I'm a homeschooling mother who works from home in the field of social media marketing.
How to Make a Shoebox Diorama (With Any Box!)
The classic shoebox diorama is a childhood rite of passage. Although it can be used for schoolwork, your children may enjoy making them just for fun. You can make one with your child or your students using this simple step-by-step tutorial.
All you need is a box of some type, paper, scissors, glue, and basic art supplies like markers or crayons. Next, add in whatever special elements your child wants to incorporate. Let them make the scene as personal as they please.
Step 1: Create a Base
The base can be anything—the traditional shoebox is only one option. We tend to use tissue boxes because we always have those on hand.
Look around your house and especially in the kitchen for any kind of reusable container—cardboard, plastic, or tin. Think creatively! Odd things such as a cookie tin, a juice can, or a plastic ice cream bucket could make for an original diorama. Look at this one using a paper plate! Really almost anything can be used.
Step 2: Create the Background
The simplest backgrounds can just be colored paper. Use green for grass, blue for sky, brown for earth, or blue for water. You could also get creative with patterned papers or draw your own scene. Measure the backside of the box to get the dimensions you need to cut the paper so it can be easily placed into the diorama. Then attach the back onto the box with glue or tape.
Step 3: Make and Place Your Figures
Use printed coloring pages to make figures for your diorama. Search for "[your topic] coloring pages" in your favorite search engine. If you need to resize them, place the images into Word and print from there.
Color your images and cut them out. Then arrange them to figure out how you want each piece mounted into the diorama. The images above are a coloring page I printed for free from Coloring Castle and then drew tabs based on where I wanted my figures to be located. You can also check out Edupics for more great coloring pages.
If you want to mount a figure to the bottom (which is where I want the flower to be), then leave a one-inch tab at the bottom of the picture when you cut it out. If you want it to hang from the top, simply add the tab to the top of the drawing instead of the bottom. And of course, if you want a figure to come out from the side, leave a tab on the side of the image. Fold back the tab where it meets your drawing and glue it to your chosen spot in the diorama.
Another variation is to use string, yarn, or ribbon to suspend objects from the top of the box. If you do this, they will swing and give more of a dynamic effect. This works especially well if you are trying to show movement within your scene.
Step 4: Decorate!
Now that you have your box, background, and main objects, your child is free to make the diorama as extravagant as they'd like. Gather some art supplies to make sure you have options for what you can add. Glitter, paint, clay, or action figures are all great ideas of things you can incorporate into the box.
If you are creating a scene from a book, history, or a movie, think of objects the characters from the original story use. There may be small toys and figurines, or pieces of doll houses that can be repurposed to make your diorama look even more detailed. Or build something from Lego blocks or Sculpey clay if you don't have quite what you need.
Plan your placement of the figures. Once you're sure of the placement, glue them on. I like to use rubber cement so if something is not quite right, it can be repositioned.
If all of your figures are inside the box, you may want to cover the opening with plastic wrap. For underwater scenes, this makes a more realistic finish.
What's the Purpose of a Diorama?
There are many potential uses for a diorama as you can get as creative as you like. Here are a few ideas:
- a tool for storytelling
- a book report
- a snapshot of history
- a 3D science model
- a fun playtime activity
- a creative alternative to a birthday, anniversary, or get well card
- a 3D scrapbooking project to memorialize a trip or other important event
- a gift
Free, Printable Resources
This full color PDF has both figures and backgrounds.
- Outer Space
A full color PDF with astronauts, a space background, space shuttle, and lunar lander. Just cut out and glue into your box.
You can also use 3D paper models in your dioramas. Here are some wonderful resources for those:
Dioramas to Try
- Dinosaur Diorama in Seven Steps
A great idea for reusing a cardboard box. I love how this was made completely by children. The backgrounds were drawn by hand and the dinosaurs were molded from rainbow clay!
- Making Sea Fans and Coral Reefs
This ocean scene from Homeschool Creations is quite original—plastic canvas sea fans plus Playdough coral.
This three tiered scene is a wonderful explanation of the layers of the rainforest.
This ambitious project makes a big impression! Glean some ideas from the photos and directions.
If You Don't Have a Box
These diorama variations don't require a box at all. Large sheets of paper, folded into 3D shapes, are all that's required.
