From Trash to Treasure

Lesson Plan


Students will discover that objects can be used in several different ways and will brainstorm new uses for objects that might otherwise have been discarded. Students will work together collaboratively as an “art director” to create a work of art using found materials.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • recognize that items can be reused to create something new;
  • develop new uses for items that might otherwise have been discarded; and
  • work with others to create a piece of art.


  1. Warm-up: Encourage children to work together during this fun activity! Begin by having students form a circle together in the classroom. Then see how many shapes the children can form together as a group. See if they can form a square together. How about a triangle? How about the letter A? What about a heart? Congratulate the children on a job well done!
  2. Next, ask the children what materials are usually used to make art (e.g. paint, paintbrushes, markers, pencils, paper). Elicit as many examples as you can.
  3. Ask the children: Have they ever made art out of trash? Have them provide examples of how they turned art into trash.
  4. Display the image of Spiritual Messenger. Ask the children if they have any idea what it is made from. Talk about how Nnaggenda made this sculpture out of recycled chunks of metal and old car parts that someone had thrown away. Refer to the About the Art section for more information.
  5. Ask the children if they know what a director does (they may be most familiar with the term “movie director”). Explain that a director is someone who is in charge of an activity, organization, or project. Tell the children that today they will be acting together as an “art director.”
  6. Allow the children to view an assortment of found objects. Explain that these items might have been thrown away, but instead the class will be reusing the objects to create something new. Hold up each item and have the children brainstorm possible creations that they could make out of the objects. Encourage them to use their imaginations and come up with as many ideas as they can!
  7. Have the children act as the “art director,” giving each student a chance to tell the teacher where to place a particular object, working as a group to create one complete art piece. Once the piece is assembled, be sure to give the work of art a creative name!


  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.