This simple clay art project is one of my favourites to teach towards the end of the year; it is engaging and dead easy to teach, with really effective outcomes for students! It’s also great for them to be able to take some 3D ceramic artwork home with them at the end of the year.
The thought of teaching clay to a mixed ability class of around 30+ Y9 students can (rightly) be daunting, but this full clay scheme of learning breaks down all of the tasks into small, manageable chunks. Students actually end up with at least two pieces of work – one ‘practise’ piece and one ‘final’ piece.
The clay project starts with students looking at an artist’s ceramic work (Heather Knight), and considering the differences between cutting into clay and adding onto it. Students then complete an artist research page about Heather Knight and this informs their clay vessel designs later on. From here I introduced the concept of the project: underwater textures incised and applied to clay, with the aim of making at least one vessel.
Students were asked to research underwater textures as a homework and then created designs for their clay vessels based on their findings. The aim was to use tone correctly to show the difference in incised and applied textures. All of the outcomes for this task were differentiated, with students working to GOOD, BETTER and BEST aims.
Within all of the lessons in this scheme of learning I have included starter activities / entry tasks / peer assessments / self assessments / plenaries etc. linked to the learning objectives and outcomes of the project.
I didn’t want to spend too long working in sketchbooks / on designs, and was eager for students to start working with clay so I only taught a few research lessons. Generally I have found that the more time students have with a new material, the more confident they become. To start I kept things simple and students created a tile as their ‘practise’ piece.
Considering this was (for most students) their first time using clay, I was really impressed with their outcomes! They were aiming to get the clay to be an even thickness throughout (so it could dry as flat as possible) and experiment with different tools to create a range of marks and textures. Again, all of the lessons included various entry / starter activities and plenaries for students to reflect on their progress.
I spent two lessons on the clay tile pieces before moving onto the construction of their clay vessel pieces. This is a relatively simple process of creating two pinch pots and joining them together. Some students struggled to get each of their pinch pots the same size or shape, and some struggled to get them to stick together so I had to show them a few different scratching / smoothing techniques. If you are not confident using clay you could easily change the scheme of learning to just have one pinch pot instead of two.
Once students had their clay spheres we looked back at their sketchbook work and ideas, and linked the textures they created back to their research. Each lesson I showed them a couple of different techniques they could try, but most were happy to be experimental and test out the different tools. This was my favourite part of the whole clay project!
At each stage I found it important to have plenty of time for reflections and feedback – it was quite easy to let students ‘get on with it’ but I found that they could lose focus of the overall aim and sometimes needed a bit of guidance to get back on the right track… I’m sure you know the feeling 😆
Once the clay vessels had been fired I was really pleased with how they came out. In terms of planning, I had the tiles fired before students had finished the vessels, this meant I could move them on to painting their tiles (colour theory and decoration ideas) whilst their vessels were being fired. Here’s a few final pieces – what do you think?
As I taught this project during the final term before Summer, I went into some depth about the use of colours and creating different effects with colour (tints, shades, accent colours, dry brush, metallics etc.) and gave students quite an open ended choice about how to finish their clay vessels. In total there are around 12 slides on the PowerPoint just about the use of colour, so of course, you could easily shorten this section of the scheme of work.
I have shared other art projects for teaching colour theory here – enjoy!
I found this project to be really engaging as students knew they would have a unique and handmade clay piece to take home at the end. It was also great for classroom and behaviour management – if students were not using the clay correctly, they had to have a ‘lesson off’ and were not able to use the clay in the next lesson. I found this worked particularly well to engage boys who wanted to be getting stuck in.
And here are some of the beautiful outcomes by students! What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Or if you have any questions just ask 🙂 I hope you enjoy teaching the project.