Black Book of Colors - 3rd Grade

I did a "Black Book of Colors" lesson a few years ago, and decided that my current group of 3rd graders could handle the whole concept/idea.

I started out the first day of the unit with the question, "Can people who are blind understand color?".  I had the students vote, with their heads down, to see what they thought.  In MOST of my classes it was an overwhelming thought that no a blind person couldn't understand understand colors.  A couple of students always said yes.  I then asked for volunteers to explain their thoughts.  As expected the kids that say no can't wrap their heads around how to explain a color without sight and the kids who think yes - say you just have to explain it enough.

As this point I change the question to "Can a person who is deaf able to understand music?"  Immediately I have students saying yes!  I ask how.  They immediately tell me that the person could watch people play instruments, or someone could sign the words, or read music.  At this point they are so close to opening up their way of thinking that you can feel it in the room.  Next, I ask how many of them have sat at a red light and they can feel the bass of a car 3 places back?!  Almost all of them raise their hand -- I ask them how they could hear a car so far away..... tick... tick.. HANDS SHOOT IN THE AIR.  There are gasps as students get it.  I call on someone and they say they could feel it.  So I summarize - if people who are deaf can understand music through sight and sound - how could someone who is blind understand colors?!

Slowly, so slowly the gears are turning as students start to transfer their new thoughts - and BAM.  Hands go up.

Now, instead of calling on someone I tell them we are going to do an experiment.   I explain that I am going to blindfold a volunteer, hand them an object and their job is to tell the class what color it is.

I am always surprised on how many students volunteer for this role.  I pick my first volunteer and blindfold them.  I stress that if they cheat by looking under the blindfold it won't really help our experiment.  I then stress to the class that they can't make a single comment because even if they don't mean anything by it, it might give the color away!

I hand my first blindfolded student an orange making sure I puncture the skin with my nail.  After a few seconds the student tells me it's an orange.  I of course then ask what is the color?!  The student generally giggles and says, 'orange'.  I ask the class if this is true and they say YES!

I repeat this with a variety of things: a piece of chocolate (making sure my volunteer has no food allergies), a banana, the sunlight, a smelly marker, a cup of water.

After this is over we re-vote on the original questions "Can people who are blind understand color?".  Most students switch over to 'yes' though there are always still a couple of 'no'.  Now, I explain to them that they are both right.  People who are blind can understand color through their other sense though we don't know if they understand it the same way we do.  (I don't normally like to have 'trick' questions but this time it seemed appropriate).

I then read the best book ever, the book that inspired the unit - "The Black Book of Colors".  This book is written from Thomas's point of view.  He describes different colors using his senses: taste, smell, feel,  and even sound.  The pages are black, type in white - the book is also complete with brail and the pictures are all meant to be touched as they are raised off the paper.  The pictures have no color.

Next, I explain that we are going to make our own black book of colors.  (Pause for excitement and whispers).  As a class we complete the paper I am about to hand out to them.  It is a simple paper, but the thoughts the students have to create are new and stretch their current ways of thinking.  I have found that this paper helps them organize their thoughts.

Their paper says:


So to complete this together I have a student volunteer a color, then other students to volunteer a way to use smell, taste, sound, or feel.

COLOR: green

SMELLS LIKE: sweet spring.
TASTES LIKE: mushy, gross, peas.
SOUNDS LIKE: summer breezes through the trees.
FEELS LIKE: sharp, pokey grass

After we create the example I pass out the papers and they make up their own colors and examples.  I stress that each one should be different, because otherwise they pick the first one they come up with and describe it for rest of the paper.  I remind them they are describing a color and not 'grass'.  This is a little tough for some students and they need some extra examples.  When they answer these they draw a  SIMPLE thumbnail sketch for each one.

DAY 2:

Students finish their white brainstorming sheets, pick their favorite drawing and draw it BIG on 9x12 black construction paper.  Next, they trace their lines with good ol' school glue.  We talk a lot about making their lines too skinny or too thick -- getting them just right.  I tell them to hold the bottle like a pencil with one hand, tilt the point, put the point on the paper, and always PULL the glue bottle -- turn the paper if needed.

When their picture is on the drying rack they are to write what they drew in a FULL COMPLETE sentence on their white paper... "Green tastes like mushy, gross peas".

DAY 3:

I tell students that we are going to test their papers.  I pass out random pictures FACEDOWN to students.  I ask them to keep their eyes closed, flip over the papers and try and figure out the picture using their fingers.  When they think they know they are to raise their hands.  When most students raise their hands I have them look to see if they were right - flip them back over, shuffle the papers in the middle of their table and pick a new one!  I did this for about 3-4 rounds.

Next, students take WHITE colored pencils and write their sentence somewhere that makes sense on their paper and in a size of lettering that also makes sense.

I then had them pick out a piece of colored construction paper that goes with the color they chose to represent.


Amanda said...

I love, love, love the literary link to THIS lesson, as well as, to others I've seen on your blog! I've been trying to show my own children that they are writers, too. (My two oldest boys would rather have teeth pulled than to have their brains stretched in this way.) This will be a great lesson for each of them, especially as we start with short words, thoughts and simple sentences. Thank you, thank you!

Jessica said...

This post is so profound. Absolutely amazing the conversations you had with this lesson, and the finished artwork is beautiful in it's own right. Thank you for sharing!

Ms Novak said...

Thanks Jessica and Amanda!

I hope the lesson helps your kids, Amanda, stretch their thinking. There is only one sentence written but it took a lot of brain power to construct!

Jessica - thanks for reading the post. The pictures for this lesson aren't 'pretty' in the normal sense - but when you can feel them and understand the lesson behind them, the pictures are beautiful. The lesson was much more about thinking and stretching their minds than a art technique.

Pat said...

"Pictures don't have to be pretty." You have proved, with this inspiring lesson, that those who cannot see with their eyes can see with their hearts and fingertips. Bravo!

Ms Novak said...

Thanks Pat. It is one of my favorite lessons.

Harriet said...

This is amazing..!
I'm a student teacher and writing about this book for my English assignment when I came across this page.
Love the glue pictures and the descriptive writing!!

Thanks! :)