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Notes and guidelines

This resource offers a series of teacher-led, whole-class or group activities.

The questions and discussion suggestions are voiced directly to students, allowing the resource to be easily presented to the class. Teachers' guidance notes and contextual information are included throughout the resource.

There are activity suggestions at the end of the resource. These include science (analysis and identification) activities as well as art and design activities. The activities are designed to support components within the resource and can be slotted into your lesson plan.

About Halima Cassell

Halima Cassell is a sculptor who is best known for her intricate and beautiful ceramic sculptures.

She combines her love of maths and architectural geometry in her art through the exploration of simple repetitive geometric shapes. She was born in 1975 in Pakistan and grew up in Manchester. Her Asian roots influence her work, as well as her fascination with Islamic design and African pattern work.

Halima Cassell in her studio

Halima Cassell in her studio

First impressions

Look at this sculpture. 

  • What shapes can you see?
  • What textures and patterns can you see?
  • What do you think the sculpture is made from?
  • Does the sculpture remind you of anything?


Thistle 2009

Halima Cassell (b.1975)

West Bradford Road, Clitheroe, Lancashire

About the sculpture

The sculpture was made by an artist called Halima Cassell. She was inspired by the shape and texture of a thistle flower. A thistle is a flowering plant.

She made the sculpture by carving shapes into bricks. She used over 100 bricks to make the sculpture!

Compare the sculpture with a thistle

  • Compare Halima Cassell's sculpture to this photograph of thistle flowers.
  • How has Halima Cassell used the shapes and textures of the flower in her sculpture?

From nature into art

Teacher notes

You may need to explain to students that a sculpture is a 3D artwork. More images of the sculpture can be seen on the artwork page.

When comparing the photograph and sculpture, encourage students to:

  • look at the shapes and textures of the sculpture and the pattern that the shapes make.
  • look at how the different textures of a thistle flower have been translated into carved shapes and patterns by Cassell. Vertical ridges represent the petals of the flower and a pattern of geometric shapes represents the cup-shaped whorl of bracts below the flower head.
  • they could also think about the process and techniques Cassell might have used to carve the pattern. Ask students whether bricks are hard or soft, and what tools might be needed to carve into them.

Halima Cassell would have used chisels and a hammer to make the carving. (Find out more about her techniques and processes in this Art UK video.)

All about thistles

Let's find out more about thistles.

  • Have you ever seen a thistle?
  • What sort of places do you think thistles might grow?

Thistles are flowering plants. There are lots of different varieties of thistle and they are found throughout England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Thistles often grow in fields and meadows in the countryside, but you might also see them growing in overgrown empty places in cities and towns or in rough grassy verges by the side of roads.

Thistles growing in a field

Thistles growing in a field

Look closer: analyse and identify plants

Plant parts and their functions

Plants have a stem, roots and leaves. Flowering plants also have a flower. These are all essential for its life cycle.

  • Do you know what each of these parts is for?

Parts of a flowering plant

Parts of a flowering plant

Teacher notes

Encourage students to think about, reason and discuss the different parts of a plant and what these contribute to its growth. 

You could use prompts such as: 'The roots of a plant are under the ground. What do you think the roots get from the soil to help the plant grow?'

The reference notes may be helpful.

Root – the roots anchor the plant into the ground and take in water and minerals from the soil to feed the plant.

Stem – the stem joins the different parts of the plant together and holds the leaves and flowers above ground. It makes sure that the leaves are in the best position to get the most light. The stem is also the plant's transport system, moving water and food to the different parts of the plant

Leaf – the leaf blade runs down the centre of a leaf and continues the transport system, carrying water to the veins of the leaf. An important function of the leaf is to carry out photosynthesis. (This is the process by which plants use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to create oxygen and energy to help them grow.)

Flower – the flower is the part of a plant where the seeds are made.

This BBC Bitesize video might be useful in explaining what the different parts of a plant are for:

Look closely at more flowering plants

Have a look at some more paintings of flowering plants. Have you seen any of these plants before?

  • What words would you use to describe the shape of the leaves?
  • What colour and shape are the flowers?

Teacher notes: Flowering plants and the seasons 

You could also discuss when plants bloom in relation to the seasons. This will introduce the theme of the life cycles of plants, which is the focus of the next section of this resource.

  • Ask students what time of year they might see the flowers of the plants featured in the carousel above.

Use the notes below for reference.

Dandelions – dandelions flower from spring until mid-autumn but most profusely in early summer in May and June.

Roses – roses flower in the summer with their most abundant blooms in June.

Primroses – look out for primroses in woodlands and parks in the spring. They can start to bloom as early as late December, and flower until May.

