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Basic Collage with Positive and Negative Shapes

Colorful Collage with Positive and Negative ShapesI do this quilt-inspired project with my first graders every year to help them understand the concept of positive and negative shapes.  This project also teaches symmetry and offers important practice in cutting on a fold and applying glue.  First graders are often surprised by the shapes they see when they unfold their papers – they are some pretty cute kids!


  • 9×12 black (or white) construction paper
  • 3×3 colored construction paper – 6 each, assorted colors
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick


I like to begin by cutting a circle from a folded paper, then holding up both papers and asking, “How many circles do you see?”  (answer: “Two!”)  Then I explain that one is a positive shape and the other is a negative shape.Positive and negative shape circles

  1. Fold each of your 3×3 squares in half.  (My students like to stand them up like little tents as they make them!)
  2. Cut a different shape from each of your folded squares, beginning and ending on the fold(You’ll want to emphasize cutting on the fold, and have some extra 3×3’s on hand for those inevitable mis-cuts!)
  3. Lay out all your shapes on the black paper, before you do any gluing.   Follow the diagram below, placing all your negative shapes first, lining up corners and straight edges.  Then place their matching positive shapes in the spaces next to them. Order for placing negative shapes in collage
  4. Have an adult check your work and then start gluing.  (I don’t even pass out the glue sticks until students show me their shapes correctly laid out on their black paper… otherwise they tend to glue as they go and forget to leave room for all their shapes!)  

Tip for successful gluing:  Always apply glue to the smaller paper, then stick the smaller paper onto the larger one.  Otherwise you can’t be sure exactly where to put the glue, and you’ll have glue marks showing when you’re finished!

Collage 2 w/Positive and Negative Shapes

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    1. Hello! All my best advice for this is already in the directions! But if I had to pick just 3 things, I’d say to always begin and end your cuts on the fold, place all the pieces where they go before gluing, and apply glue to the smaller paper and then stick to the larger one. Have fun!