Lesson Plan: Maasai Inspired Tribal African Necklaces

My exemplar

This school year my students are more diverse in terms of economy, skin color, culture, philosophy, and in variety of other, more specific, manners. Last year, I tried to bring more diverse projects into my classroom; I attempted to incorporate multi-cultural artists and artworks. . .But, honestly, I didn’t truly try as hard as I might have.

this was made using variegated thread

When I look back to this first semester, I am floored by just how many multi-cultural projects my students have completed. The odd thing is that I haven’t made any whole-hearted attempts to incorporate diversity. Instead, I’ve been trying to devise lessons and projects that incorporate the standards. I noticed, early-on, that when my students were interested in the project, their behavior was much improved. It just happened by coincidence that the projects for which my students have the most interest are primarily multi-cultural.

love the patterns this student used. . .and the Kazuri elephant bead

In my free time, I’m obsessed with fashion and the art of dressing. . .It sounds like a tangent; but trust me, it all comes together. Using my RSS reader, I follow about 400 different fashion blogs that talk about high, low, and costume dressing. One of my favorites is I Spy DIY wherein the author uses high fashion inspiration for low-budget DIY projects. A few weeks ago I came across the tribal necklace design based on the runway designs of fashion designer Mara Hoffman’s SS 2012 line. The moment I saw the project, I knew I’d find a way for my students to do something similar.

This student wound 2 colors of thread at the same time for a patterned-effect

Cut to the last week of school before the holidays. I easily “sold” my students on the idea of a project wherein they’d have a product they could gift to friends and family. I tied the project to fine arts standards, and my personal artistic experience, by incorporating the art of the Maasai tribe of East Africa (I have Kenyan friends who are Maasai). I also was fortunate enough to have a few beads my Mom brought back from a recent trip to Kenya from Kazuri bead to share with the students. And, whaddyaknow, I had a great, authentic, multi-cultural, and “standards-excellent” lesson plan.


View all of the pictures I took of students working and modeling their necklaces:

You can view (and download!) my PPT presentation about this project below:

Enjoy! And, if you decide to try this project and feature it on your blog please cite I Spy DIY and Artful Artsy Amy as inspiration sources.

10 thoughts on “Lesson Plan: Maasai Inspired Tribal African Necklaces”

  1. Great lesson! Thanks for generously sharing your powerpoint. Did you use the hardware with the kids or are they just tying theirs in knots? What a great idea!

  2. I didn't purchase any hardware, but had a lot of beads for the students to try. Honestly, a lot of my students have NEVER manipulated thread or cording before. . .So, a few of them got excited about the beads. But, for the most part, just using the thread was challenging enough. I did encourage some of them to go back over with thread to create patterns and use beads then (since they had some mastery skills at that point). Some did and some did not.

  3. Very cool. I had some Kenyan roommates my sophomore year in college… the cultural differences made it hard to live together so I moved to a different apartment 2nd semester but I loved asking them questions and learning about their culture before that.

  4. Pat,I used heavy cotton, basket-weaving cords. . . The author of I-Spy DIY used bungee cords. The basket-weaving cord naturally has a curve to it when cut because of the spool it came off. So, no, I did not have the students use wires. I did instruct the students to tie (or leave) a bit of thread hanging from the ends of their necklace to tie together around a neck. But, since so many of the necklaces held a natural curve, many students (although they had thread of tying) didn't tie their necklaces, and slipped them on and off like collars or torcs.

  5. They look beautiful! I am interested in this project as I am doing Maasai necklaces with my grade ones this week. Nothing this complicated though! I wish your students would send me some, I'd definitely wear them!

  6. incredible lesson. generously sharing our research is what all art teachers should do! kudos!

  7. How did you have students keep the string in place? Do you tie knots or just keep winding until they reached the end? I am just trying to figure out how to work on these from day to day without them falling apart

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