Bring out the clay and bring about positive student responses! Clay is always a favorite medium for my students.
This project is fun, easy, and allows for all students to experience success. Students who struggle with fine motor skills do very well with this lesson. It can be adapted for all grade levels. I have taught this to students in grades 2–5. It can serve as an introductory lesson to clay/ceramics as well. The work shown here is by second-graders.
FOR MOST OF MY ART LESSONS, I create a project bulletin board on a rolling display board. Pictures, learning targets and vocabulary are posted. For this project, the term “organic shape” is noted. On the backside, clay processes and techniques are listed. Included are pictures of packaged clay, slab roller, slab, bisque, kiln, glaze, and greenware. The term and definition are also put up. This serves as a discussion board and the commencement of the project.
Prior to the beginning of the lesson, clay is rolled out on a slab roller at approximately ¼-inch thickness. Clay can also be flattened by using rolling pins. Students use plastic lids and clay tools to form circles and remove excess clay. Smooth the edges, only if necessary, carefully using a wet finger.
I prefer to have students do a rough sketch of their design on paper, using the same plastic lid, so it is true to size. A few minutes of planning can help students make fewer mistakes. Students love using the seaside design press tools. It is beneficial to have some extra small pieces of slab-rolled clay, so they can practice pressing.
I even had to learn how hard to press the tool into the clay. It helps to move it from side to side to get the smallest details to really show up. Actual shells may be used as well. Some students have created ocean scenes, shore scenes and shell designs. They can also use tools to make their own designs as well. The press tools are optional. Once the designs are complete, students etch their initials on the back side. A hole is placed into the piece for hanging. This part of the project takes about one 45 minute class. The clay is allowed to dry before firing.
I usually apply the wax resist to the bottom of the fired pieces. Older students can do this with instruction and some supervision. Make sure that any unwanted wax spots are removed before applying glaze. Wax scrapes off fairly easy with a clay tool.
WHEN POSSIBLE, I prefer to have students use glazes for this project. I try to purchase classroom packs with assorted colors. Students can use one glaze for the entire piece or a variety of glazes. If you can fire small sample tiles, so that, students can get a better idea of how the glaze truly appears, it is very helpful. Catalog pictures are not always accurate. We pour the glazes into small plastic containers with lids. If glazes get mixed, by accident, the entire bottle is not altered. Do not forget to label the containers. Students are instructed to use 2–3 coats of glaze.
The finished ceramic pieces are unique. It’s really exciting to open the kiln and see the effects of the glaze. The students are truly amazed when they see the final results. You know that these pieces are going to be hanging on a wall at home. This artwork is “a keeper.” For younger students, wrapping the pieces in newspaper or bubble wrap is a good idea to avoid accidental breaks during transportation from school to home.
BEFORE ARTWORKS GO HOME, we have a reflection session. Students are eager to show one another their artwork. They are proud of their accomplishments. This is a time when they are encouraged to use art vocabulary and can refer to the display board. I will pose questions based on the essential questions from the national art standards in kid friendly terms and have students participate in a brief discussion within their groups. “What choices did you make when you were creating your artwork?” “Why did you make that choice or choices?” Next, students will share their answers in a class discussion.
If you are looking to integrate science or history with this lesson, there are other design press tools available: Celtic, Egyptian, Native American, Insects and Lizards, and Flowers.
Elementary students will …
• refine fine motor skills.
• use appropriate art vocabulary to discuss artwork.
• learn about materials, techniques and processes relating to ceramics.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Making art or design with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.
• Experimenting with various materials and tools to explore personal interests in a work of art or design.
• Discussing and reflecting with peers about choices made in creating artwork.
• Clay, clay tools
• Hanging wire (we used Twisteez® Craft Sculpture Wire)
• Glaze, AMACO Wax Resist Solution
• Press tools (we used the seaside design set from Mayco) or real shells
Suzanne Dionne teaches visual art at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, Connecticut. Currently, she is president of the Connecticut Art Education Association.
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