If you are a high school Art teacher, you will introduce your Art classes to Ceramics at some point during the school year. When beginning this unit, be sure to introduce Art students to the fundamentals of using clay, plus the history of Ceramics throughout civilization. Hang posters around the Art room showing examples of Ceramics around the world – from different cultures, time periods, movements, artists, and showing various styles and techniques you want your classes to learn. For more background information on Ceramics that can be given to students, read: “Basic Information on Clay & Ceramics.”
Consider having clay-practice days with your Art classes for teaching high school students the processes of wedging and kneading, using a cutting-wire, cleaning up after using clay, and introducing the techniques of coil-building, hand-building, slab-building, creating hollow circles, joining pieces, scoring, pinching, incising, and applying texture. You can also play games, such as who can make the most perfect clay circle or the tallest clay structure. Later on, practice days can teach lessons about kiln-firing, glazing and using a pottery wheel.
Lesson: Hand-built pots – After being introduced to the clay hand-building methods (slab, coil, and pinch), Art students create a series of hand-built pots, showing different designs and textures.
Lesson: Visual metaphor – Following in the footsteps of ceramic artist Robert Arneson, students create a humorous ceramic sculpture visually illustrating a common metaphor (for example, “egghead” could be represented by an egg shape, with hair and glasses).
Lesson: Wheel-thrown pottery – Introduce your high school Art classes to throwing pottery on a wheel, then students each use the wheel to create a ceramic container.
Lesson: Raku-firing – If the resources are available, have students experiment with raku-firing to experience a different process from regular kiln-firing.
Lesson: Teapot – the ultimate challenge – It is often said that building a functional, decorative teapot is one of the most challenging ceramic structures to create. Assign this task to advanced ceramic students, possibly with the addition of coordinating teacups and plates.
Lesson: Bas-relief landscape sculpture showing perspective – Introduce students to bas-relief and ‘flat’ or hanging sculpture. Show students the Art of Red Grooms, the bas-relief sculptures from ancient Rome, and the work displayed at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. For a different take in ceramics, have Art classes design sculptural landscapes in bas-relief, that also show perspective and depth. Or try designing architectural facades, with plenty of details.
Lesson: Abstract design tiles – In the style of mandalas, cathedral rose windows, Celtic knots and others, students create additive-sculpture decorative tiles with abstract or geometric designs.
Lesson: Figures – Using armatures and learning about related vocabulary such as ‘contrapposto’, students create real or imagined figurative human or animal clay sculptures, improving their skills in sculpting form and balance.
Lesson: Faces/heads – Anthropomorphic pottery – Show your Art classes examples of African pottery that incorporate human characteristics into the functional container designs, such as heads or faces carved or added onto the surface. Students then design their own anthropomorphic ceramic pieces, possibly adding arms, legs, ears or figures onto their sculptures.
Lesson: Lamps – Consider assigning high school Art classes the task of constructing lamps or other light sculptures out of clay.
Lesson: Buildings & Cars – Students can try their hand at building ceramic structures, from designing buildings using the slab-method, to constructing futuristic car models.
You can use these Ceramics lesson ideas, even if you teach elementary or middle school Art classes. Simply adapt the processes, demonstrations, vocabulary and lesson expectations to your desired grade level.