Creative ways to integrate "The Sport of Life and Death" exhibition and web site into the classroom.

Lesson Plan 3:
Craft Headdress & Costumes

Lesson focus: Students will create headdresses and costumes based on mythological images found in Mesoamerican ballgame artifacts.

Learning objectives:

  • Identify symbols in Maya art and ritual.
  • Explore the story of the Popol Vuh.
  • Discuss the cosmic diagram of the four directions.
  • Explore glyphs of characters in creation story.
  • Learn to abstract from organic forms.
  • Create a bilateral design based on observation of animal and plant forms.
  • Create a three-color helmet mask headdress.

Maya ballplayer with ritual costume. From the Campeche region of Mexico. A.D. 700-900. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA.


Curriculum connections (Grades 6-12):


  • Printout of images and information about Mesomaerican ritual costumes and headdresses (print from web site.)
  • Printout of story of Popol Vuh (print from web site.)
  • Printout of Maya cosmic diagram (print from web site.)
  • Strathmore cover text weight paper or Bristol board (in contrasting colors - two of one color and one of another.)
  • Newsprint (for sketching)
  • Scissors
  • Staplers and staples
  • Masking tape
  • Markers

Background information:


  • ART TERMS: abstraction, asymmetry, bilateral, symmetry, organic form, zoomorphic
  • POPOL VUH TERMS: Ballcourt, Ballcourt marker, ritual, Popol Vuh, Maya, maize, backrack, Chac, Hun Hunahpu, Paddler Gods, Hunahpu, Xbalanque, Xibalba, Xocipilli, Xquic
  • COSMIC CHART TERMS: symbol, shaman, effigy, nahaul, headdress, cosmic diagram, ceiba tree, maguey, mat, waterlily jaguar, howler monkey, Venus


  • 4th and 5th grades: Five 45 minute sessions
  • Middle and High School: Three 90-minute sessions.


  1. Introduce (a) characters in Popol Vuh, the Maya creation story, (b) diagram of the four directions, glyphs and animal symbolism. (All are available from web site.)
  2. Define abstraction and bilateral symmetry.
  3. Have students design a bilateral abstract mask image. Work from animal mask templates provided on the web site. See Lesson Plan 1: Make a paper Facemask.
  4. Introduce components and headdresses in Maya ceremonial costumes. Give students computer time to review site to gain background in Mesoamerican cultures.
  5. Have students select animal or zoomorphic forms related to one of the five directions in the Cosmic Diagram. Think about color, shape, and contrast of size and position of forms.
  6. Create a design by working from plant and animal three-dimensional objects. Simplify shapes. Look for internal shapes within the form. Jowls, snouts, foreheads, mouths etc. Draw the idea on newsprint to scale.
  7. To begin construction, cut two strips of heavy paper 2 inches wide by 24 inches long. Shape these to fit the head by wrapping first piece around the forehead to the back of the head. Staple. Take the 2nd strip and make a cross strip to sit on top of the head. Staple. This should fit snugly like a cap or crown so that the tubular construction does not slide down over the face or the ears.
  8. From another piece of paper, construct a tube the same circumference of the crown. Place the crown on the inside of the tube and staple it in place. This creates the "drum major" armature for the headdress construction.
  9. Working from the zoomorphic design drawings cut out the basic shape using three sheets of folded paper (two of the same color and one contrast). Cut from the outside and leave the fold intact. The two sheets of the same color will serve as front and back base for the construction.
  10. On the contrast color draw internal shapes of your animal image.
  11. Stack two other colors inside this sheet and cut these into smaller shapes. Think about expressiveness and about contrast of size and position in making the shapes interesting to the viewer. Possible areas to exaggerate are snouts, jowls, foreheads, ears.
  12. As you construct the form, you can create more dimension by pushing the outside edges of shapes toward the center fold before you attach them. You can also roll, bend, crease, or turn edges. Examine the silhouette as the headdress takes form. How does the construction look from the side? Modify as you work three dimensionally.
  13. Cut feather-shaped forms from folded paper. Attach feathers to fan out around the headdress like a peacock tail, or group feathers framing the head on the sides and in the center.


  • Characters in creation story
  • Diagram of the four directions
  • Bilateral symmetry
  • Ceremonial costume



The Sport of Life & Death: The Mesoamerican Ballgame
A traveling exhibition sponsored by the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC