Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Comparing the Quilts of Indigenous Plains People with the Tessellations of M.C. Escher, Part 2

Escher's Terrific Tessellations: The Art of Tile Transformations

James Doyle, Lindsey Link | Published: August 15th, 2023 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Visual Arts
  • Course Course Visual Arts
  • Time Frame Time Frame 120 - 180 minutes
  • Duration More 2-3 class periods


In this follow-up lesson to "Diamonds, Not Just a Girl's Best Friend," students explore an app that creates Escher-like drawings. Students discuss the principles of design in the drawings. Students discuss Escher and then discuss similarities of the Plains tribes art that precede Escher. Students reflect on the idea of multiple discovery and discuss why the Plains tribes and Escher arrived at similar ideas with different implementations. This is the second lesson of the "Comparing the Quilts of Indigenous Plains People with the Tessellations of M.C. Escher" lesson duo.

Essential Question(s)

How can an artist use the principles of design to create effective art? How can the principles of design help an artist convey mood and meaning?


Engage - Students start the lesson with the instructional strategy Tell Me Everything and share everything they know about tessellations.

Explore - Students spend a few minutes with Escher Sketch, a website that allows them to quickly immerse themselves in the art of M.C. Escher. Once they have had some time with the website, they share their initial thoughts using the Say Something! strategy.

Explain -  Students watch a video that describes who M.C. Escher is, his artwork, and the connection it has to tessellations. After the video, students create their own tessellation.

Extend - Students explain how M.C. Escher applies the principles of design to his tessellations.

Evaluate - Students come back together as a class and use the Venn Diagram strategy to compare and contrast the work in the star quilts and the tessellations of M.C. Escher.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Say Something! handout (attached; one per student)

  • Principles of Design handout (linked; one per student)

  • Create a Tessellation handout (attached; one per student)

  • Four Corners Poster handout (optional; attached; class set)

  • Venn Diagram handout (attached; one per student)

  • Copy paper

  • Sticky notes

  • Scissors

  • Cellophane tape

  • Colored medium such as pastels, paint, markers

  • Blank canvas or heavy paper for artwork

  • Projector

  • Touchscreen device like phone/tablet or Chromebook/laptop for each student


20 Minute(s)

Introduce the lesson using the attached Lesson Slides. Display slide 2 and let them know that this lesson is an extension of the first lesson Diamonds, Not Just A Girl’s Best Friend, in which you covered quilt making of Indigenous Plains People. 

Move to slide 3 and share the instructional strategy Tell Me Everything with your students. Prompt them to write down everything they know about tessellations. Provide them with one minute. Once your students are finished with writing down everything they know, move to slide 4 and have them share their list with a partner. Instruct them to record any new information their partner may share that they don’t already have written down. Once your students have had enough time to share with one another, have groups share list items with the rest of the class. Write down these responses to construct a whole-class list (students may add these new items to their personal lists as well). As the list grows, make sure groups only share items that are not already on the class list. Use this opportunity to address misconceptions and gaps in knowledge.

Display slides 5-6 to share the essential questions and learning objectives for the lesson.


20 Minute(s)

Display slide 7 and instruct your students to scan the QR code with their phones or tablets to navigate to the Escher Sketch website. Once all of the students have navigated to the website, start the four (4) minute timer.

Move to slide 8 and share the instructional strategy Say Something! with your students. Pass out the attached Say Something handout. This strategy is typically paired with a reading, however the sentence frames provided with this strategy will help students effectively express their ideas, ask questions, and support their claims with evidence about the Escher Sketch website. Instruct your students to write down two statements using the provided sentence frames regarding their initial thoughts on the website. Have your students share their observations with a partner and encourage some to share with the whole class.


50 Minute(s)

Display slide 9 and share a definition of multiple discovery with your students. Ask them if there are any examples of this that they can think of. Slides 10-14 provide a couple of examples you can share with your students such as:

  • 1600s: Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz’s simultaneously discover calculus.

  • 1800s: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both describe natural selection.

  • 1950s: Jonas Salk and Albert Bruce Sabin both invent the polio vaccine.

  • 2015: Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald’s simultaneously discover neutrinos.

Using slides 15-16, share the background of M.C. Escher with students. Play the video The Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher.

Following the video, display slide 17 and share the definition of a tessellation with your students. Next pass out the attached Create a Tessellation handout and play the video Escher's Terrific Tessellations: The Art of Tile Transformations on slide 18.

Move to slide 19 and provide your students with enough time to create their own tessellations using the directions on the handout.


20 Minute(s)

Display slide 20 and explain the Collective Brain Dump instructional strategy. Ask students to share singular words that would describe their tessellation projects and list them on a whiteboard. 

Move to slide 21 and share the principles of design. Ask your students to consider the words they just used to describe their work. Do any of the principles match what they were describing? Ask students the following:

"Thinking back to the first activity, did you see those same principles there?" 

Use slides 22-29 to remind students of the principles of design and accompanying details. If students would like a paper reminder, use the linked Principles of Design handout. Once you’ve reviewed this information (if necessary) as a class, pass out one sticky note to each student, and ask students to select the principle that best matches their tessellation design and write it down on their sticky note. 

Display slide 30 and explain the Sticky Bars instructional strategy to your students. Have them place their answers on the wall using the strategy. Based on their responses, group students together to summarize why they think their principle of design is most applicable to the activity. The slide has a three minute timer, but again, feel free to select a longer or shorter timer if you feel your students would benefit from an alternate timer. When the timer ends, have each group share their response. After the students have shared their responses, ask if any students have changed their mind. If they have, allow them to join the group that persuaded them. Explain to students that while arguments can be made for many of the design principles, with an especially strong case for repetition, the lesson today is focused on pattern.


20 Minute(s)

Display slides 31-32. Share the instructional strategy Venn Diagram and pass out the attached Venn Diagram handout. Have your students compare the activities from the two lessons, comparing the quilt patterning from the Plains tribes with the tessellations of M.C. Esher.