Optical Illusion Activities

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

Use these activities to help students of any age explore, understand, and even create their own optical illusions! Students can engage in the activities in teams, with partners, or on their own.

Optical Illusion Activities

These optical illusion activities are appropriate for any age group, with slight modifications. Each one asks that you provide information about how optical illusions work with the anatomy of the eye and the brain processing working together. Then, students engage in an interactive experience in which they identify, explain, or create an optical illusion. Students can work on these activities with partners, in teams, or on their own. Alternatively, you can use them as whole group exercises.

Explain the Illusion

  • Materials: several printed optical illusions, anatomy of the eye, explanation of how eye and brain work together to create the phenomenon of optical illusions

In this activity, students will explain how an optical illusion you provide tricks the brain. Begin by providing an explanation - either multimedia, print, or both - about how the eye and brain work together to create optical illusions. Help students understand using a clear example. Practice with a few more examples, if needed, until students fully grasp the concepts.

Provide individual students, partners, or teams with several additional optical illusions. Have them work to see the illusion and discuss it. Then, have students review the information you provided to come up with an explanation about why each illusion works to trick the brain. For example, one explanation may include that the brain completes the picture and therefore fills in a space with something that isn't there. Another explanation may revolve around the left and right eye views coming together to form a different picture than they do individually. Have students share their explanations and/or write a short explanatory paragraph.

Matter of Perspective Graphing

  • Materials: several printed optical illusions that have multiple views where two different images can be seen, depending on the person or perspective; colored pencils, poster paper

In this activity, students will view an optical illusion in which there are multiple potential images depending on the perspective of the viewer. They will share the illusion with others, collect data, and create a graph to show their findings. Provide each student, partnership, or team with a printed optical illusion that includes multiple images, depending on perspective. Ask students to look at it until they see both images and discuss why some people may more naturally see one image or the other.

Then, have students survey others and keep track of which image they see at first glance. To add complexity, students could also collect data about whether the person could see the other image, once it was pointed out. After survey data is collected, have students create a graph or chart to show their results. They could also write a paragraph explaining their results and drawing conclusions about their findings.

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