What Shapes Can You See?

Lesson Plan


Students will investigate the use of shapes in Breastplate and combine basic shapes to make an interesting picture of their own.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


The students will be able to:

  • describe the artistic characteristics of the gold Breastplate ;
  • identify the shapes in the gold Breastplate ; and
  • combine basic shapes to make a picture of their own design.


  1. Warm-up: Ask students to name all the shapes they can think of and draw their ideas on a whiteboard or piece of easel paper. You may want to ask students to go up to the board and draw a favorite shape themselves. Invite students to look around the classroom and identify all the places where they can see the shapes!
  2. Display the Breastplate and invite the children to examine it closely. What do they notice? What kind of an animal or figure is on the Breastplate ? What material is the Breastplate made from? What other objects can they think of that are made from gold?
  3. Encourage the children to look closely at the different shapes in the Breastplate. What shapes can they see (triangles, circles, squares, ovals, horseshoes, and so on)?
  4. Provide the children with a small plastic bag filled with different paper shapes (squares, rectangles, circles, ovals, trapezoids, arcs, horseshoes). Encourage them to explore how they can combine the shapes to make an interesting picture!
  5. Once the children have created an interesting picture from basic shapes, have them glue their picture onto a piece of construction paper and display their artistic creations around the classroom!


  • Small plastic bags filled with different paper shapes (squares, rectangles, circles, ovals, trapezoids, arcs, horseshoes)
  • Construction paper
  • Glue
  • About the Art section on the gold Breastplate
  • One color copy of the figure 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

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

About the Art



c. AD 400-1000


Who Made It?

Although we don’t know who created this piece, we do know about the artist’s process. This plaque was made out of a gold and copper alloy, or metallic mixture. Mixing gold with copper lends strength to the piece, but the artist would have been careful not to add too much copper because it can lead to corrosion. The artist first heated the gold alloy and then hammered it using a stone tool, repeating the process until the desired thickness was achieved. He then cut out a circular disc and embossed the design onto the surface, adding additional detailing with a chisel. To emboss the design, the artist laid the disc on a firm but somewhat yielding surface and pushed the metal out from the back.

This gold plaque was reportedly found at Parita, on the Azuero Peninsula of central Panama. It closely resembles breast ornaments found in graves at Sitio Conte, an archaeological site in central Panama. In addition to gold plaques such as this, the most powerful and important individuals buried at the site were surrounded with extraordinarily lavish offerings, including sacrificed attendants, polychrome pottery, whale and shark teeth, and other gold ornaments.

What Inspired It?

Plaques like this, sometimes stacked on top of one another, have been found covering the chests of high status individuals in archaeological excavations of tombs. Hammered into this flat, gold plaque is a figure in an upright human-like pose. This creature has sometimes been called the “Crocodile God.” It has long, reptilian claws, a split tail, staring eyes, flaring nostrils, and a wide mouth with sharp, interlocking teeth. The ears are pointed and horn-like elements rise from the head. Above the head are two fish-like animals with spiky bodies. Powerful individuals in ancient society probably identified themselves with this fierce looking supernatural being. Recent research suggests that the figure may represent an iguana with supernatural attributes.



The large rectangular head has a mask-like face with circular eyes and a flattened nose. The grinning or grimacing mouth has prominent triangular interlocking teeth. On the side of the head are upward-flowing ear ornaments. Antler-like appendages protrude from the top of the head. Two sharks are entwined in the antler projections on either side of the head.


The body is androgynous and unclothed. Both the hands and feet have claws, five on the hands and four on the feet.


At the bottom of the figure is a split, curved tail that spirals outward in opposite directions. In the center of the figure is a triangular depression.


Four pairs of holes were pierced through the finished disk so that it could be held firmly in place on the clothing or costume.

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.