Home » Teach » Units » Imaginary Structures

Imaginary Structures


Students will explore different ways to change paper or cardboard from two dimensional to three dimensional using their hands and scissors (tearing, folding, twisting, crumpling, fringing, or rolling). They will compare the different properties of paper, thin cardboard, and corrugated cardboard. Then, they will learn how to build with three-dimensional forms using techniques such as slot-joining, leaning, balancing, standing, and stacking. Using their imagination, students will apply these techniques to create an imaginary play space and an imaginary structure.

Grade Level



Paper and cardboard

Theme/ Big Idea

Artists can turn two-dimensional materials into three-dimensional sculptures by using their imagination to explore different building techniques and arrangements.

Essential Question

How can artists use their imagination to explore different building techniques and arrangements?

  • Unit & Lessons
  • Teaching Guide
  • Teaching Tools


Materials and Tools

  • Sheets of different colored paper
  • White paper or Sketchbook
  • Glue or tape
  • Pencil
  • Corrugated cardboard (from shipping boxes)
  • Thin cardboard (from paper towel rolls or cereal boxes)
  • Flat cardboard
  • Scissors


  • Students will be able to demonstrate how to change paper and cardboard from two dimensional to three dimensional
  • Students will be able to identify building techniques, such as slot-joining, leaning, balancing, standing, and stacking and apply these to build their structures
  • Students will identify how artists use form and space to create sculptures and structures and apply that knowledge to create their own imaginary structures

Student Outcomes

Students will understand that:

  • Two-dimensional paper and cardboard can be transformed into a three-dimensional-building material
  • Different materials (paper, cardboard) have different properties (light, heavy) which influence how you can build with them
  • Arranging and rearranging creates different spatial relationships (positive and negative space)

Students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate how to transform paper from two dimensional to three dimensional by folding, rolling, twisting, crumpling, and fringing
  • Apply knowledge of different techniques to build a free-standing sculpture by standing, stacking, leaning, and balancing forms, as well as using slot-joining to create secure attachments
  • Create an inventive play space and structure using their imagination and problem-solving skills


Metropolitan Museum of Art 
Siah Armajani: Follow This Line exhibition overview:

The Bronx Museum of the Arts
Terrence Gower’s Super Puesto, a public art installation

Kohl Children’s Museum
A simple paper sculpture art lesson

Center for Architecture and Pedagogy, NYC
Free, online architecture and design activities for K-12 students

Museum of the City of New York
New York City skyscraper lesson

Imaginary Playgrounds
A playground equipment system that is made for building


For Students with Disabilities

  • Use hand motions or body movements to act out different of changing the material (tear, fold, twist, crumple, roll, fringe) and build with it (stand, stack, lean, balance)
  • Use technology to create drawings on an iPad or in Google Classroom
  • Use manipulatives or found objects to create arrangements and practice different ways of building (stand, stack, lean, balance)
  • Use audio with visuals in the student-facing Google Slides

For Multilingual Learners

  • Use supplemental vocabulary sheets to pre-teach content-specific words and concepts
  • Use images paired with vocabulary words to help with meaning
  • Emphasize repetition of new art vocabulary. Re-cast and spiral vocabulary: repeat vocabulary and concepts in lessons so that students gain familiarity
  • Activate students’ prior knowledge
  • Use icons or symbols to provide visuals for lines and geometric shapes
  • Use Total Physical Response (TPR) to show building techniques in the air with fingers or hands
  • Signpost: tell students what you are going to do next
  • Chunk information and keep instructions concise
  • Elicit information: ask open-ended questions and give students time to think about an answer. Extend wait time 
  • Use multiple entry points: speak, show, and do
  • Use audio with visuals in student-facing lesson guides


Abstract Collage with Layers

After exploring abstract sculptures, try making an abstract collage.

