The Clay Conundrum: How to Teach Hundreds of Students While Staying Organized

In the past, we have talked a lot about clay on AOE. But today, I’d love to share the nitty gritty of clay project organization:

  • How do you make sure you order the right amount of clay and glaze?
  • How do you keep track of potentially dangerous tools?
  • And how in the world do you keep track of hundreds of projects at a time?

Drawing on a few of my own mistakes, I’ll share my favorite ways to keep clay projects manageable.



How To: Order the right amount of clay and glaze every time. 


The first time I had to make a clay order, I had no idea what I was doing. So, I did what any new teacher might do, and I asked another art teacher for help. My thinking was that he and I both taught the same number of students, and therefore probably needed the same amount of clay. Boy, was I wrong. When I had over 1,000 pounds of clay left at the end of the year, I realized that I needed to budget for my clay usage, not someone else’s.

Organize Clay

My solution? A sticky note. Yep, the humblest of all record keeping devices helped me accurately gauge my own clay use. Every year, I write down the number of bags of clay I start with. Each time I use a bag, I make a tally mark. At the end of the year, I count up how many are left to make sure my numbers match. Since I do similar clay projects with each grade each year, I know exactly how much more clay I need to order for the following year. Easy.


I once ran out of blue glaze in the middle of a project. Needless to say, quite a few of my kiddos were not happy. Naively, I had ordered the same amount of each color of glaze. I had not taken into account that some colors would be more popular than others. So, like my clay solution, I developed a document that could easily help me track my glaze usage. If you’d like, you can download your own copy right here.  To keep things even neater, I organized my bottles of glaze in rows (in rainbow order, of course) so that I could see what I had at a glance.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 2.14.17 PM

roygbivglaze copy


How To: Keep Tools Organized and Safe

Two years ago, at the end of a school day, I noticed that a needle tool had disappeared from the art room. Has this ever happened to you? All I could think about was the perpetrator running wild in the school poking everyone in sight. Days later, I realized that I had shoved the needle tool in my pencil cup on my desk. The perpetrator was me. That fact didn’t make me feel any better though, because I realized that my system for dealing with dangerous tools was not good enough.

Now, I organize my tools (a mix of wooden sticks, silverware, and more traditional clay tools) in nesting baskets which students share at tables. While one basket may have one more fork or stick than another, all tables have the exact same number of needle tools, which must be accounted for before a table is allowed to line up at the end of class.

claytools copy

I organize slip in similar stackable cups. I keep the slip cups on a tray during projects, but then let them dry out for storage.

slipcups copy


How To: Easily organize hundreds of clay projects at a time

I realize that there are many options for storing clay projects, but for me, using individual bags never seemed practical. In my room, I use what I have dubbed the “tray method.” It works like this. The projects for each class are stored on old lunch trays, which are labeled with the class code, for example “3S” for Ms. Smith’s 3rd grade class. Trays of projects in progress get put into large garbage bags to keep them workable. Projects waiting to be glazed or sent home simply sit out on the trays, ready for me to grab before the class enters the room.

I find that this system makes clay projects much more manageable. Instead of having twenty-five individual bags to keep track of for each class, I only have two to four trays, depending on the size of the projects. These trays sit on rolling shelves in my office, making everything even neater. Below is an example of second grade coil pots in various stages stored on the trays.

trays copy


Putting it All Together

I keep all the parts of my clay organization system in one area of my room. The glazes, tools, slip cups and other clay related supplies all sit on one shelf, while the clay is stored below. This makes it very easy to keep track of everything I have. My post-it note system and glaze sheet are taped to the inside of the supply cupboard for easy access.

alltogether copy

Tell us, what pitfalls do you have when it comes to the logistics of teaching clay?

What are your favorite ways to organize during clay projects?

Amanda Heyn

Learning Team

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • Alice Gentili

    Much ado about clay, for sure! This recent blog post about clay for the masses may be helpful as an additional resource to your great post:

    • Thanks for the great link, Alice. I’ll be sharing how I do glazing with large groups of students in a video soon!

  • HipWaldorf

    If your school does not use lunch trays, then the large, stacking bread trays are great! These are the trays the baker would place the bread on to carry to your cafeteria. I use them for every step of clay production. They are also great for 3D projects and paper mache. If I need to store wet clay then I place the plastic bags on the bread trays. I love that the handles make the trays easy to move and stack.

    • Great tip! Thanks for sharing :)

    • Marsha

      I sometimes check goodwill for plastic tubs that are not tall, but are wide or long. Each child does the damp paper towel wrap (with their name written on the paper towel in sharpie prior to wetting) then I put trash bags on the top. No lids necessary and they can stack if you do them in opposite directions with each layer. I don’t have many shelves so I need to stack!

  • Patty

    Great tips. Love the tray idea!

