The Paper Project

A Project by First- and Second-Grade Students at the Child Study Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Length of project: 8 weeks
Teachers:  Fern Reirson, Julie Gellner, Tera Woollard, Shanthu Manoharan, Stephanie Kelly

Phase One—Beginning the Project

"Paper" was selected as a project topic following a study of "Color" because it was a resource which children used repeatedly and daily. A teacher introduced the project by reading The Paper Crane. In small groups, children webbed and presented what they knew about paper to the entire class. A teacher recorded the children's questions as they arose during the discussion. The children were asked to represent what they knew about paper in a way other than webbing. Provided with a list of other possible forms of representation, the children built paper and wooden models, used art materials, wrote stories and poems, and drew diagrams to communicate what they knew about paper. When the teachers examined the children's webs and oral questions, the following questions arose repeatedly or created the most interest: How is paper made? Where was paper invented? How many ways can we use and create with paper? What do we do with paper once we are finished with it?

Phase Two—Developing the Project

One group of children experimented with trying to make paper from sawdust. Over time, others created handmade paper from construction paper, powdered paint, sawdust, fabric, cooked vegetables, paper toweling, and newspapers. Those interested in the history of paper researched and explored the origins of writing surfaces and their uses: hieroglyphics on papyrus, Greek on clay tablets, and Chinese brush writing. Another group made creations out of paper: assorted puzzles, different paper airplane designs, and paper bridges. A parent shared her collection of handmade paper. The children interviewed an entomologist about paper wasp nests. A small group walked through the university and to the riverbank, examining bridges, benches, and walkway supports in designing and building paper bridges and buildings. Other children typed stories and built block and paper models of how paper is milled, used, and recycled.

Phase Three—Concluding the Project

Parents were invited to tour the children's culmination representations on an informal basis. The children shared their learning informally with one another during the last day of the project. Some children made books about paper, containing diagrams, handmade paper samples, poems, and instructions for making paper. Another group made a timeline in a display case of paper's history. Others created puzzles and games about paper and using paper. A center was set up for testing the strength of different paper shapes. A giant collage of an airport, containing mini plane models, accompanied a free verse poem entitled "Flight." Tours were conducted of a three-dimensional block city explaining how paper is made, used, and recycled. Following the final day, children added examples and descriptions of the project work to their personal portfolio books.


The Paper Project was thoroughly documented and examined to identify the co-relation between the Project Approach and the Research Process (Focus on Research, 1990, Alberta Education) as part of my Master's study (1998). The study showed how the Project Approach can provide teachers with an alternative and authentic model for inquiry- or research-based learning. Projects are another means of addressing the curriculum through interdisciplinary topics. Primary and secondary resources are often integral and interrelated to project work. The Project Approach provides children with the opportunity to develop their thinking skills and independence during the inquiry process.


Flying high and low
Take off fast and land slow
Going down,
Curving sideways
Going up, looping, gliding
To the ground
Soaring in the sky.
Engines soaring
Climbing into the clouds
Planes plunge
Helicopters hovering
Above the land
Over a small countryside
Ears popping
Babies crying
Bumpy rides
STOP in a slide!
Poem composed by children making aerial collage of airport and paper airplanes.

1. Choose a paper shape.
2. Put a book on the shape.
3. How many books can it hold?
4. Draw a picture of your experiment.
5. Write a sentence about your test results.

Try testing each of these shapes. Which shape is the strongest?
shape test

"Testing Paper" designed by children who had tested and built bridges using different weights of paper and different support shapes.


drawing of ingredients of paper

crossword puzzle

Observational drawing of handmade paper using vegetables and fabric, using a magnifying glass. 'Paper' word search puzzle designed by interviewing classmates, observing displays and examining word search puzzles in magazines.

making paper

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