Serving Art Educators
and Students Since 1994
Submitted by: Judie Jacobs
High School Ceramics Curriculum
Unit: Everything You Wanted to Know about Ceramics But Were Afraid to Ask!
See Ceramics Definitions (Archive) - use ones you need -- add hand building techniques and any other ones you need. (not a comprehensive list)
On Electric Kilns:
From Judie: My ceramics unit consists of a vocabulary study and test over the terms listed below, as well as an overview of the history of ceramics. Students choose one of the major periods in the development of ceramics listed below. A written report is assigned which must include the information on the grade sheet below. A short oral report is also presented by the students. Sometimes I have the students make a sample of work that represents the period they are reporting. In addition, the lesson below on figurative proportions is quite effective.
These functional - sculptural lanterns are made with draped slab and stiff slab construction. Brass and stone Japanese lanterns are used for inspiration. Many images can be found online. An antique patina is given. Various methods can be used.
The human figure is generally 7 to 8 heads tall. The measurement from the top of the head to the chin, multiplied by 7 to 8, will give you the height of a figure. For example, if the head measures 9 inches (23 cm), then the figure will be 63 to 72 inches (160 to 183 cm) tall.
For this sculpture exercise, we will use the following guidelines:
Everything will be measured using the head as the unit of measure in determining the PROPORTIONS for this figure. Begin with an ball of clay fashioned into an oval. The dimensions of this oval should determine the other body proportions. For example, if the oval is two inches from top to bottom, the total figure should measure approximately 16 inches from the top of the head to the feet.
Shoulders = 1 ½ heads for female figure OR 2 heads for male figure
Arms (shoulder to tip of fingers) = 3 heads
Elbow to bottom of palm = length of foot
Tip of finger should rest mid thigh
Torso (neck to top of legs) = 3 heads
Legs = 4 heads
Top of leg to knee = 2 heads
Knee to ankle = 1 ½ heads
Ankle to bottom of foot = ½ head
Feet = (length of elbow to bottom of palm)
NOTE FROM JUDY: When I made figures with 8th grade, we had more success with the figures that were seated or kneeling - less breakage. The seated and kneeling figures also had more support and did not need wood bases. The seated and kneeling figures were also easier to fire.
1. Ceramics - Objects made of clay fired sufficiently high in temperature for a chemical change to take place in the clay body, usually over 1550 degrees F.
2. Coiled Pottery - One of the oldest ways of forming pottery. Long strands of clay which are laid on top of each other and joined through blending coil to coil. Coil pieces can be almost any shape or size.
3. Pinch Pots - Starting with a ball of clay the potter opens a hole into the ball and forms a bowl shape through a combination of stroking and pinching the clay. Many coil-built pieces are constructed on top of a pinched bottom.
4. Slab Built - Clay slabs are cut to shape and joined together using scoring and wet clay called Slip. Slabs can be draped over or into forms, rolled around cylinders or built up into geometric forms. Large forms are difficult because of stresses on the seams and because the slab naturally sags. Some potters get around this by working fibers into the clay body. The fibers burn out during the firing, leaving a network of tiny holes.
5. Wheel thrown - The term throw comes from Old English meaning spin. A piece of clay is placed on a potter's wheel head which spins. The clay is shaped by compression while it is in motion. Often the potter will use several thrown shapes together to form one piece (a teapot can be constructed from three or four thrown forms).
6. Earthenware Clay - A low-fire clay. Porous and not waterproof. To be functional, It must be glazed.
7. Terra Cotta Clay - A brownish-orange earthenware clay body commonly used for ceramic sculpture.
8. Stoneware Clay - A high-fire clay. Stoneware is waterproof even without glaze; the resulting ware is sturdier than earthenware.
9. Porcelain Clay - True porcelain was being made in China and Korea around 960 AD. Porcelain is a combination of kaolin (a pure, white, primary clay), silica and feldspar. A unique aspect of porcelain is that it can be worked as clay, but when fired properly reaches a state similar to glass. Primary qualities of porcelain are translucency and whiteness. In the 17th Century, English potters invented Bone China to compete with the porcelain being imported into Europe.
10. Underglazes - Liquid clay Slip that contains coloring oxides
and chemicals used to apply color and designs to a ceramic piece.
11. Micaceous Iron Oxide - Metal oxides can be mixed with water and applied to the surface of clay. By varying the amount of material applied and rubbed off, the potter can achieve effects similar to stained wood. The most common stain is iron oxide (rust).
