Oct 06 2008

Getting Animated

Motivate your students by making existing lesson plans move.

Computer graphics can help drive home concepts that fall flat because they are too abstract or lackluster. Lessons with moving illustrations or cartoons have an immediate impact on students. Animation is an ideal medium, not only to express surreal action and spur the imagination, but also to elucidate processes, such as the making of a Constitutional amendment or the action of a foreign-language verb.

Lesson Description

This unit will give middle school or high school students a deeper understanding of chemical elements and compounds and teach them how to plan and create a simple animation.

Introduce students to the Periodic Table of Elements and discuss the concept of chemical compounds. Assign (or have students pick) an element or compound and ask them to describe its chemical makeup or equation.

Play an animation (which you have created before class) that illustrates a chemical element or compound. Explain that in animation, action is an illusion in which still drawings appear to move. Examine the animation frame by frame and ask students to spot the changes from one frame to the next. Ask students to guess what element or compound you have illustrated and ask them to describe the idea or concept they think you are trying to communicate.

Next, have students consider how they could illustrate and animate their element or compound. This could be an in-class brainstorming session or a homework assignment. A character such as a stick-figure drawing, animal or other image would work best to tell a story in the animation.

Create a new animation in class to introduce students to your animation software, with a brief overview of the interface, menus and tools. Demonstrate how to create a figure using a ready-made shape (advanced lessons could examine how to create an original shape). Show students how to duplicate a frame and alter it slightly from the previous frame. Show them how to insert words, colors and fonts. Keep a running commentary as you work, introducing new language as you go. Show students how to save and preview their work. A simple project with a total of 10 frames would work well to demonstrate movement. Show the students how changes to the timing of different frames can affect the appearance of the action.

Subject Area

This lesson applies specifically to chemistry, but it can be modified or applied to other subject areas or age groups.

Curriculum Standards

This lesson addresses these National Educational Technology Standards for Students:

  • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity and promote creativity.
  • Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations.
  • Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate and use information.


  • You will need animation software, such as Serif’s DrawPlus. Most programs have tutorials to get you going quickly. Serif provides several online resources, as well as a CD of lesson suggestions, worksheets and other materials for teachers.
  • Prepare a sample animation. This will enable you to give better support to students as they create their animations and will provide demonstration material to use during the main activity.
  • Download a storyboard template or create a blank sheet with different squares or cells to help students plan their animation.

Check out these resources for more ideas:

  • Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, examples of students chemistry animation projects, www.wjcc.k12.va.us
  • Periodic Table of Videos, University of Nottingham: www.periodicvideos.com
  • Web portal for online animation resources (the password for guest access is “animator”): www.portaportal.com
  • Aardman Animations, creators of “Wallace and Gromit”: www.aardman.com
  • British Film Institute, resources for teachers and students: http://www.bfi.org.uk
  • The Animator’s Survival Kit: A Manual of Methods, Principals and Formulas for Classical, Computer, Games, Stop Motion and Internet Animators, by Richard Williams (Faber & Faber, 2002); from the director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
  • Serif’s “DrawPlus” product info, tutorials and demo videos: www.serif.com

Grading Rubric

Students’ grades should be based on their ability to understand and discuss the lesson’s concepts, their use of correct terminology when discussing the subject matter and the use of movement in their animation.

Teaching Tips

  • To add onto the lesson, have students write a brief description of their animation and what inspired them to design it.
  • The final projects could be shared or exhibited in a multimedia presentation, on an interactive whiteboard or on a school website.