Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries
The Arts of India, 1556-1658
June 23 - July 1, 2008
Program home | About | Schedule | Application | Lesson Plans | Contact Us


Unit of Study:            Architecture is a Story Written in Stone

Lesson Title:       

1. The Geometry of Beauty – Two 50-minute periods
2. Ancient Design Tools – Two 50-minute periods
3. Symbolic Monuments – Three 50-minute periods
4. Participate in a Final Critique

Discipline:                  Art / Math / Social Studies

Grade Level:              5th Grade

Author:                      Mary N. Flynn
County:                      Baltimore County, MD

Time Period:              Two 50-minute lessons



Geometry provides the skeleton on which the impressive architecture and decorative arts of the Mughal culture rely. In order to help students develop a deeper understanding of what is so seductively pleasing to the eye, they will first explore the underlying geometry through using the ancient tools of the straight edge and compass. Constructing geometric forms from point, line and circle involves students in a process in which they are seeing principals at work. Students will learn to make templates and use them as a design tool as is done in traditional and contemporary artwork. Students will learn about the way that Mughal emperors blended the architectural styles of Muslim, Hindu, and other cultures resulting in a new style.  They will be introduced to the idea that form follows function through examining the use of water gardens and jali that were used extensively to lower the temperature and improve ventilation in the oppressively hot climate of northern India. Students will have the opportunity to work together in teams utilizing the strengths of each as was done in Mughal workshops. This unit encourages differentiated instruction since there are many choices in the skill levels needed in the final project.


This lesson is designed to encourage students to develop their visual and fine motor skills. The teacher will want to have a variety of visuals available to excite interest and a batch of reliable compasses to lessen frustration as students learn to use the tools. Some students will have pronounced difficulty creating a symmetrical design. Lightly shading the original circle may help. Changing the color of the pencil for each successive round of circles may also help visual tracking. Teachers may find that many students have poor skills in basic measurement and so review of using the ruler to set two points equidistant from the paper’s edge and then connecting them may need guided practice. 

The teacher will want to practice drawing the figures and making templates for arches before teaching the lesson. Students will be expected to practice all skills before deciding on their final project. Writing accompanies the stages in order to reinforce the vocabulary and the concepts.

The distinctive Mughal style that culminated in the icon of the Taj Mahal resulted from a blending of cultures. Mughal society included many cultures other than the Persian/Turkic culture of the emperors. Their founder, Babur was himself the product of a society that blended the Muslim culture of Persia with the semi-nomadic culture of Turkic peoples. Babur grew up in a bi-lingual culture as many of our students do now. The land that he conquered is now part of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Babur and his Muslim descendents were minority rulers of huge numbers of Hindu, Jain and other religions with roots much older than that of the ruling Mughal culture. The one minaret typical of many Muslim mosques gave way to 4 symmetrically placed towers (perhaps more pleasing to the aesthetics of the Hindu wives of the rulers). Rich stone carving abounds on some monuments and occasionally animals are depicted.

The Mughals conquered a land rich in stone, minerals and manpower. The Mughals were successful in building their monuments because they were able to put the creative and technical talents of their new subjects to work. The Mughal contributions were many including bringing Persian irrigation technology that helped transform the hot arid landscape.  They also brought administrative skills necessary to rule such a vast territory.  They did not forbid that the old religions be practiced although they did encourage conversion.  Examples abound of ways in which people of differing cultures successfully lived together during this period of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s history.


Needle style compasses.  Set initially for a 1.5” radius. One per student.

1 pair pliers for loosening and tightening tensioning nut on compasses

Ruler or straight edge for each student

White drawing paper

  • Lesson 1 - 12” x 12” / 50 lb drawing paper – 2 sheets per student min. and lined paper for note taking
  • Lesson 2 – manila paper – 6” x 6-8” for cutting templates for arches and domes – 2 or more per student and 12” x 18” white paper for practicing using the templates.
  • Lesson 3 – A variety of sizes or 50 – 90lb drawing paper for the final project.

Pencils & erasers

Colored pencils (If available watercolor pencils give the option of adding a little water to more quickly cover large areas of color but allow more control than standard watercolor paint.)

Pad of newspaper for each student to protect table and create a padded drawing surface

Masking tape for stabilizing paper – one roll per table


World map or globe for locating India and area of Mughal Empire

Power Point presentation of Mughal tombs, mosques and monuments with architectural details of jail and tile

Laminated visuals of Mughal architecture from varying points of view including site plans and elevation drawings to give students awareness of ways that architecture is visually represented.  Include several tomb complexes so that students can compare and contrast domes, minarets, arched doorways and windows, jali, tile work, gardens, etc. I used: Humayuns Tomb, Akbar’s Tomb, Amber Fort, Agra Fort, the Taj Mahal, Shalimar Gardens

Protocol for distributing and collecting compasses to prevent misuse or theft.

Handouts with step visuals showing the process for designing arches and domes

Internet – There are many resources for pictures on the Internet however a majority of images are copyrighted. Many copyright owners will agree to allow teachers to use their images in classroom visuals. Wikipedia has an increasing number of images available.

Standards/Learner Outcomes

a) 5th Grade Fine Arts Standards

1.0 Perceiving, Performing, and Responding: Aesthetic Education – Students will demonstrate the ability to perceive, interpret, and respond to ideas, experiences, and the environment through visual art.

2.0 Historical, Cultural, and Social Context: Students will demonstrate an understanding of visual art as an essential aspect of history and human experience.
1. Determine ways in which works of art express ideas about one’s self, other people, places, and events

3.0 Creative Expression and Production: Students will demonstrate the ability to organize knowledge and ideas for expression in the production of art.
1. Create images and forms from observation, memory, and imagination

4.0 Aesthetics and Criticism: Students will demonstrate the ability to identify, analyze, and apply criteria for making visual aesthetic judgments

b) 5th Grade Mathematics Standard 2. 0 Knowledge of Geometry - Students will apply the properties of one-, two-, or three-dimensional geometric figures to describe, reason, or solve problems about shape, size, position, or motion of objects.

Topic - A. Plane Geometric Figures

Indicator 1. Analyze the properties of plane geometric figures
2. Identify polygons within a composite figure                                                      
3. Identify and describe the radius and diameter of a circle

Indicator 2. Analyze geometric relationships

Topic: C. Representation of Geometric Figures

Indicator 1. Represent plane geometric figures
1. Identify, describe, and draw angles, parallel line segments, and perpendicular line segments (and circles)

Topic E. Transformations
Indicator 1. Analyze a transformation
1. Identify and describe the results of translations, reflections, and rotations of geometric figures


a)  Fine Arts Objectives & Skills
Declarative - The student know that:

  • Elements of art can be seen in buildings and can be used to symbolize ideas and express personal meaning.
  • Mughal rulers conquered what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan bringing their Islamic religion with them.
  • People who practice the religion of Islam are called Muslim.
  • Mughal rulers blended architectural ideas from their culture (Persian/Turkic) with the styles of their conquered land (Hindu, Jain…) to create a new style we call ‘Mughal.’
  • Pointed arches, domes, jali, minarets and carved stonework were used by Mughal architects in their buildings.
  • Jali are carved stone openwork patterns used to allow ventilation and create artificial shade.
  • Mughal monuments and palaces were placed in the centers of gardens. The gardens contained water pools and fountains that cooled the air.
  • Many craftsmen with specialized skills were employed by the emperors for building monuments.
  • Monuments were built to honor important rulers and family members.
  • Artists experiment with tools and processes in order to acquire new skills and insights into how they can be used in creating artwork.
  • The compass can be used to create geometric designs.
  • Color hue, and contrast can be controlled and adjusted to emphasize different areas of a pattern or composition.
  • Geometric patterns were used in designing the shapes of Mughal buildings as well in decorating them.
  • Jali are carved stone openwork patterns used to allow ventilation and create artificial shade.
Procedural -  Students will be able to:
  • Acquire new skills and insights into their use through sampling.
  • Effectively use studio-time for sampling techniques before deciding on a final project.
  • Use the compass to draw circles, hexagons and stars.
  • Recognize and use rotation, reflection and translation to create geometric designs.
  • Make and use templates in order to repeat patterns quickly.
  • Experiment with new tools and processes in order to acquire new skills and insights into how they can be used in creating artwork.
  • Create geometric shapes with the traditional tools of compass and straight edge and repeat them to create symmetrical designs.
  • Selectively use color, hue, and contrast to create patterns within geometric designs.
  • Create artworks that explore the symbolic use of the elements of art and selected principles of design, such as pattern, repetition, contrast, balance, variety, and unity/harmony to express personal meaning.
  • Effectively use studio-time sampling before deciding on a final project.
  • Manipulate art media, materials, and tools safely.

