Create Optical Illusions in Class: An Op Art Lesson Plan For Elementary Students and Beyond

Create Optical Illusions in Class: An Op Art Lesson Plan For Elementary Students and Beyond
Page content

Background Information

A great way to start an Op art lesson plan is to show students examples of optical art and other visual illusions. See the artist list below

for suggestions to help get you started. The magic of the “moving” images is very appealing to younger children and will pique their interest–see the helpful link section below. Some questions you could ask students while they are viewing the examples include:

  • Can the image be seen another way?
  • What is creating this effect?
  • What are you looking at?
  • What is making this movement?
  • What do you notice about the colors?
  • Do you see any shapes?

Discuss with students the different ways that art can “play tricks with your eyes.” Before starting the Op Art project, try the fun science activities below to show them how seeing isn’t always believing. You can also talk to students about shape and movement to teach them more about repetition, color contrast and complimentary colors.

Vocabulary to use: repetition, movement, radial, Op Art, optical illusion, vertical lines, contrast, complimentary colors, shape

Artists included in the movement: Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, Josef Albers, Richard Anuszkiewicz, François Morellet

Pre-Lesson “Trick the Eye” Activities

Arrows Illusion

Materials: pipe cleaners (2 of one color & 2 of another color), scissors

  1. You need 2 pipe cleaners that are the same color and length. Set these aside.
  2. Use the scissors to cut the two other colored pipe cleaners in half.
  3. Take one of the pipe cleaners that was set aside and wrap the end of it around the middle of one of the cut pipe cleaners. Bend the ends of the short pipe cleaner down, so that it looks like an arrow.
  4. Using another cut pipe cleaner, do the same thing with the other side of the long pipe cleaner.
  5. You will do the same thing with the other pipe cleaner that was set aside and the cut pipe cleaner, but instead of turning the shorter ends of the pipe cleaner down to form an arrow, bend them up into a V shape.
  6. Lay the finished pipe cleaners next to each other. Even though the two pipe cleaners are the same length, one should look longer than the other.

Face Vase

Materials: Print out 2 copies of the image below

Face Vase

  1. Leave the first copy, as is. Take the second copy and color in the vase.
  2. Show students the original image as is, and ask them what they see.
  3. After they have shared their answers and there is a mix of those who see faces/those who see vases, show them the second image.

Materials for the Lesson Plan

  • White paper (9” x 12” works well)
  • Rulers (1 inch wide) If you do not have enough rulers or ones that measure 1”, you can make “rulers” out of heavy cardstock or cardboard.
  • Markers or crayons
  • Pencils & erasers
  • Shape templates (circles, triangles, squares, rectangles) May be cut from cardboard or found objects like oatmeal & coffee can lids, box tops, tupperware lids, building blocks, etc.


  1. Students will use their pencils to trace the width of their rulers to create vertical lines. To begin, have students turn their paper

    Sample Image

    landscape style. Then they should line up their ruler with the edge of the paper and draw a line down the side of their ruler from top to the bottom.

  2. Next, they should slide the ruler over until it is lined up with the line they just drew. Now they will draw another line on the opposite side of the ruler.

  3. They should continue sliding and drawing lines, moving across the paper, until they reach the other edge.

  4. Students then select three different geometric shapes from the templates.

  5. After arranging the shapes on their paper they should use their pencil to lightly trace them.

  6. Have students select one marker or crayon color. It makes it easier and less confusing for children to work with one color at a time.

  7. They will start by coloring in the first vertical row. Any shapes that fall inside that row should not be colored and stay white. As a reminder, it might be helpful to have students put a small mark (with pencil) in the areas that need to stay white.

  8. The second column will be the opposite of the first row. It will stay white with all shapes that fall within the row colored.

  9. The third row will be like the first row, colored, with all shapes inside that column remaining white.

  10. Students should continue across the paper, one row at a time, until they reach the end.

  11. Students will then select a second marker or crayon color for all the remaining white shapes and columns on their paper. For best results, they should choose a high contrasting color or complementary color to complete the Op Art design.

This art lesson can be modified based on grade level. Older students should be able to create an illusion with five to seven shapes, and younger children could create an illusion on smaller paper with one to two shapes. Older students can also be introduced to a wider variety of shapes (hexagons, diamonds, stars, octagons, etc.). To make this compatible for the middle school grade level you could add another element of complexity and ask students to paint their shapes either with watercolor or tempera paints.