Introduction: Self-Portrait Puzzle

About: I am the Design, Tinkering and Technology Integrator at Mark Day School in San Rafael, CA ( I teach technology and maker curriculum to K-8 students.

Description: Students will create a hand-drawn, laser-cut cardboard puzzle containing symbols that represent their identities.

Subject: Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Grade level: 4th-6th


  • Students will reflect on their own identity including their strengths and interests.
  • Students will use creativity to draw objects that represent their identity.
  • Students will consider how size of representation indicates importance.
  • Students will create a chipboard puzzle to take home.

Tools needed: scissors, [optionally, laser cutter and iPads with Adobe Ideas app] Materials: 25+ 12” x 12” Chipboard, sheets of paper, sharpies (various colors), pencils, sample finished project, iPads with InkPad app.

Duration: Two classes, approximately 40 minutes each.

Possible adaptations: draw puzzle piece lines in Adobe Ideas (if using InkPad, draw a square while tapping and holding elsewhere on the canvas to constrain shape; export to PDF, then email) and cut puzzle pieces using a laser cutter, trace photos of students’ profiles or trace shadows created by standing in front of an overhead projector to create accurate personalized silhouettes.

Related resources:

    Step 1: Overview [Class #1]

    “We are going to be creating Self-Portrait Puzzles that will tell other people about you and what’s important to you.” (1 minute)

    Display a sample finished puzzle.

    Step 2: Brainstorm (verbal)

    "What are some things that make you you? When you meet someone new, what kinds of things might they find out about you? What are some things you really like or dislike?" (3 minutes)

    Examples: hobbies, sports, musical instruments, favorite foods, nicknames, hometown

    Step 3: Brainstorm (written)

    “Fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise. On the left side, write down as many ideas about yourself as you can.” (3 minutes) “On the right side, write down an object or symbol for each idea (e.g. a baseball bat for baseball). You can also sketch objects or symbols."

    Step 4: Share

    "Take one minute to share your list with a partner and then switch. Ask questions about anything you don't understand or want to know more about." (2 minutes total)

    Step 5: Draw Profile Silhouette

    “A silhouette is an outline. It’s usually filled in black but we’re going to leave the inside blank for now.” demo a silhouette of the side of a face (1 minute)

    Have students stand in front of a projector or outside facing sideways to the sun. Place chipboard on the ground so that the shadow of the profile of their face fills the chipboard. Use a marker to outline the shadow. Alternatively, have students take their photo in Photo Booth while turning sideways. Then import into Illustrator and trace with the brush tool. Then import into Photoshop and trace with the magnetic lasso tool. Use Edit-->Stroke (e.g. 8 pt stroke) to create an outline and then delete the contents of the selection to retain just the outline. Use this as a basis for drawing the outline on the chipboard.

    Step 6: Draw Objects

    “Using your list, fill your silhouette by drawing objects that represent you.”

    “What you include (or don’t include) is entirely up to you!” (15 minutes or longer)

    [This concludes the first class period.]

    Step 7: Intro Emotional Journey Map [Class #2]

    (4 minutes)

    “You’re going to be creating puzzle pieces from your self-portrait. In order to do this, we need to make three different curved lines. We are going to use something called an Emotional Journey Map to create these lines. Emotional journey maps are a way to chart highs and lows over a period of time."

    Draw a sample on paper and display it (see example image). "You may want to draw your lines on paper first and then re-create them on an iPad. We'll use an app called InkPad to do this." Demo drawing emotional journey map lines on the iPad. The first student (or teacher) will need to set the canvas size: tap the Plus (+) button → Custom Size → i → Inches → type in 11 for the width and height → New Drawing → Create. Pinch to zoom out so you can see the square and a border around it. Make sure your lines start and end outside of the square.

    Discuss what types of lines work well for this project (smooth curves, few intersections, extending beyond square border, continuous lines)

    Note: we use an 11”x11” canvas because it gives 0.5” margins around the finished puzzle, which provides a frame.

    Additional information about emotional mapping

    Step 8: Draw Lines

    (3 minutes)

    • “Draw a line representing your day.”
    • “Draw a line representing your year.”
    • “Draw a line representing a time you learned something new.” (Could be something they drew as an object)
    • Other ideas: getting to school (car, bus, bike, or walk), chart the emotional journey of a character in a book or movie “You may want to avoid really small pieces when your lines intersect.”

    Step 9: Export and Email Drawing

    (3 minutes)

    In the InkPad app, tap Gallery and then tap on the name of the drawing (e.g. Drawing 1). Rename the drawing to include the student's name.* Tap on the drawing to open it. Tap Arrow → Export as PDF → Arrow → Mail → [enter email recipient] → "Be sure to include your name in the Subject field!"** → Send → Done → Gallery (for next person if sharing iPads).

    *Otherwise, you will end up with many email attachments with similar names (e.g. Drawing 1.pdf, Drawing 2.pdf, etc.).

    **Otherwise, you will end up with many identical email messages.

    Step 10: Cut Out Puzzle Pieces

    "We will cut your puzzle on the laser cutter." Cut the chipboard on the laser cutter (1 minute minimum per chipboard). The frame is really handy for playing with the puzzle and for transporting it (see step #12).

    Step 11: Share and Play

    “Mix up your pieces and give them to someone else. See if you can assemble someone else’s puzzle. What can you learn about the other person through their silhouette, objects, and journey lines?” (4 minutes)

    Step 12: Wrap-up

    “Hand the pieces back to the person who made them.” If students want to
    take their puzzles home, stick long pieces of painter’s tape on the back side of the puzzle.

    "What did you enjoy about that activity? What was challenging and why?”