    b) Math Content Objectives & Skills

  • Identify polygons within a composite figure (hexagons and triangles within circles)
  • Identify and describe the radius and diameter of a circle
  • Use the compass to help construct templates*
  • Use the compass to duplicate measurements*
  • Identify, describe, and draw angles, parallel line segments, perpendicular line segments,  (ground line), and rays to create star forms, circles, and arcs
  • Use translation, reflections, and rotations of geometric figures to create designs
  • Use the ruler to measure and set points equidistant from an edge and connect with a line to create a line parallel to the edge of the paper.
  • Use a compass to create a pattern of 6 circles surrounding and overlapping a central circle
  • Create a variety of star and hexagonal designs from the above pattern.
  • Geometry and math skills are important for the architects who design buildings and for the craftsmen who build them

    *use of the compass is not part of the 5th grade math curriculum.

Unit Keywords/Vocabulary:

Persian, Turkic, Mughal, Hindu, temple, mosque, arch, dome, jali, bracket, gate, minaret, compass, tile, Taj Mahal, water garden, irrigation, template

compass, point, line, arc circle, perpendicular, adjacent, congruent, intersect, symmetrical, asymmetrical, arc, hexagon, translation, reflection, rotation


Lesson 1: Today we are going to travel to the lands that are now called India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We are going to learn a little bit of the story that is written in stone. I want you to look how these architects used geometry in their buildings. Show PowerPoint presentation. Stop to check for understanding or add additional information depending on the interest level of the group.

Lessons 2 – 5: Motivation begins with use of visuals and demonstrations to target specific topics and skills. See lesson plans below.

Scope and Sequence

Lesson 1:

Lesson Objective/Problem Statement: Today we will look at the architecture of the Mughal Empire in India and observe how they combined simple shapes to create complex designs.

Teacher demonstrates the use of a compass and straight edge to construct 6 circles around a central circle and from that constructs a hexagon and star by laying a ruler along pairs of circles and extending lines. (see step visuals)

Teacher leads discussion of safety issues and responsibilities when using needle compasses.

Team activity – Students are divided into 4 or more teams. Each team receives a packet of visuals showing a monument floor plan, picture of the main building and pictures of arches, domes, tile work and other architectural details. Each team designates a scribe and a spokesperson. The team examines the visuals for ways in which geometry is incorporated into the design. The scribe records at least one contribution from each student (with no repeats).

Team Presentations – Each team shows their visuals and describes where they see geometry in the designs. (If teacher has a projector still available the teacher should project the pictures so that everyone can see them.)

Lesson 2: Constructing Geometric Designs using Ancient Tools

Objective/Problem Statement: Today we will use the compass and straight edge to construct geometric designs including hexagons and stars as Mughal designers did hundreds of years ago.

Motivation: Greet students at the door with compass and pliers. Students are seated and read the objective silently. A volunteer reads it aloud. Show student work and teacher exemplar.
Scope & Sequence

Construct newspaper pad and mount paper. (1 full section of newspaper folded in its natural quarters with 2 or more sheets of glossy advertising paper inserted.

Call students to table for demonstration – Introduce the compass at the table with all students gathered around.  show loosening nut and replacing pencil, changing radius, safety, distribution and collection system

Step 1 – find center of paper & mark with a point
Step 2 – use compass to draw a central circle
Step 3 - place a point on the circumference on the circle and draw a circle from the new point.  ‘What do you call this design?’ (ven diagram)
Step 4 – continue drawing until you have  6 circles around center – star construction

Using a compass to ‘walk the circle’ creating 6 equidistant points that can be connected to draw a hexagon –

Step 1 - draw a circle. (To help students identify the original circle, lightly shade the circle or put a small piece of highlighter tape at point.)
Step 2 - place a point on the circumference of the circle
Step 3 - place the needle of the compass on the point and place a mark clockwise from the point.
Move the needle to the new mark and use the compass to mark a new point on the perimeter. Repeat this step until there are 6 points.
connect adjacent points to form a hexagon

Extend the lines of a hexagon to make a 6 pointed star
Distribute compasses
Studio Exploration – students return to their seats and practice skills.

