The Secret to Successful One-Day Clay Projects

one day clay
The way my middle school schedule is designed I get to see every student, every week, all year long.  When it comes time to teach clay, I don’t have the space (or sanity) to tackle multiple-day projects.

Here are a few tricks I have learned to help my students have success with one-day clay projects.


1. Pre-Teach the Lesson

I schedule my clay lesson to follow a work day so that I can use the last 15 minutes of class to demonstrate what we will be doing for our clay project.  I have found my students listen better when they know the clay isn’t waiting for them. This also allows students a week to process what they want to do for their projects.

2. Make a Demo Video

I like to record myself creating my example, so I can play it throughout the class period.  The video allows students who missed the demonstration to see what we are doing.  I play it on a loop throughout class, so it is also available for those students who need extra reminders.  (You can check out one of my demo videos of the project pictured below here.)


3. Prep Ahead

If we are doing slab work, I will have the slabs rolled out.  If we are doing coil work, I will have the “chunks” ready to hand out.  Clay tools and work mats are on the tables and ready to go.  Shape tracers and texture makers are in an easy to find place. Prepping ahead makes me feel sane and gives students the maximum amount of work time.

4. Keep Clean Up Simple (and keep students busy!)

While I put names on projects and store them on Masonite boards to dry, students clean up their work spaces.  They wash and dry tables, return supplies to the proper places and get their tables ready for check out.  As they finish, I have the Extreme Dot to Dot worksheets out.  The kids love these, and I am guaranteed they will be working quietly at their desks.

What are some of your favorite one-day clay projects?

What do you do to make your clay projects go smoothly?


Jennifer Carlisle


Jen is a middle school art teacher from Norfolk, NE who loves exploring and teaching art through traditional and digital art mediums.


  • Welcome Jennifer! (Love your name..;)…) What a great article! The clay video tutorial is such a good idea!

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      Thank so much… super excited to be a part of this awesome team.

  • Kristi

    Great job, Jen! Even I feel like making a clay project now and you know I am not crafty :)

  • What a great week on AOE, it’s so exciting to see new faces and new ideas. We are a pretty fun bunch – Welcome to you, Jennifer!

  • marnioberpriller

    My Elementary Principal didn’t allow for holiday artwork. So I would have my Kindergarten students make clay snowflakes they could take home for the holidays.

    Prep: Portion out plasticine clay in to golf ball-sized pieces. One for each student. Flatten out large sheets of low-fire white clay 1/4″, using a masking tape roll as a template. Make a clay disk for each student and five extra.
    Have a variety of clay tools for students to access (forks, marker caps, burlap, shells, paperclips, forks, plastic mesh, etc. Students create a radial patterned snowflake. I sort my tools in a plastic shoe box using plastic butter or frosting containers.

    Day 1: Read THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, then pass out golfball-sized plasticine clay, a 9×4.5 construction paper mat, and a paper clip. Demonstrate how to flatten the clay into a pancake, create radial/texture patterns in the clay using the “special tool.”

    Students turn in a completed radial design, the special tool and mat in exchange for an earthen ware disk, choice of tools (one tool at a time, but have to use at least 3 different tools) and a new mat designated for earthenware.

    Remind the earthenware is not forgiving and should not be pressed or squished too thin like the plasticine.

    Firing Prep and Coloring
    Use a drinking straw to punch a hole in each disk before the disks are leather-hard. Teacher inscribes name and room number on back.
    Fire disks, then have students dip the disks in watered-down blue tempera, add yarn string.

  • LWKieling

    Jennifer, this seems very organized and nice video! I am wondering how the closure might be tied into the project. Like, they create their own dot-to-dot of their project then trade with a neighbor to try. Your thoughts?

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      While the extreme dot to dots don’t really tie into the project they are a treat in my room that all the kids love, especially since they rarely get the chance to work on them. I challenge them to finish them and color them for chance to win a pack of colored pencils or markers. I have the American History dot to dots that they work on but I like the idea of having the kids create their own. The most important part is to have an easy to understand project that kids can work on independently while you are helping the others students clean up, label and store their clay.