12. Engobe - A white or colored thin layer of clay used to decorate a bisque pot. It may or may not be glazed over.
13. Slip - A fine, liquid form of clay applied to the surface of a vessel prior to firing. Slip fills in pores and gives uniform color.
14. Incised - These decorations are surface designs cut into the clay. Mishima (inlaid clay) - variation - contrasting colored slip is inlayed into incised lines. This can be done using wax resist - incising then applying slip. OR slip may be applied to incised lines and sanded off the raised body.
15. Sgraffito - This comes the Italian word meaning "scratched through" and is done by incising or cutting a design through a colored slip coating to reveal the clay body.
GLAZES: (See Problem with flaking glazes below)
16. Glazes - A coating of material applied to ceramics before firing that forms a glass-like surface. Glazes can be colored, opaque, translucent or matte. (See Glaze Defects below)
17. Matte glaze - Dull-surfaced glazes, lusterless and non shiny.
18. Crackle glaze - Minute decorative cracks in the glaze that are often accentuated by rubbed-in coloring material.
19. Dry footing - Glaze is removed from the bottom of a piece before firing, making stilting unnecessary.
20. Crazing - The fine network of small cracks that occurs on glazes. The Japanese encourage crazing and will stain cracks with concentrated tea.
21. Firing - Clay is hardened by heating it to a high temperature, fusing the clay particles. Primitive pottery is usually fired on the ground or in pits with whatever flammable material is available. Kilns allow a more efficient use of materials and more control over the atmosphere during a firing. The two basic atmospheres, oxidation and reduction, affect the color of the final piece.
22. Kiln - The furnace in which ceramics are fired. Kilns can be electric, natural gas, wood, coal, fuel oil or propane. Materials used to heat the kiln can affect the work; wood ash can build up on the surfaces of a piece and form a glaze at high temperatures. Some potters introduce chemicals into the kiln to influence the effects of the firing. Famed ceramist Beatrice Wood achieved a lustre effect by throwing moth balls into the kiln.
23. Leather Hard - A damp condition of the clay when it is too firm to bend yet soft enough to be carved. Plastic stage - clay is easily manipulated and bent. Bone dry stage - No visible moisture - no dampness to touch - Clay is ready to be fired.
24. Greenware - Unfired clay ready or nearly ready for firing.
25. Bisque - Clay that has been fired once, usually at a low temperature.
26. Vitrify - A glassy, non-porous state caused by heat or fusion.
27. Kiln Wash - A mixture of china clay and flint in water solution used to coat kiln shelves to protect them from dripping glaze.
28. Kiln Furniture - The shelves inside a kiln that ceramic greenware is stacked on in the kiln. The shelves must be coated with kiln wash to prevent glazed pottery from sticking to the shelf.
29. Shelf Supports - Thick posts used to hold shelves in a kiln.
30. Pyrometer - Instrument used to record the exact temperature of the kiln.
31. Pyrometric Cones - These are slender pyramids of ceramics material made in a graded series to melt and indicate when a firing is nearly completed or completed. In an automatic cutoff kiln, they trip a switch when they melt to cut the kiln off.
32. Stilts - A triangular support for clay pieces that helps prevent glaze from melting on to shelves during a firing.
33. Elements - Coils of high temperature resistance wire that convert electricity to heat.
34. Maturing Point - Time and temperature needed to completely fire a glaze or clay object to the "vitrified" state.
35. Oxidation - (Compare to Reduction) A firing atmosphere with ample oxygen. An electric kiln always gives an oxidizing fire. In a wood or gas firing, the mixture of fuel and air is perfectly adjusted to give a clean burn. Acoma whiteware is fired in oxidation.
36. Reduction - (Compare to Oxidation) A firing atmosphere with inadequate oxygen and large amounts of carbon (smoke or unburned fuel). What would have been copper oxide in an oxidation atmosphere will be pure copper in reduction. Reduction allowed the Chinese to develop the sangue de beouf red glazes and gives Raku its metallic finishes. In Indian pottery, Maria's black pieces are the result of heavy reduction; the same piece in oxidation would be a terra cotta color.
37. Raku - Pottery is fired normally but removed when it is red hot and the glaze is molten. It is then usually placed in a bed of combustible materials and covered, creating intense reduction resulting in irregular surfaces and colors.
