Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Wheels and Rainbows

Lynne Locke
Polk County Schools


Whirling in wheels or soaring in rainbows, colors used in art are highly organized! Learn how to use the color wheel system to bring excitement and meaning to your very own artwork!


The student writes for a variety of occasions, audiences, and purposes (for example, journals to reflect upon ideas, reports to describe scientific observations).

The student knows the effects and functions of using various organizational elements and principles of design when creating works of art.


-Copies of Color Wheel outline (one per student; see Associated File)
-Copies of Rainbow outline (one per student; see Associated File)
-Crayons, watercolor markers, watercolor paints, or colored pencils (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple) for each student
-Colored construction paper (one sheet per student)
-White drawing paper (4 pieces per student – 4 by 5 inches each)
-Lined notebook paper (2 sheets per student)
-Glue or paste
-Completed examples of rainbow and color wheels (see Teacher Preparation #3)
-Pictures, photos, or other examples of art work using various color schemes (see Teacher Preparation #4)


1. Gather necessary supplies. Arrange materials to allow for students to choose easily.
2. Write the following definition on the chalkboard (or chart paper or overhead projector) so that the students will be able to copy it easily.

Color – the property of objects that depends on the light they reflect and that is seen as red, blue, green, or other shades; a natural or artificial material used to add color to an object or work of art. A Color Scheme is a plan an artist uses in producing a work of art.

3. Color one of the color wheel blanks and one of the rainbow blanks to use as examples during the lesson. You may find it useful to have several examples of the Color Wheel at different stages of completion – one with Primary Colors only, one with Secondary Colors only, one with Warm Colors only, one with Cool Colors only as well as one with all colors.
4. Find several examples of pictures, photos, or examples of works of art using various color schemes. Anything from Picasso’s Blue Period is good for showing use of cool colors and van Gogh used many warm colors. Your school’s media specialist should be able to help you find some good books that have illustrations using various color schemes.


Note: This lesson addresses only one element of design and could be used as part of a unit on the elements and principles of design. The final product of this lesson could be used as a page in an Elements and Principles of Design Journal.

