Recycle, Repurpose, Recreate!

Lesson Plan


Students will discover how materials can be reused to create new works of art, and describe how Spiritual Messenger exhibits both realistic and expressive characteristics. Students will create a sculpture using an assortment of found objects.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 45 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • describe how Spiritual Messenger exhibits both realistic and expressive characteristics;
  • brainstorm new uses for materials that might otherwise have been discarded; and
  • work collaboratively with others to create a sculpture.


  1. Warm-up: Hold up an object, such as a paper clip, in front of the class. Encourage the students to think of multiple ways the object could be used and how it could be included as part of a larger masterpiece. When the students think they have exhausted all of their ideas, have them come up with three more.
  2. Display the image of Spiritual Messenger and allow students to look and share observations.
  3. For younger students, explain how Nnaggenda didn't try to recreate a human body exactly. Instead, he tried to show all parts of a human—inner qualities and characteristics we might not be able to see on the outside. Ask students what types of characteristics people have that we can’t see on the outside (e.g., friendly, trustworthy, loyal, funny, helpful).
  4. For older students, read the following quotation from Francis Nnaggenda: “My figures and forms are not mere imitations of nature. I am more interested in the inner life of things, and sometimes as well in the combination of the two—the likeness and the distortion.”
  5. Ask students to describe how Spiritual Messenger exhibits both realistic and expressive characteristics. Explain to younger students that realistic characteristics are parts of the sculpture that really look like a human. Expressive characteristics are parts of the sculpture that are exaggerated or distorted.
  6. Gather an assortment of found objects and have students work individually or in pairs to create a sculptural masterpiece from the found objects. Encourage students to express the “inner life of things” via their artwork and give their creation a title.
  7. Spend the last ten minutes encouraging students to share with the class why they chose the materials they did and what their sculpture represents.


  • Small miscellaneous object, such as a paper clip
  • Assortment of found objects (e.g., clean food containers, bottle caps, computer parts)
  • A great source for found materials in Denver is Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT)
  • About the Art section on Spiritual Messenger
  • One color copy of the sculpture for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Spiritual Messenger

Spiritual Messenger


Francis Nnaggenda, Uganda

Who Made It?

Francis Nnaggenda was born in 1936 and raised in central Uganda. Exiled from Uganda under the dictator Idi Amin, Nnaggenda received his formal artistic education in Germany and France beginning in the 1960s. He studied, taught, and worked in the US, Europe, and other parts of Africa before returning to Uganda in 1978 at the end of Amin's dictatorship. Nnaggenda has a variety of artistic talents-he is a sculptor, painter, and poet. He combines techniques he's learned around the world with traditions from Africa. "People tell me my work looks like Picasso, but they have it wrong. It is Picasso who looks like me, like Africa," he says. When asked in an interview when he knew he wanted to become an artist, Nnaggenda spoke of his childhood and his family. His mother and grandmother would tell him stories and sing to him, and he would create images after hearing those stories. "All children play with anything available," said Nnaggenda. "From the soft clay pushed up and out of the tops of anthills, I modeled. Flowers when smeared on certain surfaces left colours, but it was in primary school that I first came across pen, pencil, and paper. Drawing was taught and I took to decorating the pages I worked on."

What Inspired It?

Nnaggenda often uses recycled materials to create artworks; for this sculpture he used recycled car parts. He looks for materials in the world around him, taking objects he finds and transforming them into something new. His passion for found objects may reflect his interest in exploring “the inner life of things.” In reference to the human form he says, “I find myself closer to the human beings because they influence me more than anything else. I am a human being expressing human experiences. But again my interpretation of human beings is inseparable from their surroundings. My figures and forms are not mere imitations of nature. I am more interested in the inner life of things.” Nnaggenda illustrates this idea in one of his poems:

The dead are not under the earth

They are in the tree that rustles

They are in the woods that groan

They are in the water that runs…

Those who are dead are not gone

They are in the child wailing and in the fire that flames…

When my ancestors talk about the Creator, they say:

He is with us…We sleep with him.

We hunt with him…We dance with him.


Human Figure
Human Figure

Nnaggenda’s sculpture is of an abstract standing human figure with bulging eyes and mouth open in the shape of an “O.” Its right arm folds in front, and its hand stretches towards its face.


Nnaggenda welded recycled chunks of metal and old car parts to create a new form. In his artwork, he incorporates found objects, hints of paint, and jagged textures. Nnaggenda does not always build his sculptures out of metal. He also uses wood, stone, bronze, and other media.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.