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Reply to "COMPLETE LESSON SET: Feeding the 5000 from FUMC, Ann Arbor, MI"

a fish print

Jesus Feeds 5000+

Art Workshop

Summary of Lesson Activities:

The children will use real fish (dead of course) to make a fish print t-shirt while discussing the miracles in this story.

Reviewers Note:  We know this sounds "gross" to some people, but a number of our members who have used this lesson have reported "the kids loved it!" Don't settle for using fake fish!

For scripture, objectives, and background - see above.

Leader Preparation:

  • Read the scripture for this lesson.
  • Read and reflect on the overview material provided for this lesson.
  • Gather the following materials:
    • Easel with appropriate markers
    • A place or a way to dry the shirts (such as a clothesline with clothespins)
    • A way to mark the student's names on the shirts – masking tape and a Sharpie Pen or dry cleaner hangers with paper inserts, or (if used) instructions on how to care for the shirts with safety pins
    • Table covers
    • Bibles (for 3rd grade and up)
    • Story Bible for younger students. Suggestion: The Praise Bible
    • 2 fresh fish (trout or any fish with interesting fins that stick up); more if you've got a large class
    • Cooler with ice to keep fish cold until needed (or a refrigerator)
    • Newspaper (cut into half sheets, at least one per student)
    • Newsprint (blank newspaper before it’s printed, at least one per student)
    • Paper towels
    • T-Shirts (one per student)
    • Fabric paint (depends on the color of the t-shirt: darker colors such as jewel tones work best, suggest a maximum of 3 colors, use colors that blend well together, also offer black, white, pink, and dark green for embellishing (for older students)
    • Extra pieces of 100% cotton muslin for printing (in case aren’t enough shirts)
    • Cereal boxes (one per student) or use sheets of poster board
    • Foam paint brushes (at least 1 per color of paint used)
    • Clean meat trays
    • In a room without a sink: hand wipes
    • Magnetic fishing poles (at least 2)
    • Construction paper fish
    • A glue stick
    • For younger students: a set of story pictures (refer to resource list for where pictures came from)
    • For all students: pictures of a boot, a tire, and a shoe glued onto construction paper
    • Paper clips
    • Blue tablecloth to use as a “pond”
    • Age-appropriate puzzle sheets or coloring pages, pencils (optional)
    • Optional: photos of fish the workshop leader (or someone they know) has caught
  • Prepare ahead of time
    • For 4th-6th graders: Write the story out on the fish shapes (from John 6:1-14). Have one fish be the Bible reference.
    • For 1st-3rd graders: using the pictures from the story, glue them onto the fish shapes.
    • Put paper clips on the fish so they can be caught with the magnetic fishing poles. Place all the fish in the “pond.” Add a couple of blank fish.
    • Flatten enough cereal boxes to have one per student. 
  • On the day of class:
    • If using, string up the clothesline (could tie it between two chairs?)
    • Place table covers on at least one table.
    • For readers: write on the easel “What does this story teach us about God?” and the word “Gyotaku.”

Lesson Plan: Opening

Greet your students warmly, welcoming them to the Art Workshop. Introduce yourself and any other adults.

Ask:  How many of you have ever been fishing?
Did you catch any fish?
(Optional) Show the photo you’ve brought of a personal fishing expedition.

Say:  When someone catches a big fish they like to take a photograph of it so that they have proof that they really caught a large fish.

Ask:  What do you suppose was done to record the size of a fish before cameras were invented? (allow a few answers)

Say:  Our art activity today will use a process called Gyotaku (pronounced gee-oh-TAH-koo). Long ago Gyotaku was a Japanese way of making a record of the size of a fish. We’ll see how this was done after we read our Bible story, which is about some fish.


Say:  Our story today is about a miracle that Jesus did. [After the first week, ask what our Bible story is about.]

Ask:  What is a miracle? (accept a few answers)

Say:  Miracles in the Bible are amazing events that were totally unexpected. Today the miracle we’ll look at is that Jesus fed a lot of people with just a little bit of food. Miracles teach us something about God. [Refer to the easel for readers.] Let’s keep this question in mind as we go over our story: What does this miracle teach us about God?

  • Where in the Bible would we read about a miracle that Jesus did? (in the New Testament)
  • What are the names of the first four books of the New Testament?
  • What do we call those first four books? (the Gospels)

Say:  We find the story of Jesus feeding a large group of people in all four Gospels! This is the only miracle that is told in all four of the Gospels. We are going to read the version that is in the Gospel of John.

For 3rd grade and up:
Distribute Bibles. Have everyone find John, chapter 6, verse 1.
[Make sure everyone remembers the quick way to find the New Testament: dividing the Bible in half gets them near Psalms. Dividing the back half in half again gets them near the Gospels in the New Testament.]

If this is the first week in the Rotation, read the story to the students asking them to follow along, (John 6:1-14). Towards the end of the Rotation, ask the students if they can tell you the story. Have them check their Bibles for accuracy.

For 1st and 2nd graders:
Show the pictures as you read pages 320 – 328 in The Praise Bible

For all students: Preliminary Discussion

Ask:  What miracle(s) happened?
[Refer to the easel for readers.] I wonder what this/these miracle(s) teach us about God? (allow discussion)

Start the fish art project

Say:  I had mentioned that our art process was to use Gyotaku (pronounced gee-oh-TAH-koo). Gyotaku is a Japanese word that literally means “fish rubbing” (gyo = fish, taku = rubbing). To remind us of this story about how Jesus fed over 5000 people with just two small fish and five loaves of bread, we are going to make fish rubbings or fish prints on t-shirts. Whenever you wear your shirt, you can think of this miracle!

