Crazy Collaborative Cactus

WAAAAYYYY back in 2012, when I first started this blog, I wrote a post (which was more like a lesson plan) called Prickly Pear Cactus.

I absolutely loved this project. In fact, I loved it so much, I wanted to try it again and put a twist on it! Last year, I let my fourth grade classes do several different takes on this. The first I'd like to share are these enormous Crazy Collaborative ones. 

Our school had made a float for the high school's homecoming parade. We had a great deal of cardboard left over. Coincidentally, someone had loaned me a jigsaw right around this same time. 

No, I did not let the kids use the jigsaw. But, since I did have access to it, I just let it chew that really thick leftover cardboard into random shapes.

Some of the shapes were pretty gigantic, and some were smaller. I was able to use the different sizes as a way to differentiate for the groups of students. Some students just work faster than others. So, I gave the quicker groups the bigger pieces. The students who struggle to finish in the allotted time had smaller pieces on which to work. They seemed to appreciate this type of differentiation. It can be frustrating when you are trying your best but don't have enough time to finish what you are working on. 

So, we looked at some photos of real cactuses and looked at some professional artwork. I also pulled my blog post about the Prickly Pears onto the Promethean Board. They kids enjoy seeing other student art. (They also think its HILARIOUS to see my photo on the side of the blog. One asked me if I wrote that when I was 12 because my pic looked young! I was like, ummmmm that is a new picture thank you very much!)

Anyway, they arranged themselves into groups with minimal direction from me. I like to let them try to solve these sorts of problems without me at first, but I will step in to offer assistance when necessary. I always find it really interesting how they group themselves. I encourage you to let your classes try this. Of course, you have to set up expectations first. It is a process, but when they get to where they can do it on their own it is fun to listen to their conversations and watch their thinking. I've never had a group refuse to allow someone to join them. Only once or twice have I had a student not want to be in any of the groups. They have (so far) managed to work it out themselves. Plus, usually if I can tell the kid just needs alone time, I'll let them work alone. 

They drew the cactus and painted the background with black tempera. My only two specific requirements were that they use all of their space to make large cactuses and that they have  a black background. I had talked to them about the contrast between the black background and bright colors. 

The rest of the process is pretty much like the Prickly Pear lesson. 

One good thing about this lesson is that the students use to work together, which develops appropriate social skills. They have to discuss their ideas and come to some sort of agreement before they can complete the work. For instance, they have to figure out if everyone gets to work on two sections of the cactus and do them the way they want. Or, if they all must work on every section and agree on the colors, style, etc. This may seem like small fries to some people, but art teachers know that this is a major skill that students gain from their art classes. (You know I can't resist throwing in a little advocacy when the opportunity presents itself!)

Another good thing is reusing materials (cardboard, scrap paper). It sends a great message to the kids and saves those oh so precious budgets!

(OH! And by the way, I looked it up. Cactuses and cacti are both correct!!! Cause, you know, it would bother me to wonder if I had it written incorrectly! Lol!)


  1. Thank you for sharing this project! I appreciate your insight on collaboration and the way you challenge your students to use problem solving skills throughout the process. A project such as this not only teaches art and core content, but requires the students to practice and use skills necessary to be successful in their every day lives.

  2. You are welcome. I really love the cactus projects. They always turn out well, because they are very easy to differentiate. I hope you will continue to read my blog. Please share it if you have time. My hope is that it will help other students benefit from the types of learning you described. I definitely believe in sharing!

    Keep in touch!