Daffodils – another spring flower, they usually bloom from February to May. (Though the weather affects when they start to bloom. As soon as it starts to get warm they’ll poke their heads above the soil.)

Poppies – wild poppies bloom in mid-June and will flower until late September, or even into October. Look out for their red flowers in fields and by the sides of roads.

Thistle flowers, down and seeds

Thistles usually flower from July to September. When they have finished flowering, the pinky-purple flowers are replaced by a white fluffy down.



Andrew Allan (1863–1942)

Glasgow Life Museums

If you look closely, the down looks like lots of tiny white hairs.

A close-up view of thistle down

A close-up view of thistle down

Each of these hairs (which are called pappus) has a tiny seed attached to it. The hairs and seeds are carried by the wind to spread them – with the hairs acting as a handy parachute for landing!

  • Can you think of any other plants that have a fluffy white head after they have flowered?
  • This sculpture might give you a clue. Do you know what the plant shown in this sculpture is called?

Seed Clock

Seed Clock

Arts Republic and Liz Armitage

Five cool facts about thistles

A photograph of a bee and a butterfly buzzing around a thistle

A photograph of a bee and a butterfly buzzing around a thistle

Some people don't like thistles. They are often seen as weeds and a bit of a nuisance because some varieties grow and spread quickly and dominate areas of land so that other plants can’t grow there. But thistles aren't all bad!

Did you know …?

  • The thistle is the national flower of Scotland
  • A thistle has lots of pollen and is a favourite plant for bees and butterflies.
  • Thistles cleverly protect themselves from predators with their spikey leaves.
  • Thistles are used to make goat and sheep cheese in Portugal.
  • Thistles are used in some medicines.

'Fir Cone' by Halima Cassell

This is another sculpture by Halima Cassell. 

She was inspired by the shape and texture of a fir cone. Compare Halima Cassell's sculpture to a photograph of a fir cone.

  • Look at the shape, textures and patterns of the sculpture.
  • How has Halima Cassell used the shape and texture of a fir cone to inspire her?

Where do cones come from?

if you are walking through woodland or in a park in the autumn, you might see cones on the ground.

  • Do you know where they come from?
  • What part do you think they might play in the life cycle of a tree?

All about cones (and conifers)

Cones grow on conifer trees – such as fir and pine trees. Did you know that trees are also plants?

Conifer tree with cones

Conifer tree with cones

Most conifers have tiny leaves that are either shaped like needles or like small scales (think of the pine needles on a Christmas tree). Conifers are also evergreen, which means they keep their leaves all year round.

A cone's function is to protect the seeds of the tree. On the surface of a cone, you will see lots of woody plates or scales. Behind each of these is a seed.

The scales help to protect the seeds from the weather and hungry animals until they are fully grown. When the seeds are grown the scales open and the seeds fall out so that they can grow into new trees. 

A pine cone

A pine cone

Each variety of conifer tree has a slightly different cone.

  • The picture above shows a pine cone.
  • What does it look like?
  • How is it different from a fir cone?

Pine cones are often rounder and harder than fir cones which are shaped more like a cone and are softer and bendier.

The different properties of cones can help us to identify conifer trees.

Teacher notes

If possible, bring a cone into the classroom for students to look at and touch.

Encourage students to describe the properties of a cone – to look at its scales and discuss its surface and texture.

Did you know...?

  • Conifers are the dinosaurs of the tree world. The earliest fossil record suggests that conifers were around 300 million years ago!
  • The wood from conifer trees is great for making things from. Can you think of anything that is made from wood?
  • Nearly half of the wood produced each year across the world comes from conifer trees.

Explore more sculptures of things that fall from trees!

Here are some more sculptures inspired by seeds and nuts that you might find while walking in a wood or park.



Gillian Lockwood (active 1999)

  • Do you know what these seeds and nuts are?
  • Do you know what trees they come from?

About the sculptures

Acorns are the nut of an oak tree and provide a hard protective shell for oak seeds. In this sculpture, the artist shows the shape and textures of an acorn as a pattern of lines and shapes.



unknown artist

Leamouth Road, Newham

The seed of a sycamore tree has two wings to help it fly through the air.

  • Have you ever tried dropping a sycamore seed and watching it swirl like a helicopter's propellers? (Imagine how big a tree grown from this seed sculpture would be!)


Seed 2002

Andrew McKeown (b.1970)

Bank Place, Salford, Greater Manchester

A conker is a seed from a horse chestnut tree. Conkers are cased inside a spiky green shell to protect them from animals while they are growing.



Gillian Lockwood (active 1999)

This sculpture is made from clay and shows a conker seed case splitting open – can you see the conker inside?