Clay has been used for many things throughout human history:
A writing surface
Money (e.g., In the Near East, the Babylonians issued hollow balls of clay with little stones inside. A mark impressed on the outside showed how much it was worth.)
Storage containers for food and drink
Cooking vessels and serving plates
Ballast (weight placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability) on ships (Clay vessels filled with spices, olive oil, and wine were shipped and traded throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia.)
Ceramic shields on space ships, in engine parts, and in communications
A major tool for dating cultures in archeology studies
The following periods in history had unique uses for clay--taken from Ceramic Time Line Posters. It is unknown if you can buy these anywhere now. If anyone knows where to buy these, let us know.
35,000-7,000 B.C. Paleolithic Age
9500 B.C. Japan, Fired Vessels
6000 B.C. Middle East
4500 B.C. Mesopotamia
4000 B.C. Middle East, The First Cities
3000 B.C. The First Pottery Made in South America
2700 B.C. The First Glaze, Egypt
2655 B.C. Banshan Culture, China
2500-1500 B.C. Jomon Period, Japan
2500 B.C. Wheel Throwing in China
2500--1100 B.C. Minoan Culture, Crete
2000 B.C. First Pottery Made in Middle America
2000 B.C. Glassmaking, Middle East
1600-1100 B.C. Shang Dynasty, China
1500 B.C.-A.D. 300 Formative Period, Middle America
1200-500 B.C. Olmec Culture, Middle America
1100-400 B.C. Chavin Culture, South America
900-500 B.C. Earliest Lead Glazing, Middle East
1000-300 B.C. Classic Shapes, Greek Pottery
700 B.C. Black Figure Technique, Greece
600 B.C. Red Figure Technique, Greece
700-400 B.C. Life-sized Terra Cotta Sculpture, Italy
600 B.C. Tin-Lead Glazes, Middle East
300 B.C.-A.D. 1400 Life-sized Terra Cotta Sculpture, Africa
221-202 B.C. Life-sized Terra Cotta Sculpture, Qin Dynasty, China
206 B.C.-A.D. 221 Han Dynasty, China
57 B.C.-A.D. 935 Silla Period, Korea
100-700 The Mochia Culture, South America
200 Feldspathic Glazes, Yueh Wae, China
200 B.C.-A.D.476 The Roman Empire, Europe
200-600 Haniwa Figures, Japan
300-980 Classic Period, Teotihuacan, Mexico
618-906 Tang Dynasty, China
632-1150 Early Islamic Wares, Middle East
800-1400 Southwest Indian, North America
950-1035 Mayan Post-Classic Period, Middle America
918-1382 The Koryo Dynasty, Korea
1000 Early Stoneware, Germany
960-1279 The Song Dynasty, China
960-1127 North Song, China
1128-1279 Southern Song, China
1150-1350 Medieval Islamic Period, Middle East
1200-1450 Chimu Culture, South America
1200-1521 The Axtecs, Central America
1450-1550 Inca Culture, South America
1200- Hispano-Moresque Wares, Spain
1556 First Books on Pottery Written, Italy
1230-1600 Tin-glazed Earthenware, Italy
1350-1900 Late Islamic Period, Middle East
1368-1644 The Ming Dynasty, China
1392-1910 Choson Period, Korea
1400-1900 Tea Ceramics, Raku Ware, Japan
1400 Salt-glazed Stoneware, Germany
1500 Tin-glazed Earthenware, France
1500 First Delftware, Holland
1575-1804 Soft-paste Porcelain, Europe
1600-1750 Staffordshire Slipware, England
1616 Arita Ware, Japan
1708 European Porcelain
1644-1912 Ch'ing Dynasty, China
1700-1850 Industrialization of Potteries, Great Britain
1850-1910 The Arts and Crafts Movement, Great Britain
1800-1920 The Arts and Crafts Movement, United States
1895-1905 Art Nouveau, France
1890-Present Pueblo Pottery Revival, United States
1900-1940 The Modern Movement
The Bauhaus School, Germany
The Modern Movement, England
1920's The Studio Potter/Folk Pottery
Mid 1900's Transition to Clay as Art
1946-1953 Pablo Picasso, France
1954-1964 Abstract Expressionism, Otis Influence, United States
Alfred Influence, United States
1960-1970's Funk and Fake Art
Late Twentieth Century Contemporary Clay
Early Twenty-First Century Current Trends
Submitted by Vivian Komando Ceramics Slab Vessel
Vivian is using new books with her student: Hand-Building Techniques, Ceramics Class, by Joaquim Chavarria which has inspired her new lessons and her students. She is using the text with her added requirements for projects.
