A few years back I was reading the terrific Temeraire series by Naomi Novik which portrays an alternate version of world history where dragons play an important role in the military and all the fanciful details of how humans would live in unison with these magnificent creatures. Novik's writing is so illustrative that one can't help but be enamored by the beauty of these beasts and I was right in the middle of the series when I noticed that the prints my Kindergartners were making looked a lot like dragon scales. The very next class period I tested my inspiration with my second graders (on the fly) and I knew immediately this project was a keeper!

These dragons are a double win for our classroom because we have a large supply of thin plastic that I had not yet put to good use beyond table coverings. The plastic is similar to a very cheap shower curtain. It needs only be cut just a little bigger than the largest paper (18" x 24") so for a small investment, you can get a lot of printing surface. It needs to be see-through, but it does not need to be perfectly clear, plastic wrap will not work, but older kids might be able to use a heavy duty Zip-lock if it were cut open.  For little hands the plastic needs to be stiffer. Ours is a donation from a sign shop, you can check locally and see if you can find something similar.

These dragons are magnificent on the wall because of their giant size (which delights the kids) and they just burst with texture and personality. This project does take a bit of organization and good time management to get them made in two class periods. I hate to ever stretch a project to three periods in second grade but these are worth it if you've only got 45 minute class periods (we have 60), they really turn out terrific and the kids absolutely love them! This would be a fabulous home-school project too, as there is relatively no mess involved.
Note below the tips to watch for, with three years of experience doing these, I've learned where things can go wrong, (I'm recording the tips here for myself as much as to share them with you, so I remember year-to-year!) so be sure to read those over below. I teach at a small private school so my classes are generally small and easy to manage, but even with a larger class (like last year - 18) with an extra pair of hands to help, these can be accomplished with some forethought. 
All the paper should be cut ahead and set in stacks to hand out to the kids as they work, this provides more control and far less confusion. I arrange the tables in long row(s) that I can walk between and each student gets a tray to put under the table to lay their printed body parts on as they work, the chairs are pushed to the perimeter. The kids need only bring a pencil the first session and when they walk in I have the folded plastic laid out at each printing station so we can get right to work. 
Due to the difficulty of taking decent shots of the prints on black paper, I have printed the how-to below on white so it is easier to see in the photos. The results are far more 'dragon' like on black and I recommend it, in fact, I would use almost any other color instead of white, as the contrast is just too jarring to make a convincing dragon.
NAME TIP:  With each round of prints the kids are handed new paper and they don't get to print until their names are written on the back. Instruct the students that their names must always be visible, so name side up! Have them place the paper under the plastic, directly on the table.

 Materials List: 
  • 1 - 9" x 12" black paper
  • 1 - 6" x 9" black paper
  • 6 - 6" x 4 1/2" black paper
  • 1 - 18" x 24" paper in a contrasting color
  • Large paper for background
  • 20" x 26" plastic for printing
  • Black, green, white, yellow, and red tempera or acrylic paint.
  • scissors
  • white glue

I recommend creating a dragon prior to class starting. Pointing to each body part prior to printing goes a long way in eliminating confusion.

Give the plastic a fold in the middle like a book. Open the plastic and add a dot of green, white, and black paint in the middle of the plastic away from the fold.  

PAINT TIP: Paint should be thin enough to drip off a spoon, distributing it this way to the kids is the easiest to control.  Walk down the line to drip the paint on each student's open plastic. Too much paint takes longer to dry and it won't create a good scale-like effect.

Fold the plastic over to cover the paint. Instruct the kids to mix the colors with their fingers by kneading it under the plastic but challenge them to keep the spot of paint as small as possible. Start with a foot and show the kids how to make points for claws with their fingernails.
The back legs are the same as the feet but longer and without claws.
TIP: If there is paint left behind after the legs are printed, give the students a piece of newsprint or scratch paper to absorb it before moving on to print the head, body, and wings.
Print the head next on the 6" x 9" paper. These last three prints are all made utilizing the fold, and a bit more paint is required, placed directly in the fold.  Knead the paint as before but now have the students form it into the shape of a head, with horny parts and a longer nose.
TIP: Symmetry is an important vocabulary word to introduce for these last prints, reminding the students they are only creating half the head, the other half will show when they open the plastic. They LOVE seeing it when it opens.
The body is a lot like the head but larger, any shape that fits the paper will usually work.
TIP: Since the students have written their names on the paper prior to printing the shape, if they place them under the plastic they can more easily see the size of the body part and what will fit on the paper they are given.
The wings are last and take more paint than any other  body parts. The paint should be spread thin under the plastic to get the characteristic webbing this printing method creates and will produce the most beautiful wing patterns. Nearly any shape will make a great dragon wing as long as the paint is spread thin.
TIP: Remind students not to push the paint beyond the plastic.
The printed dragon parts.  The plastic can be washed and reused, a quick soak in a sink of soapy water makes the cleanup quick and easy. 

The next class time is spent cutting and gluing  A large paper is needed to assemble the dragon. The example here is shown on brown shipping paper that was flattened, trimmed to size and re-purposed.

TIP: The kids grow weary of cutting, so start with the wings to get the hardest part over first and since they are printed on the lighter paper, they can more easily see the paint and intricate designs the prints make along the edges. Many students will want to cut the shapes smooth, but encourage them to follow the bumpy outlines to get the most realistic wing designs. The wings are cut down the folded print line so that they can be spread out behind the dragon body.

Once the wings and body are cut out they can be glued down. Have the students arrange the parts on the paper before they glue them and remind them to spread the glue all the way to the edges of the paper. I'm never too fussy about how the kids put the dragon together, but I talk them through how the body parts have to touch one another, demonstrating how arms attach to a torso; including ideas like what legs look like bent next to our bodies and what they look like extended, as if the dragon was sitting or in flight. If the head gets put on sideways, it still makes a cool, sideways looking dragon, don't fret the small stuff.

The eyes can be problematic. We created half circles cut out of colored paper and then painted the black line above and the pupil inside, this was as fool proof as possible. We talk about how a dragon would not have eyes like a cute bunny, and several examples are drawn on the board to illustrate expressions.
Student examples:
 Close up of detail:

I would love to hear about your dragon making fun, or any other ideas you may have using this printing technique, I sure hope you share them with me in the comments below!