Matariki, the Māori New Year, has many symbols that explain its significance. I’ve put together this blog post to explain how to explore the Matariki stars through visual language. Read on to see a step by step process of how the Matariki stars can be used as a great context for exploring symbols and symbolism with your students.
What is Visual Language?
Visual language is the language of images. Elements of images that can communicate feelings, thoughts, ideas and concepts include shapes (e.g. the McDonalds M), colours (e.g. a red light), lines (e.g. parallel), patterns (e.g. Scottish tartan), and more!
The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” really captures what visual language is all about.
Learn about each Matariki Star
There are many myths and legends that explain the Matariki stars, their personalities and their place within Matariki celebrations. For this activity, I am using up-to-date research from Professor Dr Rangi Matamua. Click here to read more about this in my prior post “5 Ways to introduce Matariki.” Matamua explains that rather than the seven commonly referred to ‘stars of Matariki’, there are actually nine visible stars. Additionally, he goes on to state that each star has its own distinct characteristics and representations.
I have put together a set of fact cards that explain each of the stars. I suggest you make this fact reading exercise as interesting and as active as possible. For example, laminate the fact cards and place them around the school. Give the students a map, explain how to take detailed notes, and send them off on their fact-finding mission.
Learn about Symbolism and Symbols
Symbolism is when one idea, feeling, emotion, or other concept is represented by something else. Through learning about each Matariki star, students discover ideas and concepts such as good luck, wishing, grief, nature, harvests, health and well-being.
We created a “What is a Symbol?” poster to help you explain the idea of symbols to your students. New Zealand has a range of symbols, popularly known as Kiwiana, which are a great entry point to symbolism. We even included a QR code that, once scanned, takes you to a video explaining symbolism within literature.
Create a Design for Each Matariki star
We have created a unique star puzzle that combines each of the Matariki stars into one amazing star! The next step in the process of exploring Matariki stars through visual language is to design each part of the star. Additionally, within the resource, we have provided a list of popular Matariki whakatauki (proverbs) that could apply to various stars, if your students choose to incorporate them. Here’s what to do:
- Photocopy the Matariki star masters and give each student (or group of students) the Matariki star puzzle pieces.
- Refer the students to the Symbolism prompts on each sheet that will help them to use symbols within their artwork.
- Students create designs to represent each of the Matariki stars. I can’t wait to see some of the awesome work that your students come up with!
Explain the symbols used
The penultimate (I have been looking for a way to use that word for a long time!) step in this process is for the students to explain the symbols that they used. This is a great way to assess their understanding of symbolism and integrates explanation writing into this visual language and art activity. Students will find they can easily fill up the page with their writing by working through how they used symbols to represent each of the nine stars.
The final step in this process is to cut out the puzzle pieces and arrange the Matariki stars. This would make an incredible display. What I love about this activity is each artwork has deep layers of meaning, and your students have combined the skills of reading, writing, visual language, and art to create it.
Our Matariki Stars Visual Language Activity
For more information on our Matariki Stars Visual Language activity, and to purchase, click here. You can also see the steps in this process through the video below.
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Matariki Literacy and Social Studies Resources
Integrate the study of Matariki across the curriculum with our great range of Matariki resources. You can see our full range here.
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Onwards and upwards,