Here’s a great idea I found on Pinterest…. You can see lots of inspiring examples here and here. I tried this lesson with my middle school students and they really had fun with it!
For more detailed instructions with photos, tips, writing prompts, a student gallery, and fascinating fingerprint facts, check out my pdf on Teachers Pay Teachers!
- Black stamp pad
- Copy paper
- Black (F) and (UF) Sharpies
- Colored pencils
- Examples of the 3 types of fingerprints: loop, whorl, and arch.
- Photocopier for enlarging fingerprints (or take pictures with your phone and enlarge on your computer)
1. Collect a thumbprint from each student. Identify the 3 different types: loop, whorl, and arch.
This was more challenging than I expected! You need thumbprints that are clean and crisp… if they’re blurry at all, they only get worse when you enlarge them. You’ll find that some thumbs just print more clearly than others, but keep trying and eventually you’ll get a thumb print from everyone that’s good enough to work with!
(Another option for collecting fingerprints is to rub a soft pencil on some paper, rub your finger onto the pencil, and then press a piece of clear tape onto your finger. Lift the tape off carefully and stick it onto a piece of white paper. This works amazingly well! See more detailed directions here.)
2. Next, you need to enlarge your thumbprints.
First, cut them out and write students’ names in pencil, then enlarge them one at a time. Make the first enlargement at 400%, then enlarge that one 250%, and you should end up with the desired result… a thumbprint roughly the size of your face! (Or you can save time by using your phone to take a photo of each thumbprint, upload to your computer, and enlarge the image that way.)
3. You’ll notice that your thumbprint enlargements will be very pixelated. So, take a (F) Sharpie and trace over the lines of your thumbprint to smooth the pixelated lines as much as possible.
Don’t worry if some lines start and stop, or run into each other. Just do your best to darken them and smooth them out.
4. Next, center a clean sheet of lightweight paper over the top of your thumbprint.
You may want to tape the two papers together to keep them from sliding around. (Tip: Before taping anything that you’ll want to remove later, first stick the tape onto your pants, then when you lift it off, the tiny fibers that are stuck to the tape will cause it to be less tacky and less likely to tear your paper when you remove it!) If you have trouble seeing through your paper to trace your thumbprint, taping the paper to a window or light box (if you have one!) will be a huge help.
5. Now, use your (UF) Sharpie and start writing along your thumbprint lines!
Begin at the top and use the lines of your thumbprint as guide lines for your writing. You don’t need to retrace the lines onto your paper – you want your writing to create the ‘illusion’ of lines in your drawing. And don’t worry about following every line exactly – this won’t be used for I.D., you just want to get the general idea of the thumbprint! So, start writing a narrative about yourself… how old you are, things you like and don’t like, your hopes and dreams for the future…. that kind of stuff! If you feel more confident writing in pencil first, you can do that, but you’ll need to carefully erase any pencil left showing after you trace with Sharpie!
6. Optional… use colored pencils to lightly add some designs in the background before tracing over your writing with Sharpie. This will personalize your self-portrait even more!