  • Jody

    I have a form on a clipboard that I keep in the kiln room with 3 large circles on it (or whatever number of shelves you use). I write the teachers name and draw a line in the middle if I have a few leftover pieces to fire from different teachers. I used to think, Oh I’ll remember what I have in the kiln on what shelf, but of course I would forget. I also have a date at the top and the name of the project. Takes the guess work out of organizing fired pieces.

    • Great reminder, Jody. I too make a small sketch of which pieces are where. I find it really helps when there are “leftovers” like you mentioned!

    • Marsha

      I make kiln maps too, very helpful.

  • Alicia

    It took one spill of a pint of expensive glaze to force me to restructure my glaze distribution for 6-8th graders. I label the lids to plastic containers, fill multiples of each color based on popularity, and let students take 1 color at a time. Students have to color & specifically label their clay sketch before they select a color and in case their preference is already out, I can then suggest a quick substitution from the spectrum. The glazes do dry out from 1 quarter to the next, but a little water & stirring refreshes them in a snap.

  • Art on my hands

    I have a poster on my blog Art on my hands that pictures the method my students use to package their clay pieces. They are responsible for bagging their own pieces and a clothes pin is used to label their piece while in progress. The pin stays with the piece until the name is applied on the bottom using black or white underglaze, depending on the color of the clay. This works well for me and tend to keep the projects moist until completed. With adsentees, snow days, etc, we have been working on clay for 6 weeks. That is a long time to hold a project. Individual bags allow projects to be wrapped in a damp paper towel between classtimes to keep them moist if needed.

  • NK

    I only have ONE sink with very cold water – no hot water. What do you suggest to aid in cleaning up kiddos’ hands?

    • Hmm… that is tough! You could hand out damp rags to each table at the end of class so each student only needed a super quick rinse at the sink, or perhaps send more responsible students to wash in a nearby bathroom. I’ve also heard of teachers also having a large bucket of water for each table to use for hand/table washing. Let us know if you find a good solution!

    • Vonnie

      Although it isn’t the ‘greenest’ of solutions, sometimes you just need to have ‘baby wipes’ for the students. After they wipe their hands, they can wipe off their tables as well, then pop them in the trash. I often ask parents to make donations of these and I haven’t run out yet!

  • C Mae

    I was wondering if you knew what I can do to keep my glazes from going bad? I’m not sure they are bad, but I noticed that if I’m not continually using them, they lose their fluidness and seem to chunk up in the jar. I wasn’t sure if I could add water to them? would that make them worse? We use the Ducan Envision series of glazes (Not sure if brand matters?)

    • I’ve definitely added water to thick glazes, and they came out just fine! I don’t have experience with your mentioned brand however. There may be a representative of the company that you could call to double check. Good luck!

      In regards to keeping them from going bad in the first place, I would just suggest trying to keep them tightly closed at all times. Although, no matter how hard I try to do this, mine inevitable end up drying out somewhat too.

      • Alexandra

        If you add too much water the glazes turn opaque, when they are not supposed to. Add a little bit of water at a time, stir-not shake, let the glaze absorb it, then add more if needed.

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  • Martha Savage

    I make small clay tiles with my class codes (1-1, 1-2 etc.) and place the tiles with the student work at all stages. If i need to fire a single piece from one class, with others, I place the tile next to the piece. That keeps everything sorted, for a while, at least…

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  • Kara

    What kind of clay do you usually order?

    • Hi Kara, I ordered both red and white earthenware clay. Your best bet is to see if you have a local supplier that would deliver to your school or district. If you call, they should be able to tell you which types of clay will work for your students.

    • Sonia Garcia

      I use a higher fire clay even though I am firing at cone 05. Their work is much more pliable and talc free is a must. Clay planet website has great info and a special note to teachers

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  • Kristine Blocker

    I organize my glazes by color in rows too. Thank you so much for your form for keeping track. I will absolutely use it. I order the smaller set of SAX glazes and then refill them with the larger ones. It’s much easier for the students to use the small containers. I use small plastic cups for slip and keep it in a plastic cleaning caddy which is nice. It has a handle and when I need to re-wet the slip I just pick up the whole caddy and run water over the cups. I let them soak for a bit an they are ready to pass out.

  • Sonia Garcia

    What has been a game changer with high school students is having students place work in wet bins (shoe size tupperware) sorted by class period (and each bin has a number so kids remember where theirs is). Each bin has wet sponges to keep their work moist until the next class. Works like a charm and keeps projects from being crushed in bags or drying out if theirs bags have been left open.

  • Sonia Garcia

    Ok more tips. I got rid of having students use slip cups and instead gave them more plastic combs to make slip directly on their projects. This saves a lot of clay and mess. I also use jumbo paper clips as needle tools and various size popsicle sticks as modeling tools.