She started the class with the Cylindrical pot / vase project in the book. These are second year pottery students, so they simply reviewed slab building before starting. She added that she wished to see texture and negative space. She invested in some rubber texture plates (small) and the kids also could texture with burlap and various tools. She required 3 sketches in the art journals and reviewed / discussed the possibilities with each student before they started (22 in class). The results have been amazing!
She did coil pots next - either geometric or organic forms.
The book is available from Amazon. She highly recommends this as a resource for you.
Ceramic Tips - answers to over 70 common problems/questions.
Crystal Productions Ceramics Posters - set of 14 - 17" x 22" how-to posters catalog- $62.67
Art Display Cards (Get the ceramic set) - This 16 card set introduces ceramics concepts including wedging, pinch pots, coil building, slab construction, hump molds, tiles, score and slip, centering, throwing, trimming, glazing, and more.
Ceramics Prints - Set of 12 - 12"x16" ceramic works from ancient to contemporary- Out of print
Ceramic Innovations Time Line Posters - laminated from 35,000 BC to present. (See supplemental set)
Making Ceramic Sculpture by Acero - 144 pp, 300 color photos - projects!
The Ceramic Spectrum by Hopper Glaze info - 256 pp. 200 full color illustrations
The Potter's Palette by Constant - over 700 illustrated glazes
Handbuilt Ceramics by Triplett 160 pp. 400 color photos -- Complete guide
Illustrated Dictionary of Practical Pottery by Fournier - over 1200 pottery terms
The Potters Directory of Shape and Form by French - Over 600 designs!
Surface Decoration for Low-Fire Ceramics by Peters 144pp - 350 color photos
Pottery: A Beginner's Handbook by Hilliard 138 pp. - full color - how-to's
The Craft and Art of Clay by Peterson Comprehensive - Concise history
Winchcombe Pottery Techniques - This Winchcombe Pottery DVD takes you through all of the techniques used by Mike and Ray Finch of the famous Winchcombe pottery setup by Michael Cardew. Kneading, Folding, Pugmills, Centering, Secondary Centering, Throwing Off The Lump, Egg cups, Bowls, Cylinders, Wedging, Corrections, Gallery cutting and much more.
Art in The Classroom Series: Glazing, Firing, and Other Techniques - A pottery expert demonstrates the step-by-step process of kiln firing and decorative glazing techniques.
Ceramics 1 - Ceramics I carefully leads the viewer from the basics of wedging and ends with glazing and decorating. Following the step by step instructions into the depths of ceramic technique will result in your very own masterpieces of art.
Ceramics Videos from Art Video World and Crystal Productions
"Clay Figures, Animals and Landscapes" from Crystal Productions - Art Video World page 16 - Many more videos listed.
How to moisten hard clay - a common problem
From Christine Sumner Lyman: Wrap it in plastic bag after dousing it in water. If you can manage to poke a few holes into it it will speed the process. I have purchased air tight Rubbermaid garbage cans and lids for my room. It will take about 3 days for it to soften somewhat- then you will have to keep re-hydrating it. How long it takes to soften will depend on how hard it is.
From Linda Woods:
As to re-softening clay... Here is a tip I learned at Penland: Break the clay up with a hammer if need be into pieces no bigger than your hand clenched. It will make the rewetting process much more even that way. Also, wait until it really IS bone dry before slogging it down with water. Leather hard clay does not re-moisten as evenly as bone dry clay that is broken up.
From Marvin Bartel:
Hard clay should be totally dry. Soak under water. Do not stir until it is all mushy. No need to break it up before "slaking" the dry clay. Dust is not healthy to breath. Bookmark or link this site for complete instructions. http://www.goshen.edu/art/DeptPgs/rework.html
If my clay is still soft, but just too firm, I poke holes in the top of it and fill the holes with water overnight. Repeat if needed.
See this site for information on how to wedge the clay for wheel work.
On Too Much Dust:
Clay dust is a common and serious problem. I have prepared this web site with cleaning suggestions. Clay experience is too valuable to give up because we fail to manage the dust problem.
