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Rockin' Chalk

Submitted by: Samantha J. Wilmoth: Miller South School for the Visual & Performing Arts, Akron, Ohio
Unit: Science/Social Studies/Visual Art Integration
Grade Level: Elementary grade four (adaptable to middle school and high school - see science experiments)


Alternate Lesson Plans and Ideas using Petroglyphs by Jan Hillmer

Cave Painting - Links and Lesson Plans

Native American Symbols - Plains Indians (Lakota) - Lessons using Plains Art


Objectives: Students will

  • Display knowledge gained from studying characteristics of rocks and minerals.

  • Develop an hypothesis and design an experiment to test it.

  • Create several pieces of colored chalk from materials supplied.

  • Demonstrate craftsmanship in using art media to create a circular picture story.

  • Use of line, pattern and texture to show knowledge of the use of geometric designs and repeating patterns in primitive art.


This is a culminating project I do with my kids at the end of the study of Ohio's prehistoric people as we move into the historical Native groups and at the end of the science unit i do on rocks & minerals & fossils and as we move into earth structure and changes.


Image from Artlessonsforkids


Petroglyphs and pictographs are a part of many cultures around the world. They represent humans’ first attempts at preserving ideas in an artistic manner. Art materials were made out of resources at hand and symbols were often stylized versions of reality. These symbols however must have made sense not only to those creating them, but to those viewing them as well. Students will practice interpreting a few stories told in picture form first. Next they will be instructed to make their own art supplies, in this case, chalk.



Each group is given their set of materials: two-cup measure of water; small margarine tubs filled with Plaster of Paris., talc and corn starch. They are also given a box of colored food dyes, but are instructed to use that last. Finally, they will need an empty margarine bowl to mix their ingredients in.


Next they are told to hypothesize what mixture of the ingredients will produce the "best" chalk. Lead them through a discussion of what their definition of "best" is. Next, each group will write out an hypothesis for what they think the best mixture will be and then they will write out the procedure they will use to test their beliefs. Go from group to group to make sure they know what the variables are.


Note: Guide them to see that the dye has to be included as fluid added to the mix. If you are using dry pigment paint instead, this is not a concern.


After they have agreed on their mixture, but before they actually make it, review their procedures with them, and then instruct them to make a mold from the clay for the chalk. Each student makes their own mold so that each group ends up with several pieces of chalk made from their mixture. Remind them before they add the dye that they need to use natural earth tones and to mix it well with the Popsicle stick.



Mixture in clay mold. Image from KawaiiFrenzy

Next they are to carefully pour their mixture into their clay molds. Set them aside to dry. This could take several days, depending on the humidity level. When dry, students will remove from the molds and then test their chalk out on either small pieces of slate or on a small piece of the brown paper grocery bag. If all goes well, they are ready to create their pictograph stories. They can draw the rough drafts of these stories in the time it takes for the chalk to cure. Students can share their rough drafts with their group mates to make sure that they can "read" them as well. If for some reason, a group’s chalk does not turn out-and this DOES happen! –then have the group go back to their original mixture.


What do they need to change to make their chalk "better"? Have them write the new mixture down and try it out as well. When each group is satisfied that their chalk is satisfactory, they can create their pictograph stories. Display all the finished products and lead a group discussion about the quality of the different mixtures and what made them that way.



Each group receives a small margarine tub of Plaster of Paris., Talc. and Corn Starch. and one set of food coloring dyes. (dry pigment paint works even better) Empty margarine bowl and Popsicle sticks. *per student* to mix ingredients, two-cup measure of water, one stick of modeling clay per student (Plastilina Modeling Clay. or Model Magic. – not firing clay or Air-Dry Clay.. The Plasticine clay can be used again for other modeling activities and will not absorb the water from the chalk mixture). Section of slate or side of brown paper bag handouts on Native American pictographs (many images available online)


Alternate easy recipe, "How To Make Colored Chalk" from

See how to make chalk in fun shapes



Hypothesis, variable, data, repeating pattern, balance, contrast, angle, parallel, symmetry, pattern, natural resources, prehistoric, pictograph.