  1. Start by tearing or cutting small, medium, and large shapes from each of your three different colored papers. Which geometric shapes will you make? Which organic shapes will you create? 
  2. Next, arrange some of your big and medium shapes onto your paper to create a base layer for your collage. Are any of your shapes overlapping? Are there any negative spaces between shapes?
  3. With your medium and small shapes, create another layer
  4. Finally, with your smallest shapes, add a final detail layer 
  5. Reflection: Where did you overlap shapes? What new shapes did you create in your collage? Did you create any interesting negative spaces? 

Materials: at least three different colors or kinds of paper, scissors, glue, or tape 

Found Object Arrangements

Try balancing, leaning, standing, and stacking with found objects from around your house. 

  1. Gather five non-breakable objects that you have at home and experiment by creating several different arrangements
  2. Choose your favorite arrangement to draw. Where can you see positive space? Where can you see negative space?

Materials: Five household objects (objects with at least one flat side will work best)

Drawing an Impossible Sculpture

One of the great things about drawing is that it allows us to create things that might not be possible in real life. Can you imagine an abstract sculpture that wouldn’t be able to stand up on its own in real life? Draw it! Which parts of the sculpture wouldn’t work in real life? Why?

Materials: Paper, pencil

New York Teaching & Learning in Visual Arts Standards

Art Making: 5th Grade Learning Indicators for Sculpture

Create a sculpture that demonstrates:

  • Stable construction of a three-dimensional form
  • Boxes, wood, tubes, found objects: ability to apply techniques of cutting, taping, and  
  • Slot joining that result in a unified balanced assemblage
  • Placement of components that describe gesture, movement, and expression

Literacy in the Arts

  • Looking at and Discussing Art
  • Developing Visual Arts Vocabulary
  • Reading and Writing About Art
  • Problem Solving: Interpreting and Analyzing Art

Making Connections

  • Recognizing the Societal, Cultural, and Historical Significance of Art
  • Connecting Art to Other Disciplines
  • Observing and Interpreting the World

Community and Cultural Resources

  • Cultural Institutions
  • Public Art and Design
  • Online Resources and Libraries
  • Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), Local Artists, and Studios

Careers and Lifelong Learning

  • Awareness of Careers in Visual Arts
  • Art for Enjoyment and Lifelong Learning

NYS Learning Standards for the Arts

Artistic Process: Creating

Anchor Standards:

  • Anchor Standard 1:  Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work
  • Anchor Standard 2:  Organize and develop artistic ideas and work
  • Anchor Standard 3:  Refine and complete artistic work

Artistic Process: Presenting

Anchor Standards:

  • Anchor Standard 4: Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation
  • Anchor Standard 5: Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation
  • Anchor Standard 6: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work

Artistic Process: Responding

Anchor Standards:

  • Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work
  • Anchor Standard 8: Interpret meaning in artistic work
  • Anchor Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work

Artistic Process: Connecting

Anchor Standards:

  • Anchor Standard 10: Relate and synthesize knowledge and personal experiences to inspire and inform artistic work
  • Anchor Standard 11: Investigate ways that artistic work is influenced by societal, cultural, and historical context and, in turn, how artistic ideas shape cultures past, present, and future


Writing Team                                              
Nina Berinstein, Juanita Lanzo, Belinda Blum, Traci Talasco

Project Team
Belinda Blum, Nicola Giardina, Paul Urevitch, Andrea Burgay

Studio in a School NYC Team 
Julie Applebaum, Senior Director
Hasna Muhammad, Ed.D., Chair, Board of Directors, Studio in a School Association
Alison Scott-Williams, President, Studio in a School NYC

NYC Department of Education OASP Team 
Karen Rosner, Director of Visual Arts 
Amber Lodman, Arts Program Manager                     
Kaitlin Trammell, Remote Arts Learning Partnership Project Coordinator 

NYC Department of Education Visual Arts Teacher Team 
Maria Bonilla, Amie Robinson, Susan Bricker, Lara Tyson

These educational materials were created through a partnership with Studio in a School NYC and The New York City Department of Education Office of Arts and Special Projects (OASP) and made possible by the generosity of The New York Community Trust. 

Copyright © 2023 Studio in a School NYC LLC