1. If you have not done so previously, introduce the term “design.” Most students recognize the word as it relates to patterns they see every day on their clothing or other objects around them. Explain that every man-made object they see around them was once an idea in someone’s mind be for that person took the time to make sketches and plans to produce their idea for sharing with others. The noun “design” can mean a pattern, but the verb “design” describes a process. There are 7 “elements of design” and 7 “principles of design.” The elements of design are: line, shape, direction, size, texture, color and value. The principles of design are balance, gradation, repetition, contrast, harmony, dominance and unity.
2. First Class Period: Explain that the “element of design” to be discussed today is “color”.
3. Ask students to choose a sheet of construction paper (any color). Have the students write the title “Color” artistically at the top of one side of the paper using crayons, markers, or colored pencils.
4. On a piece of notebook paper, students copy the definition of the word “color-. This definition should then be cut out and pasted or glued on the top half of the construction paper, under the title “Color”.
5. Distribute copies of the Color Wheel blank. Have the students choose crayons, markers, or colored pencils. Instruct the students that during this part of the lesson they may NOT work ahead and must follow your directions precisely. Tell them the first colors that will be placed on the color wheel are the Primary Colors. Discuss the word primary and relate it to primary grades in school. The primary grades come FIRST in school. The primary colors come FIRST on the color wheel. Show the example you have prepared with only the primary colors on it. Have them color the Red, the Yellow, and the Blue spaces (see Associated File.)
6. When everyone has the primary colors colored, tell them the next colors you will add are the Secondary Colors because they come second. Ask if any of the students have ever mixed colors together and what the results were. Hopefully, during the discussion, the students themselves will figure out that the space between the red and the yellow should be colored orange, between the yellow and the blue should be green, and between the red and the blue should be purple (or violet) because those are the colors you get when the primary colors are mixed together. Optional: discussion of Tertiary Colors that come third – red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.
7. Optional: With the color wheel completed, ask the students if, after completing the color wheel and seeing how the colors are organized on it, they think they could color the rainbow with its colors in the correct order. If desired, the rainbow blank may be colored now or at a later time. The order of the colors on the rainbow is the same as the color wheel – red at the top, then orange, yellow, green, blue and purple (or violet). An actual rainbow spectrum actually has 7 colors, with indigo, a bluish-purple, between the blue and the purple (or violet). This color order can be remembered by the acronym Roy G. Biv (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.)
8. When all color wheels are completed, direct the students to observe their color wheels to find the following patterns: a) find all the Primary Colors (red, yellow, blue), b) find all the Secondary Colors (orange, green, purple), c) find the colors you think would be considered Warm Colors (red, orange, yellow) and tell why (the sun and fire are warm and they are those colors), d) find the colors you think would be considered Cool Colors (green, blue, purple) and tell why (water, a forest, nighttime are cool and they are those colors). Discuss how using certain colors might convey emotion – happiness, sadness, excitement, etc. Tell the students that during the next lesson, they will be producing 4 small works or art, each using a different color scheme (or plan.)
9. At the end of the first lesson, students should have completed their color wheel, titled their colored construction paper sheet “Color”, pasted the definition of the word “color” directly below the title (the bottom half of this paper will be completed later), and discussed the 4 different color schemes to be used tomorrow (Primary, Secondary, Warm, and Cool.)
10. Second Class Period: Students will produce 4 small (4 by 5 inch) works of art that will be pasted or glued onto the back of the colored construction paper begun during the first class period. Allow students to choose crayons, watercolor markers, watercolor paints, or colored pencils to produce their designs using only Primary Colors in one, then only Secondary Colors, then only Warm Colors, then only Cool Colors.
11. Use glue or paste to attach the 4 small works of art to the back of the colored construction paper. There should be enough room left so students can label their designs Primary Colors, Secondary Colors, Warm Colors, and Cool Colors.
12. The last part of this lesson is for students to write a brief (one-half page) statement telling what they learned during this lesson, how they used different colors to convey emotion in their illustrations, and telling how they might use this knowledge in the future. This statement should be cut out and glued or pasted onto the bottom half of the construction paper, beneath the definition.
13. This page can now be used as part of the student’s art portfolio or as a page in a “Elements of Design” art notebook.


The student will produce four original works of art illustrating the following color schemes: Primary, Secondary, Warm, and Cool. These illustrations will be accompanied by the definition of the term “color” and a brief statement telling several things they learned during the lesson and how they intended to use the knowledge in the future. Student product will be assessed by the presence of the following items (point value may be assigned if desired or omitted for a more informal assessment): Title (0-15 points), Definition (0-15 point), Illustration using Primary Colors (0-10 points), Illustration using Secondary Colors (0-10 points), Illustration using Warm Colors (0-10 points), Illustration using Cool Colors (0-10 points), Written Statement (0-30 points) mentioning elements of the lesson, how color can be used to convey emotion, and telling how the students plans to use the knowledge gained in the future.


This lesson could be modified for younger students by having the definition and title pre-printed so the students could just cut and paste. If the functional level of the student is very low, the written statement could be omitted and a verbal response from each student recorded by the teacher.

Older students could use a compass to construct their own Color Wheel (see Associated File).

Research other color schemes like complementary or monochromatic.

Research could be conducted relating to the difference between colored pigment or paint and colored light. When you mix all colors of light together, you get white, when you mix all colors of paint together, you get something altogether different!

Try putting one of the completed color wheels on an old record player turntable – you may not get white but the colors will definitely blend together. Or, make Color Wheel Spinners that will do basically the same thing (see Associated File.)

Split white sunlight with a prism to make a rainbow or spectrum.

This lesson could be extended by having this page become part of a Design Elements and
Principles Journal or Portfolio. Also, a PowerPoint presentation (or other multi-media format) could be designed to present this element of design, with others to be added as they are studied.
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