Learning About Guatemala Through Its Kites: Visual Elements in the Giant Kites of Guatemala

Level: Intermediate (3-5/6) Middle (6-8)
Grade from: 4
Grade to: 9
Length: 1 session (30 – 50 minutes)
Cultural Studies Integration:


These materials support review of visual art elements—motifs, geometric vs. free-form shapes, regular rhythm, and complementary colors—in the medium of kites, with which students are less likely to be familiar than they are with drawings or paintings. If students are not already familiar with these visual art elements, separate lessons can be offered on each element. Consult a standard art education textbook for guidance.

Curriculum Integration: 

Visual Arts: motifs; geometric shapes; free-form shapes; regular rhythm; flowing rhythm; complementary colors; two-dimensional design

Cultural Studies Integration: Central America


Downloaded images of the Giant Kites of Guatemala (see below)

Discussion cues (PDF file)

Paper and drawing materials (colored pencils, crayons, markers, and/or oil pastels), per student


Read the discussion prompts for background information or discussion cues. Tell students that you will be looking at the ways in which visual art elements work together to organize a non-figurative design. Most non-figurative sections of the giant kites are organized into concentric bands of repeated motifs. Introduce the terms geometric shapes (can be described and measured in mathematical terms) and free-form (or organic) shapes (irregular, uneven). Identify with students the geometric shapes (circles, half-circles, rectangles, chevrons, etc.) and free-form shapes in the images, or select just a few images to work with. Create your own names to identify the free-form shapes. Discuss how the repetition of a shape creates a motif. Ask students what kinds of rhythm can be observed in the images. Do the curved shapes of many motifs create a flowing rhythm? Discuss how complementary colors (contrast) affect the rhythm and balance of the design. Look at the use of thin outlines around some shapes to heighten contrast.


Ask each student to draw three concentric arches across her/his paper (like the arches of a rainbow). Ask each student to create a design, using some geometric shapes and some free-form shapes, with regular and flowing rhythm, and complementary colors for contrast. For assessment, ask each student to exchange her/his design with a classmate; write a short paragraph describing the classmate’s use of shape, rhythm, and color to organize a design.

Additional Resources: 

Angela Weaves a Dream: The Story of a Young Maya Artist by Michèle Solá with photographs by Jeffrey Jap Foxx includes clear explanations of motifs that appear in Mayan designs.

Ann Hecht’s Textiles from Guatemala (2001) also provides colorful photographs and detailed information on Mayan motifs.

Related Past Projects: 
Guatemala Project 2005
Related Past Projects: 
Kite Curriculum Project