Do:  Explain the process. Then let them work in groups of two to each make a print. While waiting to make a print, have them play the fishing game.

Fish printing process:

  1. When starting with your very first print, remove the fish from the cooler (or the refrigerator) and use paper towel to gently dry the fish. (Not too vigorous or you’ll rub off the scales.)
  2. Place the fish on a stack of half sheets of newspaper (you’ll be removing a sheet with each print).
  3. If the fish has been gutted, stuff its insides with paper towels so that the belly is firm. (May not be necessary with a firm fish.)
  4. Stuff the shirt to be printed with a flattened cereal box.
  5. Have the student brush a thin coat of fabric paint on the fish. (It really does not take much.) May choose to use all one color or more than one color.Boys paint a fish for printing
  6. Make a light print of the fish using a sheet of *blank* newsprint (the paper before the news is printed). This takes off the excess paint from the fish. Discard this newsprint.
  7. Now slide the top sheet of newspaper out so that the surface beneath the fish is clean (otherwise you’ll get paint on the t-shirt in places where you don’t want it).
  8. Carefully lay the shirt over the fish (with the cereal box inside). Important: Where it lays is where it stays! (Don’t shift the shirt once it’s on the fish).
  9. Have the student gently rub the fabric of the shirt that is over the fish, with their hand. They will put their hand inside the shirt – the “sandwich” will be the fish, then the back of the shirt, then the child’s hand, then the cereal box then the front of the shirt (assuming a print is going on the back of a shirt.) Encourage the student to gently rub all parts of the fish with the shirt so there won't be any blank or faint spots on the shirt. Remember to rub all the fins, too. Take your time! The fabric may wrinkle a little bit, but that is all right just so long as the fabric doesn’t shift.
  10. After you have pressed the entire fish, carefully peel off the shirt with the cardboard inside. There is your fish print! Hang the shirt (may need to leave the cardboard inside until the paint dries). Make sure the child's name is somehow on their shirt.
  11. Optional, for older children: allow them to use other colors of paint to add highlights to their print – for example, speckles by applying paint using the pointed end of a paintbrush or to add white paint for an eye.

For subsequent prints, return to step 4 and repeat. If a different color is desired, wipe the fish gently with paper towel between colors. Some mixing of colors will occur but this enhances the print.

Other discussion points as small groups of students are fish printing: (Repeat these questions with -each group that does a print.)

  • Gyotaku originated in Japan in the early 1800’s. Fishermen practiced it to preserve a record of their catches. (A fish print never lies, but fishermen do!)  There are many Christians in Japan because someone shared the bread of life with them.
  • Why do you suppose Jesus performed miracles? (they offered proof that Jesus was the Messiah; Jesus didn’t want people to think of them as magic but he wanted them to cause people to believe in God)
  • Do miracles happen today? (accept all answers)
  • In the story God needed the boy’s lunch in order for Jesus to work a miracle. Do you suppose that God might use you as part of a miracle?
  • Back in the days when the church was just starting up (around 2000 years ago), people used the symbol of a fish to identify that they believed in Jesus. I wonder what message it will show to others when you wear this shirt?

Instructions for the Fishing Game:

  1. Have the children take turns using the fishing poles with magnets on them to catch a paper fish in the “pond”.
  2. Throwback any fish without a portion of the story on it—i.e., anything that’s not a fish!
  3. Have the kids try to arrange the verses (or story pictures) everyone catches, in the proper order. (One fish will have the Bible reference on it).
  4. Alternate activities are to do the provided puzzle pages.

Extra Activities (For those who finish early)

Mix up a set of story fish. Time the students in their putting the story fish in order. See if they improve their time with subsequent attempts.


Say:  Let’s close with prayer.
Ask for any prayer requests. Ask if anyone would like to lead the group in prayer. Use the Lord’s Prayer as the ending.
A suggestion: Jesus, Thank you for this opportunity to be creative today. Help us to remember when we wear our shirts that you turned a boy’s small lunch into enough food for over 5000 people and that there were leftovers! (End with the Lord’s Prayer) Amen.

(updated for 2020)

  • Meyer, Nancy Jean. “Gyotaku: The Japanese Art of Fish Printing.” ARTSEDGE.
  • Thomas, Mack. The Praise Bible. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 1998.
  • Story pictures came from a combination of Bible for Children and Free Bible Images.
  • See examples of gyotaku at Catch of the Day Oregon (scroll through various pictures)

Note: I originally wrote this lesson in 2001. When we did this workshop in 2001 we printed on pieces of 100% cotton muslin fabric, pre-washed without fabric softener; cut into rectangles with pinking shears. (We were just getting started with Rotation so things were bare-bones!) Here are my notes about the workshop from 2001...

Figure on the adults being squeamish about touching dead fish but the kids really got into this! It makes beautiful prints. Our preschool did fish printing on t-shirts in a subsequent repeat of this Rotation (2008) so it can be done by all ages. If you choose to make prints on paper you'll need to use a very thin paper such as rice paper. Regular paper just will not work because it's too stiff.
Ask your fish market to donate the fish. I found myself teaching a Bible story to the sales clerk at the store. (You want it for what?).

And notes from repeating this Rotation in 2008...

In 2008 we printed on t-shirts. The hardest part was the ordering of the T-shirts. (Will we have enough?) And in the correct sizes. (We had a campaign the month before doing this, where we asked the Shepherds to collect sizes.) Be prepared for children who don't want to make a fish print because they don't want to touch a dead fish. Accept their choice. Allow them to paint a fish on their t-shirt.

A lesson written by Carol Hulbert from First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI
Photos copyright Carol Hulbert.


Images (3)
  • Fish print 1
  • Fish print 2
  • Boys paint a fish for printing
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