Lesson Plan: Op Art Spheres (the easy way)

This is an exemplar I having been using for while; image from here

Teaching about Optical Illusions is so much fun. I have been doing the following lesson for as many years as I have been teaching. The ones I have here aren’t quite finished, but I thought I’d share some in-process with you.

I recommend this project for students as young as 4th grade and as old as 6th. I have done with 3rd-6th. . . And, my 6th graders are working on it currently.

One of the great things about this project is that it is very math-relevant. If you like, you can use rulers and compasses to help students practice. In my experience, I usually offer the compasses and also offer various circle templates. If you are a new teacher (or a circle-frustrated one) here is a quick tip: spend an hour tracing and cutting out various circle sizes on heavy paper. I did this about two years ago, and I find them to be one of my most useful assets. How often do you hear: “Do you have something circle-like I can trace?” I don’t necessarily want my students tracing all the time, but there are moments when it is appropriate and these little templates are a time-saver!


I also do not have a classroom set of rulers. Instead, I made several different widths of heavy cardboard “straight-edges” and we use those instead. . .Nearly free and perfect for use!

Below is the (super fun) presentation I use to introduce students to optical illusions. Easily a student favorite!

The traditional way to create an op-art sphere is to use measurements with your compass to “swing” an arc across your circle to create the needed illusion lines. For many (okay most) of my students using a ruler is a challenge. When my 1st quarter Art students used compasses it was too challenging for a few students. Several got so frustrated they shut down and felt as if they had failed. It is important to be sensitive to the needs of your classroom community. I want to introduce new tools to my students, true, but I don’t want to overwhelm them either. In my classroom, we use a mix of circle templates, compasses, and this handy-dandy little “cheat” that I made up (check out my .gif below)

webcam to gif

Webcam to gif

I love this shortcut! And, this is a great little video to upload to your classroom blog. Not only can students view it at home, but you can play it during class for an added visual reminder.

Here is a quick break-down of the product process:
1. students use the template circles or compasses to create 2-3 circles on their papers
2. students follow me using the steps show above to create a grid for 1 op-art sphere
3. I demonstrate how to color the sphere in a grid
4. I demonstrate how to use the “straight edges” to create a background grid
5. students work and color
6. I demonstrate how to add a drop shadow
7. students add a drop shadow and finish their work

-You can use anything from crayons to markers to colored pencils to paint to create these great little projects.

-For students who need modifications: you can rely on the circle templates and aid them in coloring by labeling their grids with the appropriate colors and/or helping them to label their grids.




I helped this student create colored “x’s” to aid with the coloring

Enjoy! I hope your class has as much fun with Op Art as we do!

14 thoughts on “Lesson Plan: Op Art Spheres (the easy way)”

  1. I stumbled upon your blog from “art with mr. e”…very cool! I usually do a 5th grade op art unit and like your idea! -Renwww.dalimoustache.blogspot.com

  2. I love the project! I'm planning on doing this with my class in the coming weeks. But I have very little experience with artistic techniques. Can you give me any advice on teaching the kids how to make a drop shadow? Thanks for sharing.

  3. Can two other colors than the ones used in the sphere be used and create the same effect?

  4. Hi! This is really clear. I want to make op art as cool as your elementary students! Seriously, my son (going into 4th) and I want to paint an op art “escape tunnel” on one 8'x10 wall in his room. So far, our attempts on paper look flat, don't have any of the 3-D “pop” that the balls in your projects here all have. Can you tell me how to do that? Saacnmama at hotmail dot com. Thanks, and best wishe

  5. Hello,I dont know what catagory the optical illusion art is in like a 3D hand and many hands and lastly the 3D circlesSomeone please help please

  6. Hi! thank you so much, this site has really helped me. I'm doing an art project at school and I found this really helpful and inspiring. I now have some ideas for my 60's op art dress!

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