  • Have you ever seen or held a conker?
  • Is it hard or soft?
  • Is its surface smooth or rough?

Teacher notes

If possible, bring an acorn, sycamore seed and conker into the classroom for students to look at and touch. Encourage students to describe the properties of these seeds and nuts. 

Discuss the sculptures included above.

  • How have the artists translated the shapes and textures of the seed and acorn into shapes and patterns?


Homework activity: plant research

Task students with researching a plant or wildflower. (This could be a plant in their garden or a park, or a wildflower such as a daisy or dandelion they might see on their way home.)

Explain that they do not need to pick the plant or flower to analyse it, but can look at it closely while it is growing. If they touch a plant, they should wash their hands afterwards and before eating.

They should draw the plant and annotate their drawing with simple notes.

Provide students with a checklist of things to note down. This might include:

  • approximate height of the plant
  • colour of the flower
  • shape of the flower and its petals
  • shape and colour of leaves


Older or more able students could also analyse the structure of the flower head and identify the different parts such as the petals, stamen and stigma through notes and sketches. 

These links may be helpful in planning the activity and for students to use:

BBC Class Clip: The anatomy of a flower

Download the RHS guide: Parts of a flower

Botanical illustration

You could introduce botanical illustration to students and show them some examples. Botanical illustration fuses art and science. It involves looking closely at plants and drawing or painting them. In the past, before photography and the sophisticated lenses that we have today, botanical studies were made to record and identify plants and flowers.


Activity: plant detective game

Before the lesson

Collect five or six pictures or photographs of different plants that clearly show their features. (Pixaby is a useful source for free images.)

Write a short description of each plant without naming the plant. For example, the description for a dandelion might be ...

'The stem of this plant is smooth. The leaves grow at the base of the stem and have notched edges. The flower heads look like a bright yellow rosette.'

In the classroom

Organise students into small groups and task them with matching the plants with the written descriptions by analysing the features of the plants.

Activity: make a plant sculpture inspired by Halima Cassell

Great Burnet

Great Burnet 2009

Halima Cassell (b.1975)

West Bradford Road, Clitheroe, Lancashire

You will need:

  • plasticine, air-drying clay or other modelling material (you could use clay if you have access to a kiln)
  • clay tools
  • plants, seeds, acorns or nuts
  • paper and crayons or charcoal

Before the lesson

Collect plants, seeds, acorns and cones (or photographs of plants). Try and choose plants and seeds that have a sculptural quality with strong shapes and textures.

In the classroom

As a class, look at more of the sculptures that Halima Cassell made for the Ribble Valley Sculpture Trail.

Alder Cone
Great Burnet
Common Comfrey
Lords and Ladies

Compare the sculptures to photographs of the wildflowers and plants that inspired them.

Great Burnet

Great Burnet

Encourage students to discuss the shapes and textures of the sculptures and how these inspired the shapes and textures of the plants.

Activity instructions

Task students with making small sculptures using the plants and seeds or photographs you have collected as inspiration.

Flower head and seed sculptures made from plasticine

Flower head and seed sculptures made from plasticine

It might help students if they make drawings of the plants or seeds first. This will help them to look closely at their forms and textures.

Drawing of a tulip flower

Drawing of a tulip flower

Drawing of a seed pod

Drawing of a seed pod

This Art UK resource includes 'a drawing objects from nature' activity that may be helpful. It is designed for KS 2 students but could be adapted for younger students.

When making their sculptures:

  • encourage students to think about the overall shape of their plant and its textures
  • how can they add textures to their sculptures using clay tools?

Seed pod sculpture

Seed pod sculpture

Differentiation: pressed texture relief sculptures

This is a simpler activity and may be easier for younger or less-able students.

Make small relief sculptures by pushing the objects from nature into the surface of small lumps of clay or plasticine. (This will only work with cones, seeds, nuts or more robust flower heads!)

Seed pod impression relief sculpture

Seed pod impression relief sculpture

You could fill these relief shapes with plaster to create small plaster-cast sculptures. This Art UK activity provides instructions for casting a sculpture.

Activity: make an abstract pattern inspired by plant shapes

This activity provides ideas for making 2D patterns inspired by the shapes and textures of plants and seeds.

A pattern made from plant shapes

A pattern made from plant shapes

Students will need:

  • source material to draw from: plants, seeds, acorns or nuts; or photographs of plants 
  • paper and pencil
  • coloured crayons, pens or paint and a brush
  • card for shape templates (an old cereal box would be ideal)
  • scissors
  • coloured paper and glue (for pattern collage)

Before the lesson

Collect plants cones and seeds for students to use as inspiration for their projects. Choose plants and seeds that have interesting shapes and textures.

You could also use photographs of plants. Search for images of plants on image-sharing websites such as Flickr or Pixaby for plant ideas and inspiration.

A dandelion in a meadow

A dandelion in a meadow

In the classroom

Step 1. Analyse the shapes and textures

Task students with analysing the shapes and textures of some of the plants or pictures of plants you have gathered. It may help to do this as a group activity and discuss the shapes.

For example, you could ask them:

  • what shapes can you see? Describe the shapes.
  • what is the shape of the flower? What other shapes can you see in the flower? What shape are the petals? What shape is the middle of the flower?
  • what shape are the leaves? Do the leaves have smooth or rough edges?
  • think of words to describe the texture of the flower/cone/seed (such as 'bumpy', 'ridges', 'rough', 'wiggly')


Dandelion 2003

Shyama Ruffell (b.1961)

Worthing Hospital

Step 2. Draw the shapes and textures

Ask students to choose a plant or seed as source material to work from. (Students could work in small groups and share source material.)

  • Ask them to look closely and draw the shapes they can see.
  • Rather than drawing the whole plant or seed, they should focus on the shapes and textures that they find interesting.
  • If the shapes look complicated, encourage students to simplify them. 

Details of a dandelion

Details of a dandelion

Step 3. Make a shape template

Task students with choosing one or two of their favourite shapes from the shapes they have drawn.

They should then draw these shapes onto cardboard and cut them out to create templates that they can draw around. 

These shapes were inspired by the scales of a pine cone.

Cardboard shape templates inspired by a pine cone

Cardboard shape templates inspired by a pine cone

Put the templates aside for now.

Step 4. Get some pattern inspiration

Explore patterns made by artists and designers that use plant shapes. They may give students some ideas for their designs.

Look at the patterns in the carousel below and discuss them as a class.

  • Do the patterns look random or organised?
  • Do any of these patterns include repeated shapes? 
  • Which of these patterns is symmetrical? Can you spot their lines of symmetry?
  • Which of these patterns do you like best?

Step 5. Design and create patterns

Students will create their patterns by drawing around their cardboard templates, moving them and then drawing around them again.

They will need to think about how they will arrange their shapes on their paper to make a random or symmetrical pattern.

Drawing around a shape template

Drawing around a shape template

You could prompt them with ideas.

  • What happens if you place your shapes randomly across the paper?
  • What happens if you repeat the shape in a line?
  • What happens if you put them in a circle?
  • What happens if you alternate your two shapes?
  • What happens if you rotate the shapes or turn them upside down?

Once students are happy with their designs, they can paint or colour them in. They could use just one colour or decide on different colour combinations.

A pattern inspired by the shapes seen in a pine cone

A pattern inspired by the shapes seen in a pine cone

A pattern inspired by shapes seen in a pine cone

A pattern inspired by shapes seen in a pine cone

Top tip! It might help students to work in pairs to draw around their templates with one student holding the template in place while their partner draws around it.


Coloured paper collage

The shapes for this collage were inspired by the bud and sepal of a dandelion.

A pattern made from plant shapes

A pattern made from plant shapes

Create multiple paper shapes by making a concertina of coloured paper and drawing your shape on the top layer.

A concertina of paper with a shape drawn on the top layer

A concertina of paper with a shape drawn on the top layer

Cut the shape out, being careful to cut through all the layers of paper. Students may need help with this step of the activity.

Repeat the process with the other shape using a different coloured sheet of paper.

A concertina of paper and cut-out shapes

A concertina of paper and cut-out shapes

Arrange the shapes together on your paper to make a pattern.

Top tip! Try different arrangements of the shapes before you glue them down. You can then choose the one you like best.

A pattern made from paper shapes inspired by plants

A pattern made from paper shapes inspired by plants

A pattern made from paper shapes inspired by plants

A pattern made from paper shapes inspired by plants

Once you have chosen your favourite arrangement, glue the shapes to the paper.

A pattern made from plant shapes

A pattern made from plant shapes

Printed pattern

Make a simple potato print pattern of shapes.

Students could make a print block from a halved or thickly sliced potato. They should draw their shape onto the potato and then remove the potato from around the shape. Brush paint onto the potato shape and use this to make a repeat pattern.

This video from the Metropolitan Museum provides instructions for carving a potato with a paper clip and making a print from this.

Extension activity suggestion

Research pollinators

Explore the role of pollinators with your students.

Find out about the animals, birds and insects that help pollen travel from the flower's male part, called the anther, to the flower's female part, called the stigma.

Use these links for more information and activity ideas:

Natural History Museum: Seven insect heroes of pollination

BBC Bitesize: Which pollinators visit my garden?

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