Pottery 101: The Four Clay Handbuilding Techniques

“We have a kiln in our school and almost nobody uses it! I want to change that!”

Dan Azer is a 4th grade teacher at Parkside Elementary School. He submitted an Excel Grant last fall – “I will develop and pilot a four project ceramics unit to teach the basic clay hand building techniques: pinch, mold, coil and slab. I will use beginning potter books as a source as I simplify the written instructions to target 3rd – 5th grade level procedural text standards. Then I will use photos of all four projects from start to finish to supplement my customized instructions and create a draft ceramics curriculum for the other teachers in my school to use.”

Pottery 101: The Four Clay Handbuilding TechniquesDan told us he did two projects last year, buying the clay himself and using the last of the glaze that was donated to the school earlier. The students made pinch pots and slab vases and loved learning about ceramics and giving their creations to their families when they were done. This year, he wanted to do more …

Because of money he received through the Foundation’s Excel grant program, this year, Dan’s class of 26 fourth grade students got to do a lot more! They learned the basic clay hand building techniques. They made pinch pots, vases, animal sculpture and masks. In addition to gaining experience following complete procedures and using troubleshooting methods in order to design and build a physical object … they had lots of fun!

Dan discovered that he did not need to write a new ceramics curriculum, as the books written by the professionals turned out to be a fantastic resource. By choosing projects of increasing difficulty and requiring different techniques, he did accomplish his goal of providing a “Pottery 101″ experience for the class.Pottery 101

A lot was accomplished with the grant. First, the students displayed the animal sculptures to the entire school and community during the “Hero Day Art Walk” which led to the students receiving many, many compliments. After seeing the sculptures, several more teachers were inspirited to try their own clay projects for the first time. “I use the books I purchased to help other teachers start their own projects. Also, I am now a resource at the school and I use my developing expertise to encourage other teachers and help them avoid time-consuming and frustrating pitfalls in the ceramics process. Finally, my fourth grade students plan to teach two younger classrooms how to make their own masks.”

Our excel grant program was created to help teachers with unique and innovative programs in the classroom that the school’s budget can’t provide. We want to support activities and experiences that expand the learning process and actively engage students. Good Job Dan – our students are lucky to have you as their teacher!

More photos from Dan: “These are some pictures of my fourth graders teaching two different 3rd grade classes how make masks.”

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If you are a teacher in the Highline Schools District and are interested in our Excel Grant program, you can find more information on our website. Grant requests are accepted each fall, and we announce the program on our website and Facebook.


Since 1999, the Highline Schools Foundation has been supporting innovation and excellence in Highline Public Schools. Our funding priorities focus on programs to improve academic achievement, supporting college and career readiness, grants to teachers for engaging classroom projects, the arts, athletics, and programs that keep students in school and productive. Highline is a district full of need and opportunity. The Highline Schools Foundation is the only non-profit organization dedicated to all schools in our district—our goal is to help as many students as possible be successful!

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