This site explains the hazards.
Orton Firing Tips
Same information from Orton:
Article from Ceramics Today:
Problem with Flaking Glazes -from Marvin Bartel:
There are at least two reasons glazes can flake off after firing.
1. In some cases another layer of slip or engobe was under the glaze and did not stick. Maybe the engobe was too thick or not formulated to melt enough to fuse to the body.
In the case of colored slip made from only clay and colorant oxide, maybe the clay was already too dry when the slip was added for decoration or color. Use the slip thinner or sooner when the clay is still wet.
For engobe, it may need the addition of something to help it melt a bit more. Try 20 to 40 percent glaze added to the engobe mixture. The glaze that is added can be the color of the engobe, or it can be clear or white glaze, but engobe opacity and color would change.
2. In some cases the cooling contraction is more for the clay than for the glaze and it causes glaze chips to pop off. On high fired ware it is called shivering and on low fire pottery it is called shelling . It is most often along the edges and rims. To prevent this, the clay and/or the clay has to have its coefficient of expansion changed.
The solutions for shelling and shivering depend on the particulars of the problems.
Cooling too fast can cause pots to crack (dunt), might cause more crazing, but fast cooling probably does not cause glazes to flake off.
It is best to refer to the manual for your kiln model - but here are some tips: http://www.hotkilns.com/how-fire-manual-kiln
Most of the kiln manufacturers - and suppliers have web sites where you can locate specific information. Before you fire a load of precious student work... Test your kiln with the choice of cone and see if it is firing properly. The cone should bend at a 90 degree angle in the kiln sitter mechanism. If it doesn't -- you will need to adjust the screw - and for that - you need a tool that your manufacturer will supply so you can get the proper spacing - maybe called a key.
For thick pieces it is advisable to "soak" the kiln. Fire with bottom switch on low for several hours - lid propped open. There is nothing wrong with doing this firing over night - but check with your school official first.
Firing an electric Kiln: Revised from Lisa Skeen - Getty TeacherArtExchange post.
Operating the electric kiln is very easy. Assuming you're firing a kiln w/out electronic computer, and with a kiln sitter, turn all switches to OFF and do the following:
Place cone horizontally in the sitter, with the flat part of the cone on the 2 bottom "arms" and the center bar of the sitter on the pointed edge of the cone. On the outside of the kiln, raise the switch/latch into position. There will be a button in the center of the latch. Press this IN.
Load your BONE DRY ware. Anything wet in the bisque kiln is an invitation for explosion. Pieces can be stacked and touching each in a bisque load. Keep away from sides of kiln (especially away from the coils).
Close the lid and put in your peep hole covers (Skutt recommends keeping the top one open for over head vented kilns).
Turn all switches to LOW (to 3 if you have a number dial)
Turn on your Enviro-vent or whatever ventilation system you use. Leave kiln firing on LOW for 2 hours
Turn all switches to MEDIUM (or to 6 on a number dial). Leave kiln firing for two hours.
Turn all switches to HIGH or the last number on your dials. The temperature in the kiln will continue to climb until it reaches the temp that melts your cone, at which time, the cone will "break" (Junior cone should bend at 90°), releasing the switch/latch, and the kiln will shut off. NOTE: If your cone bends too much - you need to adjust the screw as the kiln over fired. If it didn't bend a full 90°, your kiln shut off too soon and needs to be adjusted.
Let kiln cool down to the point you can stand to touch the outside w/ your bare hand before you open it. Crack the lid and prop it open with a kiln post until all warm air stops pouring out the top, and you're ready to unload. Bisque loads can be unloaded while pots are still warm without harming the wares. Let a glaze load cool down.
When you're waiting for a glaze firing to cool down, you really don't want to open the kiln too early for a couple of reasons.
Some glazes develop their color during the cooling process. I have a fabulous red glaze that is BROWN while still hot.
If you open the kiln and hear a lot of pinging, it could be because of cold air hitting hot pots and the glaze is crazing/crackling.
If you open a cold kiln and hear a lot of pinging, it's probably due to a glaze fit problem between your glaze and clay - ie: the glaze shrunk more than the clay did, or vice/versa. This can cause shivering, which is where the glaze pops off the pot in razor sharp slivers, so watch out for that!
Black Carbon Firing in an Electric Kiln from Marvin Bartel
(Getty TeacherArtExchange post Nov. 18 2004)
You can get the black carbon effect in an electric kiln. It can also be a good way to set off all the smoke and fire alarms unless you have a very effective exhaust system.