Differentiation: Students who are quickly developing skills are given cues to continue explorations based on their practice design. ‘What do you notice about ____? What do you think would happen if____?’ There will be a group that will have more difficulty with learning to manipulate the tool. Find a table where there is a cluster of such students and call them together for some extra ‘tips’. Have them bring their tools and drawing. Conduct a guided practice. Some students may appreciate hand-over-hand assistance to understand how the tool should feel in the hand. Remind students that they are graded on their efforts. A paper with lots of attempts gets a higher grade than a paper with a few marks on it or one perfect little drawing.

Closure: gallery walk
Assessment: Formative based on review of folders.

Lesson 3: Learn to make Templates and use them as a design tool.

Objective/Problem Statement: Today we will learn to make and use templates for drawing Mughal style arches and domes using the compass and straight edge.

Motivation: Show pictures of students’ drawings paired with their template samples (Nailiah S. & Joshua R. in Appendix) Artists and craftsmen use templates in order to be able to precisely repeat shapes and to reduce the workload. Today you are going to learn to drawings that look complex but are fairly simple to construct.

Teacher demonstration at table

Have student follow along with the process visual to construct an arch template.  Cut small geometric shapes that can be used to fill large areas between arches. For smoother curves remind students to turn the paper, not the scissors, on curved areas.
Demonstrate finding center of the paper (very light fold or measure) centering template and tracing. If you trace the template negative it can be used to space the arches.  Also drawing around the template’s perimeter creates the characteristic rectangle that surrounds the arch in Mughal-style.

Cut a small template from a scrap and show how it can be rotated, flipped and traced in many ways.

Distribute compasses, manila paper for templates and 12” x 18” drawing paper & scissors
Guided practice of constructing first arch
Independent studio work as students construct additional arches (smaller for windows) and use them in a composition.
Periodically call students attention to students innovative solutions to using templates

Differentiation:  For students who have poor fine motor skills try using masking tape to hold the large paper to the table so that work doesn’t slide.  Small pieces of rolled masking tape can stabilize the template for tracing. Cut templates from heavier paper so it is easier to trace. You may want to allow some to use pre-cut templates.

Assessment – Formal - Students fill out Template Assessment

Lesson 4:

Objective/Problem Statement: Today you will begin designing an architectural feature for a monument that recognizes or celebrates a person, a group or an event that you feel should be remembered.

What is a monument?
A monument is a building or sculpture that uses symbolism to honor or recognize a person, group of people or event.
Examine symbolism in exemplars from teacher and former student exemplars.
In Mughal times it took many people in many kinds of workshops to design and build these monuments.
Students review their practice work with compass and template and decide which techniques interest them most. Think about who you would like to honor. You may work with a partner or team. (Not mandatory.)

5 minutes discussion and choosing topic and partners.

Studio time – lay out design

Assessment: BCR describing who you will be honoring and what details you think you want to include in your drawing.

Lesson 5a:

Objective/Problem Statement- Today we will review colored pencil techniques and apply them to our drawings. Remind students of importance of including symbolism.

Lesson 5b:

Objective/Problem Statement: Today we will work on adding details to our Mughal inspired monuments. Write a paragraph describing how the details you are adding will symbolize the person or event you are commemorating.

Lesson 5c:

Objective/Problem Statement:  Today we will refine our drawings being careful to step back and look for places that need outlining to define the design.

Lesson 6:

Objective/Problem Statement: Today we will we will review respectful critique behavior before having our final critique. Next, use information shared during the critique, to write your self-assessment.


Formative – Teacher listens to team presentations and gives immediate feedback. Teacher reviews lists of team member contributions to determine which students were less successful in recognizing the use of geometry. Self-assessments for templates and end of unit. Summative: review of portfolios


Lesson 1: After exploring some design skills you are going to choose a final project. In that project you are going to design part of a monument that celebrates a person, people or ideas that you think deserve recognition. You will have the choice of working alone or with a team. Start thinking about who you might want to celebrate.

Lessons 2-5 Gallery walk.

Lesson 6: Critique.

{back to top}

Sponsored by
the Center for Renaissance & Baroque Studies
and the Maryland State Department of Education