Penguins are an adorable elementary art theme. They appeal equally to boys and girls, provide eye-catching color contrast, and they have such a recognizable shape that they translate to any number of possible art projects. I thought this one up after the first grade teacher popped her head into my classroom to let me know that her students were in the midst of their penguin unit and she thought I might like to run with the idea. 

Just the night before I had been looking at penguin projects online but many of them required painting and I was not looking to jump into that mess (we had painted the week before.) However in taking another last minute look, my eye caught on a very simple cutout penguin alone on a single background; cute, but a bit too simple. I was looking to introduce a few more concepts when it occurred to me that penguins live in colonies. Let's make penguins with friends! 

"Ah-ha!" now our art could tell a story. And boy did that go over big! Every student had a story to tell, most couldn't stop talking about it and each of them beamed with pride when they would point out what was happening in their art work. Some of them really loved the cutting and some students did the minimum four penguins I set as a requirements. Either way, they were all a success up on the wall! 

Student examples.
My intent was to keep the penguins small so that the kids could make more of them in the allotted class time (this project took one 60 minute session.) So cutting the paper to a controlled size is the only real trick to the entire project
  • The blue paper background is 6"x 18"
  • The black penguin paper is 4" x 4 1/2"
  • The white belly paper is 4" x 3"
  • The orange beak and feet came from 1 1/2" x 9" strips
I talked the kids through the process by making a set of three big penguins at the front of the class. Right after putting the snow on the ground with a white crayon, we walked through how to cut two shapes at a time by holding the papers and cutting them together. I cut all three of mine that way and showed them the process a second time with the white, making three penguins in only a minute or two. 

Next I cut the three beaks as simple orange triangles. The first one I pointed up a bit and said "This one is looking at something awesome up in there in the sky." The second one I put on the opposite side penguin who was leaning a bit downward and placed his beak in the same droopy way, saying "This one is lonely, he's feeling left out of what the others are looking at." Then I posed the question to the kids and asked "What do you think this middle penguin should do? Is he more interested in what is in the sky, or is he worried about his friend's feelings?" The overwhelming reply was that he was concerned for his friend (I was so impressed with their compassion) so we applied the middle beak pointing toward the downtrodden penguin. Our story was complete, and in only a few minutes of instructions they were on board with penguin story telling.  

Cutting the orange paper small kept the feet little, and I told them just to cut two shapes together so the feet were the same size, showing them how to fold the paper in half to cut two at a time. Lastly I stressed that the eyes were to be dots only and had to go on last after all the other parts were glued on, and I showed them where they went on either side of the beak. They had to get the Sharpie from me directly to make the eyes, so I reminded them again then just to make dots. If students have enough time, they can use the scraps of black paper to cut wings and add to the bodies, but those are entirely optional, the penguins are equally cute without them.
Have the kids color snow in at the bottom of the paper with a white crayon.
Draw an oval shape on the paper before cutting.
Cut two penguins at a time, cutting through both papers at once.
Repeat with the white belly. Glue the bodies down.
Cut the beaks and feet from the orange.
Beaks should point in different directions to tell a story.
Feet should slide under the bodies.
Lastly, add the eyes.
Close up of student example, but note beaks pointing left and right are more interesting that directly up or down.

These are nearly fool proof. I did have a few boys add some goofy marker beyond the eyes, but it all went with their stories, so I couldn't really complain. They were proud of their projects, and that really was the point after all.