Petroglyphs - "Are carved, pecked, chipped or abraded into stone. The outer patina covered surface of the parent stone is removed to expose the usually lighter colored stone underneath. Some stone is better suited to petroglyph making than others. Stone that is very hard or contains a lot of quartz does not work well for petroglyph making; however, a nice desert varnished basalt usually works very well." [1]


Pictographs - "Are painted onto stone and are much more fragile than petroglyphs. The paint is a mineral or vegetal substance combined with some sort of binder like fat residue or blood. If the paint was not properly mixed with a binder it would not adhere well to the stone and the pictograph would quickly flake away. Pictographs were painted in locations where they would be protected from the elements: in caves, alcoves, under ledges and overhangs." [2]


Intaglios - "Are large ground drawings created by removing the pebbles that make up desert pavement. Intaglios are usually in the outline of animals (zoomorphs) or human-like figures (anthropomorphs). [3] Intaglios are found on mesas along the Colorado River more so than in other places." See images of the Blythe Intaglios.


Internet Resources:

Books for Children:

Ohio Internet Resources: Inscription Rock and Leo Petroglyph:


Books on Ohio Petroglyphs:

Swauger, James, Petroglyphs of Ohio.. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1984. The author presents the results of years of surveying and recording all the known petroglyph sites in the state of Ohio. Petroglyph sites of both American Indian and Euro-American origin are represented. Each site is documented on a site-by-site basis, with location information (approximate), a description and discussion of the rock art, and published references.


Swauger, James, Rock art of the Upper Ohio Valley.. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, l974. [This book is out of print and remaining copies are quite costly]


Books on Petroglyphs

Easy Field Guide to Southwestern Petroglyphs. - Elizabeth Welsh provides an instructive quick overview of petroglyphs and pictographs. Within the the 32 pages of text the book provides the bare fundamentals of recognizing, appreciating and preserving different forms of southwestern United States rock art.

Rock Art in New Mexico. - Las Imagines (Albuquerque's West Mesa Site), and the significance of the Rio Grande Style for illuminating the history of the kachina cult and other aspects of Pueblo religion is covered. The chapters present the material by geographic region, covering the northeast, the south, the Upper Rio Grande, and the east and southern high plains.


See this lesson for more resources on petroglyphs and pictographs.



  1. Did students show an appreciation and understanding of the use of pictographs?

  2. Were they able to compare and contrast different approaches and methods?

  3. Did students show observation and experimentation skills in creating their own chalk?

  4. Did students show symmetrical and geometrical balance in the creation of their picture story?

  5. Did they show contrast (different values), pattern and repetition?

  6. Did students exhibit skill and craftsmanship in creating their pictographic designs?


As an extension, have students create other art tools using natural materials such as sticks, feathers, and different types of dried grasses. Have them find natural pigments to paint with such as berries, dirt and ground up fresh grass. Have them try out different substances to use as the "canvas", too, such as bark or cotton or scraps of leather. Continue to stress using characteristics of primitive art in their final products they create using these tools as well.



Lesson Plans and Ideas using Petroglyphs

Submitted by: Jan Hillmer
UNIT: Art-Science-Social Studies - Petroglyphs
Lesson: Carved Petroglpyhs (in clay)
Grade level: elementary (grade five)


2Prepare irregular clumps/slabs of clay ahead of time and allow to dry completely.

Jan talked to the students about Petroglyphs. (5th grade) She had some pictures of petroglyphs that the Science teacher was also using to discuss petroglyphs (It would be great to tie this in with social studies too - 5th grade studies Pueblo cultures/ Anasazi).  After the clay was good and dry, they went out to an area in the courtyard that has gravel. They each found a small rock for carving their glyph into the clay. The "rock art" glyphs were later fired. (Click image at left for larger view.)

