First, I handed each of them a handout (free on teachers pay teachers!) and had them read about the Japanese paper cutting.
Nōtan is a Japanese design concept involving the play and placement of light and dark elements as they are placed next to the other in the composition of art and imagery. I think I remember doing something like this in my Basic Design class in college.
(My art teachers and I have been complaining about how hard it is for students to follow basic instructions when it comes to cutting and gluing, as the 'crafty' stuff has been phased out of regular classroom curriculum in recent years, they have less and less exposure to the basics).
This project helps them to visuals how to cut something and then flip 'half' of the shape, exposing the negative space. I also like it because they don't have any scraps, they use everything that they cut out. And it isn't seasonal, it can be done any time of year.
12X12 white background paper (I also had red/green)
6X6 black paper (I also had red/green)
colored pencil for drawing
In the future, I could combine this with a lesson about Matisse.