Lesson Plan

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Learning Objectives

To recreate a traditional design style

Success criteria:

  • I know about the creation of the willow pattern
  • I can choose three parts from a story to use in my willow pattern design
  • I can make my own willow pattern design by:
  • drawing the three parts of my story
  • using undiluted ink to add detail
  • using a water wash to add lighter tones
  • adding an outline to my plate

National curriculum links:

Reading – Comprehension 

English – Years 3 and 4 Programme of Study

  • To improve their mastery of Art and design techniques, including drawing, painting and sculpture with a range of materials [for example, pencil, charcoal, paint, clay]
  • About great artists, architects and designers in history
  • Understand what they read, in books they can read independently, by: identifying main ideas drawn from more than one paragraph and summarising these
  • Participate in discussion about both books that are read to them and those they can read for themselves, taking turns and listening to what others say
  • Retrieve and record information from non-fiction



Before the Lesson


  • Teacher Video: Willow pattern

Have ready

  • Presentation: Willow pattern designs
  • Optional: an example of English willow pattern (either online or an actual plate)
  • ‘The Willow Pattern Story’
  • Large paper plates
  • Water-soluble blue ink
  • Undiluted blue ink
  • Fine brushes
  • Water
  • Sketchbooks
  • Pencils

Key Questions

Where does the pattern originate from?

Is is traditionally Chinese?

How are we creating tints of blue?

What pattern will decorate the edge of your plate?

Attention Grabber

Show children examples of willow pattern by displaying the Presentation: Willow pattern designs. You can also look at other examples you find online or an authentic piece of willow pattern crockery.

Ask the children which country they think this design originates from? Can they justify their suggestion?

Tell the children that the story in the design is set in China, and the plate itself is made from… yes, china. Explain that although the style of the drawing looks faintly Chinese, the pattern is actually British and was designed by a man called Thomas Minton at the end of the 18th century.

Minton designed a range of ‘chinoiserie’ pottery (decorated in the supposed style of the Far East but actually conceived and created in the UK), which was seen as exotic and desirable at the time.

Although he based the design on artwork he had seen in China, the story it depicts is not a traditional Chinese tale, but actually written by Minton himself. If you have time, watch the ‘The Willow Pattern Story’ video in the ‘Before the Lesson’ section of this plan.

There are many version of the design, but they all feature the key elements of the story:

  • the bridge
  • the garden fence
  • the central pair of birds
  • the particular details of the pavilions and surrounding trees

Take a look at another plate – can children spot these features now?

The Main Event


Children will be using ink to create their Willow Pattern designs, based on a story of their or your choice, such as a story you’re currently reading as a class. For illustrative purposes, the video demonstration to accompany this lesson is based on ‘The Three Little Pigs’.

The children start by picking out the three key parts of their story. In ‘The Three Little Pigs’, it might be the:

  • the wolf
  • the last house
  • the surviving pigs

Ask the children to observe that the whole of the willow tree pattern plate is created in one colour (blue), although different tones and hues of blue are used.

Ask children to plan out their design in their sketchbooks – how are they going to represent the key characters and features of their chosen story? When the children have sketched their ideas (for example, the brick house, wolf and the last pig) they need to plan where on the plate they will place them.

As a challenge to more able pupils, ask how they will decorate the edge of their plate. Encourage them to look at the geometric shapes on the internal border of an original willow pattern. Ask children if they can use rhombi/squares in a key pattern of their own. Children can design a border pattern in their sketchbooks – remembering to keep the shapes of equal size in the border.

*The following making process is explained in the accompanying video.

Drawing the Story

Ask children to draw the three key characters/features they chose onto their plate using a pencil.

Next, ink in the details using the undiluted blue ink and a fine brush.

Finally, wash most of the ink off the brush with the water and use a wet watered brush to wash in the lighter tones of blue into each area to create the tones.

Try not to load the brush with too much water – the aim is to control the water (the watered down ink will be a lighter tone, almost as if you have added white to the blue. You haven’t – you’ve just watered it down.

Darker areas will need undiluted ink.


Pupils needing extra support: Have sample pictures for the children to base their drawings on.

Pupils working at greater depth: Should create a regular, geometric border for their plate.

Wrapping Up

The use of the water wash is far more important than the accuracy of the drawing. The plate design is representative of the story, not a specific scene from the story. The layout of the picture should fill the space so that there is a balance, with no large blank areas left unfilled.

Remind the children that the willow pattern is English, but was inspired from Chinese art. It is in itself not a Chinese design.

Assessing Pupils’ Understanding and Progress

Pupils with secure understanding indicated by: Using a variety of blue tones using a washed colour. Drawing a design using features of a chosen story.

Pupils working at greater depth indicated by: Painting a thoughtful design, drawing neatly with the ink. Adding a decorative pattern to the outside of the plate.

Next Steps

This is a standalone lesson to develop the children’s design skills which they can then apply across other lessons.