Lesson Plan: Proverbs Are Universal

Proverbs are used to comment, advise, teach, and inform; often they have dual meanings, saying more than one thing at a time. Many African cultures are full of proverbs, and for some it is a sign of intelligence to have the ability to use proverbs appropriately in various situations. Not surprisingly, because proverbs are important, they are often represented in art.

In this lesson, students encounter a staff once owned by a spokesman for an Asante chief in Ghana, which bears a sculpture that refers to a proverb. They are introduced to various African proverbs and their American equivalents in order to help them appreciate the universality of observations about other people. They become linguists themselves by representing and sculpting a selected proverb for a golden staff and acting as the teacher’s spokesperson for a day.

Suggested Grade Level: 3–6
Estimated Time: 3–4 hours

Lesson Objectives

  • Analyze the form, origin, and function of a work art.
  • Gain an introduction to proverbs in Africa and the United States and appreciate their similarities.
  • Represent a proverb in a three-dimensional work of art.
  • Communicate messages to a group.

Key Terms

Instructional Materials

  • What I See When I Really Look Activity Sheet
  • chalkboard
  • paper
  • pencils
  • long, straight, and strong branches
  • various three-dimensional Styrofoam shapes
  • round-edge scissors
  • toothpicks
  • newspaper
  • flour and salt
  • gold and black tempera paint
  • brushes: medium and small

For teacher’s use only

  • gardening hand shears or pruning shears
  • glue gun



  • Review the description of the Linguist Staff with Rooster and Hen (Okyeame Poma). Show the object to students. If using the Web to view the object, take advantage of the close-up view.
  • Have students fill out the What I See When I Really Look activity sheet. After they have completed this, make the following observations and ask the following questions to encourage a discussion of the object’s form:
    • The staff combines recognizable forms and abstract shapes. Name all of the animal forms you see. How can you tell which is which? What are they doing? What are all the abstract shapes that are carved on the staff?
    • What do you think this object is made of? How was it made? Was it carved from one piece of wood or assembled from several pieces? How can you tell?
  • Explain to students who once used the staff and why they used it. Use the map to show them where the staff was made. (See Books and Media for further references to the Asante Kingdom and its art in Ghana.)
  • Define proverb for students and provide an example (e.g., “Look before you leap.”). Have students think of as many proverbs as they can and write them on the board.
  • Tell students that African proverbs generally refer to animals, plants, social structures, or experiences common in Africa. Note that the animals on the top of the staff illustrate an Asante proverb. Have students guess what this might be then tell them the proverb it is intended to illustrate.
  • Introduce students to other African proverbs and their American equivalents. Discuss what each means and brainstorm clever ways to visualize them.


  • Tell students that they will make a staff illustrating a proverb, like the Linguist Staff with Rooster and Hen. Have them choose a proverb that they can picture in their mind. Ask them to draw one or more sketches of it on paper. Encourage them to create a design that is simple and can be reduced to a few basic forms.
  • Have students select Styrofoam shapes that will become the sculpture on top of their staffs. Encourage them also to select shapes for the base of their staff as well.
  • Have them use toothpicks to join the shapes. Allow them to use round-edge scissors to cut the shapes.
  • Ask students to tear pieces of newspaper into small strips. Then have them make paper-maché glue by mixing one part flour to two parts water until the mixture is the consistency of thick glue. (Adjust the amount of water or flour as necessary.) Have students paper-maché their forms and let them dry.
  • After using shears to make the top of each branch flat, use a glue gun to adhere students’ sculptures to their staff.
  • Have students paint the entire branch and sculpture with gold tempera paint. Encourage them to add abstract shapes to their staff with black paint.


Base students’ evaluations on their understanding of proverbs as expressed through participation in class and staff decorations. For further assessment, have them explain their designs in front of the class and provide an example of a situation when the proverb they have represented might be meaningful.


Select each student to bear his or her staff and act as your spokesperson for a day. If possible, use the proverb on the student’s staff as a theme for the day. Encourage the student to use the proverb at least once to express one of your messages to the class.



Akan-speaking culture concentrated in the forest area of south-central Ghana.
The Asante kingdom was established in the 17th century. It consolidated a number of separate states, each headed by a paramount chief under a king, or Asantehene. Many Asante visual arts are connected to verbal arts, such as folktales, proverbs, jokes, and riddles that relate metaphorically to various situations in Asante life, such as child-rearing, war, farming, politics, or religion.

Illinois Learning Standards
English Language Arts: 2, 4
Fine Arts: 25–27

Art Access