The Color Wheel

Lesson 1: The Color Wheel


Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of basic color theory by completing and explaining a twelve-step color wheel.


Lesson Length: 60 minutes


Class: Intermediate Technical Theatre


Materials Needed/Room set up:

-clear space in the classroom for activities

-masking tape

-color wheel “guide”  Lesson 1.Activity Instructions

-tertiary color “guide” (Trois, tres, three)

-color name signs

-chalkboard or whiteboard

-chalk/whiteboard markers

-12-step color wheel worksheet   Lesson 1.Color Wheel Worksheet


The Plan:


Make the basic shape of the color wheel (it’s basically a Star of David) with masking tape on the ground in a clear space in your classroom. Have the students stand around the star in a circle as class begins. Tell the students that their mission is to figure out the function of this star on the floor. Let them know that it is a tool that is very useful to technical theatre and they will need it in their upcoming assignments, so it’s important they figure out what it is and build it. Tell them that they have not been left to aimlessly guess on this mission, they have been left with a guide to make it easier to figure out what the tool is and then to build it and that guide is in this sealed manila folder (note: the guide includes slips of paper with the names of the primary and secondary colors as well as instructions for building the color wheel). Get confirmation from the class that they are willing to take on the challenge. Hand the envelope containing the guide to a “mission leader” (depending on the size of your class, you may need to have a few co-captains as well).



With the aid of “the guide,” the students ought to be able to create a 6-point color wheel on the masking tape. When they call “mission complete,” come in as Mission Control and see how they fared. Ask the following questions: How was the mission? Do you think you successfully completed it? Why or why not? (If they don’t believe they’ve been successful, ask them how they could change to make the star look the way they think it ought to).  At this point, if there are serious issues with the color wheel, give hints and helps to let the class fix their mistakes and fix the color wheel. What is the tool you’ve built? What do you think it is used for? 


This is called a 6-point pigment color wheel. Why is it called 6-Point? (because there are 6 colors on the wheel). Does anyone know what pigment is? Pigment is color present in dyes and paints, this color wheel is specifically for pigment colors and there is another one for colors in light that we’ll talk about when we get to lighting design.  There are two categories of colors on this particular color wheel: Primary and Secondary.


What is a primary color? Primary color cannot be derived or created from other colors, they are red, yellow and blue. Ask the students to point them out and ask them about the relationship between those three colors on the color wheel. They are equidistant on one triangle. Ask a student to be a scribe and write the class’s definition and examples of Primary colors. If red, yellow and blue are primary colors then orange, green, purple are what?


Secondary colors. What does that mean? What is the relationship between the three secondary colors? They are equidistant on the other triangle making up the star. What is the relationship between the primary and secondary colors on the color wheel? The secondary colors go between the two primary colors that are mixed to make them (ex: green is on the point of the triangle between yellow and blue). Have the scribe (or maybe a new one) write the class’s definition of a secondary color and the three examples. Thank the students for their work on the mission but let them know it’s not quite over.




Split the class in to smaller groups (maybe of 3 or 4). Tell them this part of the mission is a competition between groups and that they can complete it at their seats or on the floor. Have the students quickly name their research groups and as you pass out the “Trois, Tres, Three” guide call each group by name, asking if they accept the mission. Have the groups keep the guide face down until all groups have it. Tell them that Mission Control will be timing the group’s research and whoever figures out the answer first wins world-wide technical fame, but the other groups must keep working until they figure it out. They have a maximum of 5 minutes.


After all the groups have finished the tertiary guide. Ask the student what they found. What is a tertiary color? Where do they belong on the color wheel? Have the ‘winning’ group come up to the color wheel and give them the tertiary color slips. Ask them to place the tertiary colors where they belong on the color wheel. What is their relationship to each other on the color wheel? They are equidistant from each other. How about to the primary and secondary colors? They go between the primary and secondary color that mix to make the tertiary color (ex: red/orange goes between red and orange). Write tertiary on the board near primary and secondary. Now how many colors are on the color wheel? 12. So what do you think it’s called? A 12-point pigment color wheel.



Have the students look at the board one last time and see the examples of primary/secondary colors (maybe have them say it out loud) then erase them from the board, leaving the definitions as a reference. Then have the students look one more time at the color wheel on the ground and then collect the sheets of paper with the color names on them. Mix up the sheets and hand them out to twelve students. Tell the rest of the class, they are to silently work together to place these 12 students in the correct spots on the 12-point pigment color wheel.


After the students have completed it ask them how they built the color wheel. Erase everything from the board. Review with the students: What is this tool on the ground called? What are the primary colors and what does that mean? What are the secondary colors and what does that mean? What are the tertiary colors, and what does that mean? Now clear the color sheets from the color wheel. Tell the students like all good cadets, they have to report on their mission. They will do this by creating a 12-point pigment color wheel all by themselves.


(Individual Application)

Hand out the worksheet, tell them they need to label the color wheel and name/define the primary, secondary and tertiary colors and their relationships to each other. The students will turn this in to you when they are through.