1st Grade – Pointillism and symmetry with insect designs

1st Grade – Pointillism and symmetry with insect designs

Description of the Unit –

This unit merges a study of pointillism with the practice of symmetry, culminating in insect designs that use pointillism to create symmetrical sides to each insect.

1st grade – dragonfly, using pointillism & symmetry

Activity statement –

A few years ago, I had been trying to figure out a way to introduce symmetry to my first-grade class. While I was thinking about this, a student came up to me and commented that he had seen a pointillism painting during a family trip abroad, and another student asked, “what’s pointillism?” This sparked the idea of merging the exploration of pointillism with the concept of symmetry, culminating in creating a design in pointillism that requires symmetrical sides.

Pointillism was begun in the 1880’s primarily by two artists, Georges Seurat and his student Paul Signac, who were reacting against the subjectivity of Impressionism. Pointillism used pure, unmixed color carefully applied so that the shifts in color along the canvas blend together in the viewer’s eye, thereby giving the image it’s more realistic, three-dimensional quality. Seurat was also drawn to the scientific study of color which was happening at that time, and the idea that laying complementary—or contrasting—colors next to one another helps those colors stand out more vividly.

While observing the works below, as well as others, it’s useful to have the students look at the paintings close-up and then far away, so that they notice the way the dots come together to form images. Ask them questions that help them think about the effects of using dots to paint; further, ask questions that help them to consider the use of color, and what they notice about the colors used in the paintings they observe.

Above: Le bed du hoc, 1885; below: Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte, 1884, both by Georges Seurat
Place des lices, Paul Signac, 1893

Now, how to introduce symmetry? I like to show the students photos of insects, asking them what they notice of each side of an insect’s body. As we talk about what we observe, I invite them to imagine what it would be like to draw a beetle or butterfly with dots, and how to make them symmetrical on both sides. You can’t imagine how excited the students get with the idea of this challenge. I invite them to consider ways to also include complementary colors side by side in their designs.

Various insects to demonstrate bilateral symmetry

So, there it is! I like to provide the students with outlines of various (easily symmetrical) insects that they can trace, while also inviting them to take up the extra challenge of actually drawing the bug for themselves. However, the important aspect of the activity is to take the time to patiently fill the insect with symmetrically placed dots into a contrasting design, so in this case whether they trace the insect or draw it themselves is really not important. The designs they come up with are always so unique, just like those of an actual insect, and it has always fascinated me the way some students make very compact dots, while others draw them more loosely. Some really attempted intricate designs, while others were more straightforward. Either way, this unit always helps students to develop patience, for placing the dots takes a long time.

Goals –

Students should…


  • What symmetry is
  • What pointillism is


  • Who the two primary innovators of pointillism were

Be able to:

  • Identify a pointillist painting
  • Identify the complementary colors on the color wheel

Objectives –

Students will: practice pointillism and attempt to express bilateral symmetry using an insect as a starting point.

Resources and materials –

  • Examples of Pointillism
  • Photographs of insects
  • Outlines of insects (optional)
  • White paper
  • Markers
  • Colored paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Questions –

  • Looking at (X) image up close, what do you notice about the painting?
  • Now standing far from the painting, what do you notice?
  • What parts of the painting stand out most for you?
  • Where does your eye go first? Next? Why do you think this is?
  • What do you notice about the colors in the painting?
  • What do you notice about these two colors next to each other?
  • How effective of a technique do you think pointillism is?
  • How long do you think a painting like this would take to make?
  • (Looking at insects) what do you notice about each side of a (butterfly, beetle, dragonfly’s, etc.,) wing?
  • What do you notice about their colors?
1st grade – Pointillism & Symmetry (student work-in-progress)
1st grade – Pointillism & Symmetry (student work-in-progress)

Evaluation –

Did students:

  • Understand what pointillism is and exhibit a basic understanding of how it works?
  • Successfully identify complementary colors on the color wheel?
  • Express an understanding of the concept of symmetry?
  • Create an insect design in pointillism that expressed bilateral symmetry?


  • Group discussions
  • Oral and written responses to essential questions
  • One finished pointillism insect design
1st grade, butterfly in pointillism and symmetry. I like the way this student came up with his own patterns using complementary colors
1st grade, butterfly in pointillism and symmetry. This student used two-sided markers with thin and thick nibs to play a bit with the texture of her dots
1st grade, beetle in pointillism and symmetry. I really like how closely together this student’s dots were placed, and the way he chose to use color (sorry for the poor resolution)
1st grade, butterfly in pointillism and symmetry. This student demonstrated a lot of creativity with the beetle’s designs
1st grade, butterfly in pointillism and symmetry. I was really impressed with he way this student elaborated on the designs and attempted to render them in bilateral symmetry as well as how close together her dots are. I can tell you she worked on this butterfly a LONG time!

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