• David Thomascall


Thaumatropes are a wonderful unplugged activity for teaching animation because they show how the human brain blends quickly changing pictures. On one side of a disk, part of a picture is drawn, while on the other side, the rest of the image is drawn. When the disk is spun swiftly the two images combine to form one image. It takes about 30 minutes to make a thaumatrope and requires the use of scissors.

Thaumatropes, which means "wonder turner" in ancient Greek, have been around for nearly 200 years, as have other animation toys like the zoetrope and the praxinoscope. By rapidly switching between a few images, these mechanical toys generated the illusion of motion. What they produce is more akin to a GIF than true animation.

The magic lantern has been around even longer, over 400 years in Europe and over 2000 years in Asia. This type of projector uses hand-painted slides or photographic glass slides to project an image. Operators could generate an animation effect by quickly switching between two slides, similar to how thaumatropes work.

Set Up


  • card stock

  • markers

  • glue sticks

  • hole punch

  • rubber bands or yarn

  • scissors

Make copies of the thaumatrope template on card stock; regular paper is not rigid enough. For each thaumatrope, kids will need two circles. To avoid a bottleneck at the craft table, I precut the template into a strip of two disks.


Begin the activity by demonstrating how thaumatropes work. You can use the video in resources below or, better yet, have some thaumatropes on hand to show students. You can create thaumatropes from scratch or find templates online. You can also persuade some students to donate thaumatropes to use as examples in class.

Explain how to make a thaumatrope by creating one in front of class or show the tutorial from the resources below. Students should begin with a simple drawing, such as a face with a smile or eyes, in pencil. Before they glue the disks together, check that the images are aligned correctly by placing the two pieces back to back and rotating them vertically to check for alignment. When it’s facing you, each image should be upright.

The thaumatrope pattern has two disks since one disk of card material isn't firm enough to spin easily. The two disks also make it easier to sketch the two portions of the image because they can view both of them at the same time. By stacking the two disks and holding them in front of a light, they can line up the image's components.

After they've glued the sections together, punch two holes in the disks and add the strings or rubber bands. Rubber bands help thaumatropes spin faster (if you're willing to risk students shooting each other). In the final step students ink in their pencil drawings with markers. Because of the finer points, Sharpies are ideal for this.

Most students will have enough time to make a second thaumatrope.Students should attempt to create a more advanced second thaumatrope. Encourage pupils to look at the thaumatrope examples in the materials below or look for thaumatrope designs on the Internet.

Thaumatropes make an excellent holiday craft. Students can make Halloween or Christmas themed thaumatropes as well as a simple Mother’s Day gift. They can also be used as a substitute for Valentines.


Student instructions with thaumatrope template - Includes step by step instruction for creating a thaumatrope and thaumatrope ideas.

Thaumatrope tutorial: Step by step on how to create a thaumatrope. It only differs from the student instructions in that she uses one paper circle rather than two.

Mr. Wizard video : This is an old video but it does a good job explaining how animation toys work and shows several different examples of animation toys.

Thaumatrope examples

More Thaumatrope examples

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