The container in the kiln has to be tight enough to contain most of the carbon.
For carbon any combustible material such as sawdust, paper, leaves, etc. is placed in with the pots.
A cone 010 pre-firing is okay, but may not be needed if the work is dry and not too thick.
The smoke firing is up to about 010 or 011, but needs to be lengthy enough for the 010 or 011 temperature to get into the container where the pots are. You can place a blind cone 011 in the smoking container to see if it melts by the time the visible 010 melts.
The container in the kiln has to be robust enough to survive the firing. Potters generally use saggars for this. A saggar is a refractory covered box made of fireclay that can be used over and over. The saggar is covered with a flat shelf or the saggars can be stacked in the kiln with the pots lying sideways in sawdust with more sawdust piled over the pots. Laying the pots on various green leaves, horse hair, etc. in a bed of sawdust may actually leave rather interesting patterns on burnished pieces.
If you have a library with old Ceramic Monthly magazines, see this article by one of Marvin's former students, Dick Lehman. If you are ever in Goshen, Indiana, his studio is at the Old Bag Factory.
FAST FOSSILS: CARBON-FILM TRANSFER ON SAGGAR-FIRED PORCELAIN - Author(s): Dick Lehman
His saggar fired work can also be seen at this web site:
You can find more info at this site.
From Marvin Bartel (Getty TeacherArtExchange post May 10, 2006)
Nearly all firing breakage is caused by heating it too fast at the critical boiling temperature of water. This is worst if the clay is thick or not quite bone dry. Some clay is more open and can tolerate faster firing because the steam can get out easier. One quantity of water converts to about 600 parts of steam. This explodes the clay soon after it reaches 212° F at sea level (sooner in Denver). Sometimes the steam gathers in an air pocket, forcing the clay apart, making it appear as if the air pocket caused the breakage.
1. Fire slower until kiln is well past the boiling temp. Some kilns have limited slow controls, so you have to leave the lid partially open at first, but most kilns can be fired very slowly at first and then turned up after all steam is removed from clay. Thicker pieces take a while to get heated all the way through, so be patient before turning up the switches. Once a kiln shows red heat, it can go full speed ahead.
2. Pre-dry the clay longer or use a fan, heat register, or even place in thermostatically controlled kitchen oven at 180 degrees F.
3. Students may learn as much or more with several smaller sized (thinner) projects instead of one larger and thicker project. What if the assignment is to make three of something and then the students selects the best one of the three to be fired? Unfired clay is used again.
4. Ventilate thicker clay sculpture pieces by poking lots of holes in them from the bottom with a piece of coat hanger wire. Poke a hole nearly through to the top. Put a hole every half inch or closer to let the steam out as it heats. Do this before the clay is dry.
5. Have students add sand (or grog) to the clay. It opens the clay and allows the moisture and steam out easier. White sand from builders supply stores (sold for plaster) is generally high quality silica and works fine. Add as much as you want to as long as the clay is still workable. Some river sand, beach sand, or common pit sand may not work because it may include limestone or sea shell pieces (causes pop-outs).
6. Teach students to make thinner pieces. Encourage them to work the clay together well when they add parts.
7. Have student construct thicker sculpture by wrapping clay slabs or pinch pots around wads of paper when a larger mass is needed. The newspaper can stay in the clay, but poke a hole in the bottom to let the pressure out. These cores need to be soft enough to shrink as the clay dries. Paper wads formed and taped are good cores for animals and head sculptures. Wood paddles help form the clay.
Links to clay information.
Ceramics Room Set up - from Marsha G.
TOOLS - High school kids like to get their own supplies. I keep all the tools on a cart in old ceramic pots. Needle tools (points down) in one, loop tools in another, etc. You get the idea. We also have peg board cut into small squares (8-10") to carry the clay to the Drying Rack or from the wheel or to their shelves.
Another option is to have basic tools already sorted into supply boxes. Number these and assign a number to each student. Students are responsible for all tools in their box. An inventory is attached to the inside lid so contents can be checked periodically.
