POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST – Colour, Contrast, Balance

Students research an event that interests them in Canadian history from confederation to the present. Then they use watercolour pencils to create a postcard that communicates a message about that event.

Required Time

120 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 8


Language Arts
Social Studies
Visual Arts
Media Literacy


balance colour composition contrast


Crayola Watercolour Pencils - 12 Count Crayola Variety Brush Set - 5 Count Cardstock Postcards - Template Provided Pencils Erasers Water Containers

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POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST – Colour, Contrast, Balance - Step One

Step One

  1. Find images to support your research.
  2. Make a rough plan drawing for your postcard using the images as a reference.
  3. Lightly draw your good copy on the cardstock postcard.
POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST – Colour, Contrast, Balance - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Wet your paintbrush with a small amount of water.
  2. Brush over the tip of the watercolour pencil to pick up some colour.
POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST – Colour, Contrast, Balance - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Paint the colour onto the paper.
POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST – Colour, Contrast, Balance - Step Four

Step Four

  1. View the finished postcard from a distance to see it with fresh eyes.
  2. Ask yourself these questions:
    - What creative techniques did I use to attract the viewer's attention?
    - What message do I want to communicate?
    - How might different people understand this message differently from me?
    - Why did I choose this message to send?
POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST – Colour, Contrast, Balance - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Write information about your event on the back of the postcard.
  2. Write your card to someone as if you are visiting a site where the information is being displayed. For example,
    Dear Michel,
    You won't believe this display. They have the actual mask that Jacques Plante wore way back in 1959 . . . .
  3. Fill in an address.
  4. Design a stamp in the box at the top of the card.

Learning Goals

Students will:

  • research an event in Canadian history from the past 150 years;
  • use elements of design to create a postcard that communicates a message about that event;
  • identify the purpose and audience for their postcard;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment;
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the works.


Have students:

  • work in groups to sort the postcards according to theme and dates;
  • create a display using the postcards combined with personal artifacts that highlight key moments in their own histories to showcase the passage of time;
  • share the displays with others, answering questions and telling their own stories.


  1. Photocopy the postcard template on cardstock – enough for one per student. (Downloads – PostcardTemplate.pdf)
  2. Photocopy the front of the postcard on regular copy paper – enough for one per student to be used for planning.
  3. Gather and make available books about Canadian history, for example, Canada Year by Year, by Elizabeth MacLeod; The Kids Book of Canadian History, by Carlotta Hacker; The Kids Book of Black Canadian History, by Rosemary Sadlier; Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged, by Jody Nyasha Warner; The Kids Book of Great Canadians, by Elizabeth MacLeod; The Kids Book of Great Canadian Women, by Elizabeth MacLeod; The Kids Book of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, by Diane Silvey and John Mantha; Canada's Maple Leaf: The Story of Our Flag, by Ann Maureen Owens.
  4. Have students choose something from Canadian history that they are interested in learning more about to research. Guide them through the process of choosing a topic and narrowing their focus. Provide time for them to gather key information and find photographs to support their postcard challenge.
  5. Download images of old postcards from the Internet, for example,
    Columbus Hall
    Back of Postcard
  6. Download the Elements of Art and Principles of Design posters available on this website.


  1. View several images of old postcards.
  2. Discuss how the postcards send a written message on the back, and a visual message on the front.
  3. Discuss the visual messages that are being communicated. 
    - What is the purpose of this message?
    - Who do you think created the message?
    - What techniques are used to attract your attention?
    - What lifestyle is shown in this image?
    - Who do you think this image is created for?
    - What do you think it means?
    - How might different people interpret this message?
  4. Introduce the challenge.



The Challenge

  1. Research an event in Canadian history from the past 150 years.
  2. Use elements of design to create a postcard that communicates a message about that event.
  3. Identify the purpose and audience for your postcard.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment.
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the works.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - used the elements of design effectively to communicate my message
    - created a visual message that is clear and accurate
    - used watercolour pencil techniques effectively
    - created a balanced composition 
    - written information that is accurate and descriptive
    - identified the audience and purpose for the card
    - kept the paper in good condition
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Observe students as they work. 
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Place students into small groups. 
  2. Ask them to: 
    - Share their work and interpret the messages on the cards, answering questions and providing additional information related to their research.
    - Discuss the things that are especially effective in the design of the cards and why.

    - Talk about what they found difficult and what they found easy to do.
  3. Share ideas with the whole class. 
  4. Ask students to tell how they felt about doing this project.


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting.
  2. Observe students as they discuss the art works – active listening, insightful contributions, supporting ideas with evidence found in the artwork and from personal experience.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Download - Postcard_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Download - Postcard_self-assessment.pdf)