A very cool outgrowth that happened is that  a few  of the students, by chance, were doing the carving over their open sketchbook, and when they swept the carving dust across the paper, the paper had a coat of reddish chalk/clay. One of the kids started DRAWING with their petroglyph rock onto the reddish paper.  They drew a few more glyphs on their paper.  Then they got out charcoal and did their sketching assignment in charcoal on that cool paper. Jan sprayed  fixative on the paper after they finished class. Lesson can be completed in one class period (actually glyph carving portion took ½ hour for all to finish) After glyphs have been fired - have students exchange and interpret the meaning of the glyphs. What do they say about the culture who made them? Glyphs could be stained with watered down acrylics.

Additional Lesson Ideas and Plans

  1. Low relief clay tile or plaque - using Native American motifs or symbols of personal meaning. Cast with handmade paper. See Skutt Lesson Planpdf for some "how to's" on paper casting.

  2. An old favorite - hand print cast in plaster. Carve some simple symbols in negative spaces. Stain with shoe polish or Acrylic Paint.. Extend this idea - Make paper cast hands! (Archive)

  3. Painting on clay slabs - underglazing techniques - earth tones. See Amaco lesson plan Cave Art Revisited pdf (Archive)


  4. Rock art ceramic pins. Students make a small thin slab of clay - carve symbol into clay (personal symbol or rock art inspired). Fire clay and stain. Use white acrylic brushed on - then off again on red clay - try brown shoe polish or brown acrylic on white clay. Glue a pin back. Alternate method - Make a clay stamp - press into clay. Stamp may be used over and over a gain then to make more pins (perhaps for a Fund Raiser). See this example. for ideas.

  5. Rock art stamps - carve into plaster that has been cast in a small solo drink cup. Use old lino cut tools or wood carving tools. These stamps may be used to stamp into pots - or frames. Make a clay frame for a native American art inspired treasure (like foil tooling) - Frame with the petroglyph stamped clay frame.

  6. Carving in Drywall board. Cut drywall board to manageable pieces - easily cuts with Utility Knives. (score then break along mark). Soak paper off one side. Carve with simple tools - lino tools - wood carving tools - wire loop tools. Stain with Acrylic Paint. or shoe polish.

  7. Collagraph prints. Printing plate made from cardboard, string, tagboard and/or sand paper - etc. print relief method -- or Gesso. and print on an Etching Press. intaglio style. Make an embossed print by running through etching press with plastic wrap separator to keep soaked and blotted paper from sticking to plate.

  8. String cardboard relief - make a paper cast. - cover string relief with heavy duty foil to make a treasure - antique with India ink..

  9. Literature Integration - See this plan for two books to read to children - no hands on lesson given.

  10. Kansas Rock Art: Creating your own Rock Art - Middle school - use this as a model plan to design one for Rock Art in your area.

  11. Interpreting Rock Art of the Anasizi - Grade K -2 (adaptable to higher grade levels)

  12. Rock Art in Arkansas - Use as a guide for developing worksheets and web quest. See all of the lessons plans - Quick facts - photo images and more. Geared to many different grade levels.

  13. Rock Art Drawings - Grades 1 through 8 - has pictograph symbols handout. (Archive)

  14. Talking Rocks - 3rd Grade Lesson Plan by Nancy Ratzloff - ArtsConnected (adaptable to other grades) - Excellent lesson

  15. Messages in Rocks - Several lessons from the Arizona Art Education Association. (Archive)

  16. Petroglyph People - This lesson used to be on the Sax website. They were bought out and the lesson disappeared. We were able to grab it in Google's cache before it disappeared.

  17. Artist: Ernest Whiteman - ArtsConnectEd:  Students could make petroglyph sculptures inspired by Whiteman's work. Cut petroglyph (or personal symbol) from corrugated cardboard - or foam core board. Cover with a layer of Plaster Gauze.. Paint with a rust like/iron oxide patina. Use your handmade chalk to put more symbols on your petroglyph sculpture - protect with Crystal Clear Acrylic Spray Paint..



Pre-Historic Cave Painting (Europe) - Some links and lesson plan ideas:



Native American Symbols - Plains Indians (links submitted by Sara Wren)



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