WORK SURFACE - We once covered the whole class tables with unprimed canvas stapled around on the underside. We decided to try boards covered in the canvas (about 16"x20") and we like this better. At clean up, we have the kids scrape the excess build-up of clay using a metal ruler (or a 6" putty knife) into a barrel that is outside the classroom door. Next they damp-sponge the canvas to remove more clay from the boards. We do not put them under the faucet! This keeps dust down. They stack the cleaned boards face down or up depending on the wood warp. Reversing it each time keeps the board flat.
CLAY STORAGE - We assign a shelf to each student. We buy Jumbo zip-lock bags for work under construction, student's name on it on masking tape. Some people use plastic boxes. We do not have a damp storage locker as the room is small. We have the kids tear a small piece of paper toweling and dampen it slightly and they put this in the corner of the bag to add more humidity until they are in class again. Wrapping in supermarket bags works for the bigger pieces (or use trash bags as supermarket bags often have holes in them).
WORK IN PROGRESS - We have small cups, the kind used in deli places (2 oz) for water. This way they don't use too much to soak the clay! The water is for smoothing surfaces. Another cup is for slip. So, each student has their own supplies and this keeps traffic down.
GLAZES - I have large jars of glazes and don't want the kids using those directly in case they contaminate it with another glaze on their brush. I pour a small quantity into baby food jars that were well-washed in the dishwasher. I label them with the color name and color number. I keep a laminated chart of all the glazes in each glaze cabinet that shows the fired color as well as toxicity or safety for food service. I also made tiles of each glaze and put similar glazes together by stringing them, i.e., crystals on one string, crackles on another, LG glazes etc. You will most likely buy glaze in large buckets for your classes which allows you to dip pots. We do not have that option.
CLEAN-UP - At the end of class (allow time for clean up) students clean their boards, wash their tools, return them to the cart, wrap and store their work on their labeled shelf, take turns washing the table. We do not sweep. We leave that for the custodian who damp mops the floor daily. I damp wipe the counters and other surfaces at the end of each day. Our goal is to keep clay dust down as much as possible.
Advice for a New Ceramic Teacher from Mikel Lee
When I taught Ceramics I, II to grades 9-12 I learned to lay back and go with the flow. It was a very rewarding experience and my students really responded well to the studio environment and produced excellent pieces.
Don't get too academic with the history of clay and long vocabulary lists all at once. Break it up into brief 5 minute blurbs that they can look at during the beginning of class... or have a different question on each table with the resource to find the answer... make them find the answer and present it when you are done with attendance. They really get lectured and note taken way too much in high school. I had them keep a folder with pockets and brads for papers, notes, and sketches, etc. that stayed in my room. Also, as you make them use the proper vocabulary while working... they will learn it all that way.
On the first day just go over the rules, the procedures... the properties of clay... your expectations for their work... when the shows and scholarship opportunities are... Maybe play the pass the clay game... that is a lot of fun... until you end up with boobs and cigars for all the pieces... Oh and lets not forget the first penis sculpture of the year... Just get ready for it and then don't make a big deal of it or you will have them all year sometimes showing up in weird places like your desk! Also, if you are not familiar with bongs and pipes you might want to get educated so that your class does not become paraphernalia 101.
As you learn their names and they know the procedures it might be nice to just let them come in and get to work.
I tried due dates at first and quickly threw that idea out because they all worked at different speeds. Some were very meticulous and some prolific and some just slow. So, they were all never on the same page. I introduced techniques about every 2 weeks... I saw them every other day... and they had to make their work with the technique... and then they could combine the new technique with the previous technique. I would introduce the wheel early so that they can rotate who gets to work when... I had critiques 2-3 x's per grading period. They were graded on the work they brought to critique and their daily participation grade. Critiques were never negative, just a time for them to explain their methods, their problems and success and future plans. Kids sometimes asked questions and I always did.
I made everyone clean up after themselves and each table was responsible for their group... So if they weren't ready they all stayed when the bell rang. I also counted all of the special tools and checked their table boxes before they were considered ready.
You won't have the same problems with this class for the early finishers because you are only working with clay... So, they just start something else. And if they aren't motivated to do so then there are a ton of chores to be done in a pottery class. Clay to reclaim, canvases to scrape, tools to wash, clay to wedge, and on and on... That will make them interested in their work again!
If you want to make a poster with the "golden rules of clay" like the one on Incredible Art Department... or a reminder for clean up or what to do with finished work or works in progress those will all be great.
Don't be too nervous. Clay is a magical thing and the kids love to work with it. Just let them have fun creating and you have fun too.