As Big as the Ocean: Creating Murals


The artist Wyland is known for his murals of marine life across the country, including Key West, FL (left) and Anchorage, AK (right). Photos courtesy of Corey Ann and yksin via Flickr.



Need a way to help students better understand the immense size of oceans and marine species? Consider a mural! These large-scale art projects are engaging, allow for whole class involvement, and blend science, math, and art concepts.

Murals can be created during an ocean unit – students add features and organisms as they learn about them. Or the mural can serve as a culminating activity and possibly even a form of assessment. In either case, this is typically a student-directed activity – the students plan and create the mural based on their own research and understanding.

While we tend to think of murals as large paintings on the sides of buildings, they don’t have to be this large or elaborate. Students could create a “mural” on the playground using chalk (be sure to plan this for a week without rain!) or on large sheets of butcher paper using colored pencils, crayons, markers, or paint. Another alternative is to create a mural using a bed sheet and fabric paint or markers.

What should be displayed in the mural? Subjects could range from a single marine species (similar to Wyland’s murals of whales, called “Whaling Walls“) to an entire seascape. Teachers might choose to have students focus on particular features or areas (hydrothermal vents, coral reefs, trenches, tide pools) or on a specific ocean. Small groups of students or classes might each create a mural depicting one of earth’s five oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Southern) and representative species.

Teachers might also choose to incorporate math concepts such as scale into the mural’s creation, challenging students to research the actual sizes of various species and then to create a proportional representation. The size of the mural itself can be customized to the age and number of students, available work time, and space constraints.

Since the mural is, by its very nature, a cooperative project, teachers should take care to structure the activity to ensure participation and success. Individual and group assessment and accountability are key in any cooperative experience. For more information, please see “Cooperative Learning and Elementary Classrooms.”

An important characteristic of a mural is that it is displayed for public viewing. This might be on the playground (in the case of a chalk mural) or in the hallway, classroom, or gymnasium. Students should have the opportunity to present their work to their peers and families. They will be proud to explain their mural and demonstrate their understanding of the ocean and marine life!

Ocean Murals
The four- to six-day unit provides a way for elementary teachers to include other subjects, such as science and math, in their art lessons. Students will learn about the ocean and its inhabitants through exploration and research. They will demonstrate their understanding by creating a mural.
The project encourages cooperative learning and the artistic, collaborative process of having the students paint the mural together and work on individual projects in small groups.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright May 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *