LAST TIME in this DRAWING SPACE FANTASY series of blogposts, I shared my experiences of DESIGNING SPACE VEHICLES with teens and pre-teens. UP NOW: Designing SPACE ALIENS!
At this SPACE STATION, along with a usual assortment of art supplies (pencils, crayons, paper that's 11x17 or larger), I had a little tub containing slips of paper, each having a number. The kids got to select a piece of paper and the number they picked = the number of appendages their alien would have. This will often lead to a discussion about what an APPENDAGE is. In the realm of SPACE CREATURES, pretty much ANYTHING GOES with appendages, because they can be MADE to have separate and distinct functions.
Here is just a sampling of SPACE ALIEN APPENDAGES:
Arms, legs, tails, tentacles, wings, horns, spikes, and of course: ROBOTIC-all-of-those-items-mentioned.
What's your alien's name?
What planet is the alien from? Is it aquatic? Zero gravity? Mountainous? Burping up volcanic geysers every 3 seconds?
Does the alien still live on its home planet or did it emigrate?
What was the event that caused your alien to emigrate?
What sorts of allowances does the alien have to make in order to live in another world? (Space gear; breathing apparatus, etc.)
What sort of vehicle does your alien drive?
Who is the alien's closest ally?
Who is the alien's staunchest foe?
It bears mentioning that ALL of the RESPONSES to the above questions can also be drawn.
It is particularly helpful to have these questions in your "back pocket" for those students who race through the first part of the design process and need and want to be challenged further.
I cannot tell you how many times I've been grateful for having taught character design classes while working with the middle schoolers!
Can you see how in the above character creation what a GREAT OPPORTUNITY there is for a student to not only be imaginative, but to VENT their emotions? This is not only healthy for the child, but it lends an air of REALNESS to the character. Yes, they're from another planet and that is an unknown to us, but when they struggle with the same types of emotions and situations WE do, then we are so much more able to "go with them" to that other world. We now have a POINT OF REFERENCE, and that reference is EMOTION.
I find that if a student is stuck coming up with this sort of character development and backstory creating, all you have to do as the instructor is sit down with him or her and just ask. Take notes. You will find that the children will get into it, picking up speed with their ideas because NOTHING IS OFF LIMITS -- they are FREE TO USE THEIR IMAGINATIONS. And, of course, having YOUR undivided attention is also a big draw. Yup! Kids want your attention!
In the above photo, the drawing is the student's, but the writing is mine. I was "interviewing" this 8th grade boy about his space alien.
At first the boy said that "This is stupid" (the act of coming up with character info), but after a FEW SHORT MINUTES, do you know what he was doing? Grabbing his paper back so he could show and tell his friends about this character that was MORE THAN JUST A DRAWING now -- it was a CHARACTER that had a HISTORY, and HE had come up with all that!
Once you can "hook" a kid into the thing THEY'VE created, they WILL invest more time and brain power into delving into that character's LIFE and STORY.