Teaching sequence

Lesson objective

In this lesson students explore how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have made paints by mixing materials from the natural environment. Students investigate mixing ochres or chalk with different binding materials to determine the effects of different binders.


Recall prior learning about combining and mixing.

Explain to students that in this lesson they will explore mixing in a different way. Show the PowerPoint presentation Using ochres to make paint. Briefly discuss how materials have been combined and/or mixed. Identify painting. Ask students where they think the materials came from. Were they bought in shops?

Show the video clip Lift Off: Indigenous children collect body paint. Encourage students to ask questions about materials, tools and colours.


  1. Ask students to predict the properties of the ochres that make paint. Display samples of ochre or review the images of ground ochres, slides 1–4 in the PowerPoint presentation. Recall the grinding scene in the video and model grinding a piece of ochre or chalk with large flat stones, mortar and pestle or rolling pin and board.
  2. Discuss the properties of the ground ochres and/or chalk and their suitability for painting. Determine what needs to be added to the dry powder. Explain that for many thousands of years Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples have painted with ochres. They experimented with different substances called ‘binders’ to mix with the ochres to make them into paints and dyes. Discuss what types of materials they may have used considering they could only collect them from their environment. Consider whether all binders would work the same and ask how we could find out.
  3. Show slides 5–8 of objects painted with ochres and explain that the students are now going to try mixing their own paints using different materials and to discover which material binds the ochre best.
    Teacher note: Full instructions for guiding students through the investigation ‘Mixing ochres’ can be found in Background information.


Regroup with students each viewing their own science journals. Discuss their observations about what worked well and what didn’t. Discuss any explanations they may have.

Lesson Resources


Student activities

Digital resources

Using ochres to make paint, PowerPoint presentation (PPT, Note: 4.2 MB)

R6742 Lift Off: Indigenous children collect body paint, NDLRN (1.50 min) 

Useful links

S3771 Me and my smile: exploring Aboriginal paintings – Aboriginal perspectives, NDLRN. Unit of work (PDF, 1.1 MB)

R6740 Lift Off: Body painting, NDLRN. Video clip (1.22 min)