials: dried grasses and plants, yarn, fake fur, etc
Time 3 or 4 one-hour periods

originated by Kelly Finnerty



Mask making is a traditional way in which people all over the world have transformed themselves into another, to see through another’s eyes and speak with another’s voice.

This activity allows each mask maker to begin with the structure of her own face and to reshape it into the features of an animal,a plant or force in the natural world (such as wind, rain. glacier).

When we put the mask on, we animate it, moving and speaking for the being we have created, acknowledging our kinship with all of nature.

Before Mask Making

Discussion: Ask students to imagine that their faces are masks they are wearing.
Beneath their human masks are faces of nature, different from their human faces. What might they be? Brainstorm possibilities.

Ask: do people ever remind you of certain animals?

• What animal are you yourself like? (here, forbid comments about others)
• Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a tree, standing in one place for years and years?
• Have you ever felt strong feelings that come over you like a storm?

Tell students: your hidden face might be the face of an animal, or a plant, or a mountain, even a tornado.

You may not know what it is yet but as we make a mask of your own face you will begin to discover other faces hidden behind yours.

Note: you may structure student ’s choices to integrate closely with a particular curriculum focus, for instance: the inhabitants of a specific ecosystem being studied.

As students explore possibilities of an Other to become, have Field Guides, picture books of animals, etc., available for brainstorming now and reference later in the process

Make a Mask of Your Face

Work with a partner. Take turns.

Each partner tears several lengths of masking tape about five inches in length, letting them hang from the edge of the desk or table.


The mask is made by having the mask wearer press a sheet of newsprint up against his or her face, crumpling it around the jaw, the nose and the eye brows to make a paper copy of the wearer’s face. The partner will then tape the outline of the face, beginning to tape under the chin, taping along the side of the face just in front of the ears, and along the top of the head, making a connecting line of tape.



Next the partner tapes across the face at the eyebrows, over the bridge of the nose, below the nose and below the mouth. Encourage partners to gently shape the paper to the contours of the wearer’s face as they tape.

Is the mask beginning to look a little like the wearer’s face?
Can you see where the eyes and lips are? Keep adding short pieces of tape (two to three inches) to the mask, to define the features more clearly.
Smooth the ends of the tape down as you work.

Work together to make sure the mask fits the wearer well and is comfortable. When the basic shape is established the wearer can take the mask off and repeat the process for the partner.

Next, all students should complete the human mask by continuing to tape, taping first the entire outside surface and then the entire inside surface of the mask, being careful not to flatten out the features as they work.

Cut away excess paper beyond the outline of the face and tape the edges, working your away around the rim of the mask with short pieces of tape. Take your time! This part is a bit tedious but it is the time for dreaming of the transformation to come.

Adding the Features of An Other

Discussion: Now that the paper mask has been reinforced with masking tape inside and out it should be fairly sturdy, comfortable and well fitting.

The next step is to decide what features are needed to transform the wearer into another.


• Crumple or twist newspaper into the shape of horns or branches, a bird beak, or a fish mouth.

• Twist strips of newspaper into the spirals of the wind or the curls of waves.

• Attach these shapes to the human face with more masking tape strips.

• Cover all forms with masking tape.
• Notice how the size and weight of the additions affect the fit of the mask. Keep trying it on and making necessary adjustments.

• Cut eye holes and mouth holes for the wearer when the additions are securely fastened on. Smooth down the tape.

• Remember you are going to paint these masks. You want a smooth masking-tape surface with no newspaper showing through.

Exaggeration is fine and can add to the drama of the mask.

If you can, Show examples of masks from different cultural traditions.

North American
Japan: Noh Theater
Africa: Pende
Africa: Senufo
Alaskan Inuit
Indonesia traditional


Painting the Mask

Acrylic paints must be used to paint these masks; tempera paint will not adhere to the masking tape surface. Discuss how color can be used to show emotion and draw attention to certain features. Realistic color is not the only choice.

• Paint a base color first.

• Add painted details when the base color dries.

• Ask students to think about the kind of materials they may want to add to their masks. For instance, a group of second graders making insect masks asked for windowscreen for eyes, pipe cleaners, and tin foil.

Decorating the Mask

This part is the most fun of all. Supply a variety of natural and human made materials and discuss some of the ways they can be used to complete the mask. For instance, fake fur, fake hair, flexible tagboard--in short, whatever you can use that can readily attach.

• Ask students to describe the qualities of the materials using adjectives that appeal to the senses, i.e. soft, spiky, snarled, rustling, springy.

Encourage them to think not only how the mask will look but also how the mask will feel to the touch, and how the materials will sound or move when the mask wearer moves.

You can attach the materials with a choice of adherents.

White glue is suitable for lightweight materials. Clamp heavier materials on with clothes pins and let the white glue dry over night.

Tacky glue is a stronger glue that dries quickly and bonds well.

• A glue gun station can be set up with low-temperature glue guns.

• Holes can be poked in the mask with scissors and things can be tied on also, such as seed pods or shells.

The mask is attached to the head with strips of sewing elastic. The back of the head can be concealed with fabric scraps or strips or other materials, such as yarn o dried grasses which have been attached to the mask.

Writing: Allow the Mask to Speak

Study your mask. Draw it. What do you imagine it saying? Try it on. Move your head and listen for any sounds your mask makes. How does it want you to move? When you have spent some time exploring your mask’s character, begin to write in your journal as if your mask was speaking. You might begin by saying, “I speak for....” Name your being. Describe how it feels to become this being. How is this life different from your human life? What does this being want humans to understand? Form a circle to share your stories and your masks.


A Council of All Beings?

An excellent dramatic and healing activity that can follow mask making is a Council of All Beings, in which students 'become' the animals and forces of nature their masks portray, then speak for those beings in relation to human behavior toward nature. A Council of All Beings is useful especially for urban youth who often feel biophobia, a fear of nature and other living beings. Here is a Council link with excellent instructions.


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