Students Get Animated: Make existing lessons move and motivate students

Author: Colin Hussey
Lesson Plan:

Summary: Computer graphics can help drive home concepts that once fell flat because they were too abstract or lackluster. Lessons have more immediate meaning for students with moving illustrations and cartoons. Bridging art and technology education, and other subject areas, digital animation projects lend themselves to both collaborative and individual projects. Animation is an ideal medium not only to express surreal action, explore fantasy and make imaginative links, but also to elucidate processes and concepts such as the meaning of Constitutional amendments or the action of foreign language verbs. This unit will introduce middle school or high school students to the main principals to be considered when planning simple animation and to get a deeper understanding of chemical elements and compounds.

Teacher Preparation:

  • You will need an animation software program, such as Serif’s DrawPlus. Most programs will have tutorials to get you going quickly. Serif provides several online resources as well as a CD of lesson suggestions, worksheets and other materials to all educational users.
  • Prepare your own example animation which will enable you to give better support to students when they create theirs and will provide demonstration material to use during the main lesson activity.
  • Download a storyboard template, or create a blank sheet with different squares or cells to help students plan out their design.

Lesson Description:

Introduce students to the periodic table of elements and discuss the concept of chemical compounds. A fantastic site to really get kids excited about this topic is The Periodic Table of Videos. Assign or have students pick an element or compound and have them evaluate its chemical makeup or equation. Discuss the basic characteristics of the element of compound. What do they do? What reactions do they have when mixed with other elements?

Play your demonstration animation for them several times (on a computer screen or projected onto a screen). Explain that in animation action is an illusion in which still drawings appear to move. Examine the animation frame by frame and ask them to spot the changes from one to another, e.g., the main character placed his foot up or down, the color changed or something was deleted. Ask students if they can guess what element or compound you have illustrated. Ask them what idea or concept they believe it is trying to communicate.

Next, have students consider how they could illustrate and animate their elements and compounds. This could be an in-class brainstorming session or a homework assignment or both. A main character, such as a stick-figure drawing, animal or other image, would work best to tell a story in the animation.

For example, a basic animation of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas due to the exhilarating effects of inhaling it, could show an animated figure of the compound’s symbol, N20, and send the words “nitrous oxide” bouncing around the computer screen followed by the words “ha, ha” popping up against a solid or multicolored background.

Start a new animation and introduce pupils to your animation software with a brief overview of the interface, main menus, features and tools. Demonstrate how to create a figure using a ready-made shape. (More advanced lessons could examine how to create an original shape.) Model how to duplicate a frame and alter it slightly from the previous frame. Show them how to insert words and alert colors and fonts. Make a running commentary as you work, introducing new language as you go. Show students how to save and preview their work. A simple project could work well with a total of 10 frames to demonstrate movement. Talk to the students about how changes to the timing of different frames to affect the appearance of the action.

Subject area: This lesson applies specifically to chemistry, but it can be modified or applied to other subject areas or age groups who would benefit from a richer understanding of abstract concepts.

Curriculum standards: This lesson addresses the following standards from Virginia Standards of Learning:

  • CH.2    The student will investigate and understand that the placement of elements on the periodic table is a function of their atomic structure.
  • CH. 3   The student will investigate and understand how conservation of energy and matter is expressed in chemical formulas and balanced equations.

This lesson also addresses these National Educational Technology Standards for Students:

  • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity and promote creativity.
  • Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations.
  • Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate and use information.


  • Periodic Table of Videos from the University of Nottingham,, click on any element to launch a video.
  • Animation Is Life! Portal,, type password “animator” in guest access area
  • Aardman Animations, creators of “Wallace and Gromit,”
  • British Film Institute, children’s section gives figures and history about the world of animation, plus examples of Flash movies made by elementary students,
  • “The Animator’s Survival Kit: A Manual of Methods, Principals and Formulas for Classical, Computer, Games, Stop Motion and Internet Animators,” by Richard Williams, Faber & Faber, 2002 [ISBN: 0571202284], well-illustrated reference from director of “Who Frames Roger Rabbit?”
  • Serif’s DrawPlus product info, tutorials and demo videos,

Grading Rubric: Students’ grades should be based on their ability to understand and communicate the concepts of the lesson’s content, whether they use correct terminology to discuss the subject matter and whether they have shown movement in the animation.

Teaching Tips:

  • To add onto the lesson, have students write a brief description of their animation and what inspired them to design it.
  • The final projects could be shared or exhibited in a multimedia presentation, on an interactive whiteboard or on a school Web site.