- Pyramid Tutorial
The pyramid diorama is also called a triarama. This how-to walks you through the steps with photographs.
- Crayola's Triarama
This shows a possible triarama comparing two seasons in one habitat. Another example features a train ride across Canada.
- How to Make a Pop-Up Photograph
This wikiHow article of 9 steps (with pictures) shows how to put yourself into a pop-up scene using photographs! Very, very neat!
Reproducible Books With Diorama Patterns
The images in this article include some projects taken from Easy Make & Learn Projects from Scholastic Books. They are very neat and easy paper crafts! Just make a copy of the templates, color them in, cut them out, and assemble. The books are meant to be photocopied rather than consumed, so you are able to use this book over and over. This is a great option for teachers.
julie on May 08, 2020:
wow i want to try and make them
justin on November 03, 2019:
wow this is so cool
shoemore cult on April 10, 2019:
natha shoemore join the cult
cbomb 101 on March 04, 2019:
this is awesome this will totally help me.
Vicky on March 02, 2019:
This will help me with my school project
Megan Smith on May 14, 2018:
can we put special effects and paints
LOL on May 02, 2018:
natasha on February 17, 2018:
what about people dioramas ?
I LIKE TRAINS LOL XD on November 25, 2017:
WOW GOOD STUFF!
AJ Brown on May 15, 2017:
Thanks for the tutorial! I plan on sharing this page with my readers.
Vivy1234567 on December 11, 2016:
Great idea! I think I will try it.
chrisilouwho on November 18, 2013:
anonymous on November 08, 2013:
Very creative idea. Good for kids.
tonyleather on November 05, 2013:
fascinating lens, full of ideas! Thanks!
RoadMonkey on October 25, 2013:
What fantastic ideas and resources - a great tool for children to have fun and learn at the same time!
ikeephouse on October 22, 2013:
Love the 3-D pyramid. We'll have to try that. We always end up doing animal scenes.
Jimmy J Oliver on October 19, 2013:
Hi nice lens you got there and ranking well. My grandson Callum is going to be real busy on Tuesday when he comes visiting
Have given you a squidlike.
anonymous on August 23, 2013:
I like these
RANADEEP on August 20, 2013:
Very woderful and creative idea,gret work.You have done a very hard work,I think!athank you very much for sharing this great ideas!!
socialcx1 on July 06, 2013:
Our grandkids love this stuff and I suspect so does granny.
Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on May 22, 2013:
These are wonderful projects for children to do during the summer months. Parents could use them to keep children engaged in reading and them making the story into a diorama to keep them focused on their reading skills.
Sara2901 on May 15, 2013:
I used to do these for my kids summer reading projects. You have some good ideas here.
imagelist lm on May 14, 2013:
A really helpful lens...
gelrunningshoes on April 28, 2013:
Awesome lens! I passed it along to my kids to use some of your creative ideas for school:) Thanks!
Aunt-Mollie on April 17, 2013:
This is a wonder, creative idea for kids. Your pictures truly add a great deal to this article. Enjoyed.
Valerie Bloom from Pennsylvania, USA on April 08, 2013:
I just stumbled upon this lens at the perfect time! My son is preparing to do his first ever diorama for school! Thanks for the great tips.
EzLoanLookUp LM on April 05, 2013:
Ha, quick simple way to make one of these. I used to use play-dough for them too, just to add to the realism.
PinkstonePictures from Miami Beach, FL on March 06, 2013:
I used to love making these when I was younger. Thanks for the memory
Find-Online on March 03, 2013:
You gave lots of great ideas here. It looks like a lot of fun!
anonymous on March 03, 2013:
cute and simple! :)
knitstricken on February 19, 2013:
Jimmie, Jimmie, Jimmie. Your lenses make me smile! Someday I hope to do a dioramma lens as well. Just wanted to stop in and say Hello and thank you for all of your good works!
chiptuning on February 12, 2013:
Thanks, good ideas for the next school project of my son...
laurenrich on January 29, 2013:
This is an excellent lens on making diorama. It has great instructions amd pictures to help. Thanks for sharing.
angharad on January 27, 2013:
Oh, I love these! I used to make dioramas when I was a kid.
jcalbon lm on December 26, 2012:
What fabulous tips for making dioramas! They were always such a fun project for school.
daisychainsaw lm on December 24, 2012:
What a great lens! Some great ideas here, thanks!
carocwn on December 22, 2012:
I remember making these at school long ago. Nice lens.
Sheilamarie from British Columbia on December 11, 2012:
Fun project. Kids enjoy making these.
DecoratingMom411 on November 16, 2012:
A shoe box diorama let students showcase their creative skills. I wonder why school teachers never ask their students to have this project nowadays.
dellgirl on November 08, 2012:
Thanks for the directions on how to Make a Shoebox Diorama, itâs very helpful!
anonymous on October 30, 2012:
Brilliant ideas! Thanks!
John Dyhouse from UK on October 27, 2012:
second visit to take another look, this time can leave you a blessing. Great lens. As an artist this gives me lots of ideas for 3-D paper sculptures/models.
anonymous on October 24, 2012:
My daughter needs to make a solar system diorama. Was looking for inspiration and found your site. Got some useful tips off here but would be great if you had some cut outs or something else on the solar system. Thanks
anonymous on September 22, 2012:
Thanks! I'm sending this link to the parents of my second graders, so they can get some ideas. Your information is simple, and interesting. We're making animal dioramas, and if I can figure out how to do it, I'll send you a couple of photos!
anonymous on September 19, 2012:
BarrettCoffen on September 14, 2012:
Cool idea! :)
mouse1996 lm on August 19, 2012:
I remember doing these in school. They were so much fun.
Echo Phoenix on August 02, 2012:
I met a university student from Germany who made very elaborate dioramas as an artform, they were quite spectacular! I enjoyed your lens on this subject, I am looking for Squidtastic ideas to share with my granddaughter:) thanx!
Go-Modern on July 05, 2012:
OMG Id forgotten these even existed! Lovely idea for my neice & I to do together.
Caromite on June 24, 2012:
I loved to make dioramas when I was a child. Your lens is very inspiring to try it out again :)
anonymous on June 05, 2012:
Many moons ago, when I was a little kid of elementary-school age, I attended a Vacation Bible School at a local neighborhood church. We made shoebox dioramas and I chose to copy a scene of Washington DC with the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument. It was fun and educational. I'm almost age 60, and I still never made it to Washington DC, but at least my diorama taught me some history!
Rhizza18 on May 09, 2012:
I used to do diorama when I was a kid specially when I'm in primary school as part of my project. But I oftentimes do it now but to share my knowledge about it, I used teach and help my little brother, sisters and the kids on kindergarten school here in our place.
rallo-smith on May 07, 2012:
Been along time since I've seen one of these.
JoyfulReviewer on April 23, 2012:
Boy this sure brought back memories of making these in school. Thanks for the very nice instructions and resources. Blessed by a joyful angel.
greatlegs on April 23, 2012:
Yay for homeschooling! We do the same with our children. Great crafts!
anna-smith02 on April 10, 2012:
omg I made these and school and totally forgot about them! thanks for reminding me about a project i had so much fun at and the great ideas!
Fantastic Voyages from Texas on April 07, 2012:
I remember making these when I was a child. Nice article!
KabbalArt on March 16, 2012:
Some fantastic ideas. Well done.
Gloria Freeman from Alabama USA on March 13, 2012:
Hi nice shoe box craft,look like fun for the whole family.
PoeticChristian on March 06, 2012:
Very interesting, I bet it helps them learn more. wish we had stuff like that then. Great lens. Blessings
ottoblotto on March 04, 2012:
My children and I love doing dioramas!
Tradeshowhobo on February 29, 2012:
Good memories of making a dinosaur diorama in a shoebox.
anonymous on February 28, 2012:
Making dioramas are fun, but are so pressuring if it is for school...
CharlieHawks on February 28, 2012:
I'm always looking for different things to do with the kids. Great idea, thanks for sharing.
Samuel Franklin on February 28, 2012:
A great tutorial. Wonderful lens.
kevingomes13 lm on February 27, 2012:
This was fun when we had to do it for school.
Clairissa from OREFIELD, PA on February 25, 2012:
Wow! I wish this lens was around when I was busy helping my kids with those. :) Great and very helpful lens.
teristazko on February 22, 2012:
I have done my share of dioramas. Helpful lense!
Tracey Boyer from Michigan on February 20, 2012:
A wonderful activity for parents and children to do together. Well done !
solicitorsdubli on February 17, 2012:
This is one comprehensive lens-I will let my little girl know about it
jtbmetaldesigns on February 05, 2012:
Thank you for another activity to engage in with my daughter. Need to ask her what
She wants to make.
jimmyworldstar on February 01, 2012:
I remember doing these in middle school as a kid. Technically, that's a tissue box!
nelsonkana on January 31, 2012:
Wow, this is great. Just wandering how to reproduce these in real life.
freewallpapers4 on January 30, 2012:
great ideas, so cool
Rebeljohn on January 29, 2012:
This really looks like something my grand kids would love to do thank for the info
azD40x on January 28, 2012:
woaa! this bring back to my childhood days! Love it.. (maybe I'll do these projects quietly in my bedroom later! ) Great lens!
anonymous on January 25, 2012:
I know I did one of these as a kid but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. My daughter, who attends a Waldorf school, will be doing one in the 4th grade. Thanks for a great lens!
GreenMind Guides from USA on January 20, 2012:
so cool. I made these in school 40 years ago!
blue22d on January 17, 2012:
What wonderful creations and so inexpensive. Excellent for school projects.
Dancing Cowgirl Design from Texas on January 09, 2012:
These are so neat. i made one for my niece when she graduated high school and filled it with some of her things I had saved from her child hood. Great explanation of how to do these.
Image Girl on January 06, 2012:
i wish i had done these as a child. Interesting, now though, I'm creating something similar as an adult. I hope I'll have some completed this year.
tuneinabucket on January 03, 2012:
Did some of this when I was a kid. Brings back fond memories. I may start again. Thanks.
Jeimuzu-san on December 30, 2011:
Never thought of doing this before!
anonymous on December 30, 2011:
Hey, I love the tipi diorama! Glad I stopped by, and blessed again!
casquid on December 28, 2011:
My grandchildren love to work with me on projects. Thank You for offering ideas that will send us on another path of creation, together.
Africanos on December 27, 2011:
Thank you for a great tutorial this would be perfect for a homemade gift
anonymous on December 22, 2011:
very cool indeed, enjoyed my visit this morning, thank you.
curious0927 on December 19, 2011:
Great lens! I was not familiar with Diorama until I stumbled upon your lens. I think this activity is superb for children and their education. Something about building, coloring, and my favorite~creating an idea is practical and great for kids! Thanks for sharing it!
MamaRuth on December 17, 2011:
Great ideas for the classroom. I think making a Christmas diorama with my granddaughters will be a fun project for this holiday season.
Edutopia on December 14, 2011:
I was tasked with teaching at a winter camp at the last minute this break and I've been trying to come up with ideas for the kids. How fortuitous that I'd come across this lens! Thanks!
Fay Favored from USA on December 12, 2011:
I have used this project in my classroom for years. Kids love doing them and at the end of a unit we have a party with the parents to celebrate. Thanks for sharing this. You have provided many new ideas for the idea.
anonymous on November 23, 2011:
A great lens to share. Nice! Squid-liked!
seo_optimisation on November 21, 2011:
Great ideas for the upcoming holidays with my kids, thanks!
manicnymph on November 21, 2011:
I remember doing these 'kleenex' dioramas as a child, thanks for the trip back in time! There is really no limit to the adorable miniature scenes that can be made in an old kleenex box, all you need is the creativity!
anonymous on November 17, 2011:
Great article you've written and terrific set of resources. Dioramas are fun learning opportunities for kids!
Several more dioramas at this link:
Julia Morais on November 11, 2011:
Great lens with a creative idea. Pretty soon my nephew will be old enough to do these projects with me. :)
cwstocks lm on November 10, 2011:
Gosh, I forget all about these. Thanks for reminding me so I can do this with the grandkids.
anonymous on November 06, 2011:
Nostalgic Lens, bring me back in school, Thanks
fugeecat lm on November 06, 2011:
i remember making those for school. they are pretty cool to make.
wiedruce on November 05, 2011:
fun and creative...great lens!