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Chelsea's Coil People Pots and Lesson Plan

Updated March 3, 2005




Instructor:               Chelsea Mullins
Title                      Clay People Pots Using Coiling
Grade Level:            5th, 25 students
Curriculum Links:   History
Class time needed:  6 classes

Standards Addressed:

  • 9.1.5.A.  Know and use fundamental vocabulary within each of the art forms such as form/shape, and color.

  • 9.3.5.B.  Describe works in the arts comparing similar and contrasting characteristics.

Standards Assessed:

  • 9.1.5.B.  Recognize, know, use and demonstrate a variety of appropriate arts elements and principles to produce, review, and revise original works in the arts such as sculpture.

Objective:  In this lesson students will learn how to make a pot using the coiling technique.  The inspiration for the painted decorations using glaze put on the pot is that it resembles a person the student admires.  The head of this person will be the lid of the pot, created using the pinch pot technique.  Students will be able to recall all of the steps needed to create a coil pot, and also a pinch pot by the end of this lesson.

 PrerequisitesStudents should already have a background in clay or at least play-doh.  Students need to be able to stay focused on one project for a decent number of sessions to see it through to completion.  Students should already know some simple vocabulary based on works of arts (symmetric, asymmetric, three-dimensional).

 AccommodationsI will spend extra time helping to physically show more in detail how to do each step.  I will have drawings of the steps of how to make the coils and then the pot on the board or wall for ESL students.  I am willing to expect less of any student with a disability and also give as much time to them as I can.

Miller Heights

Student A:  Increase active, engaged time on task, improve fine motor skills (manipulation of buttons, cutting, shaping..).  Allow extra time for activity completion.

Student B:  needs help with reading.

Student C:  Use a word wall, rephrase and repeat instructions, use visuals, allow extended time for task completion, use positive feedback.

William Penn:

Student A:  needs to display age-appropriate behavior, works well in small groups.

Student B:  Read aloud to her, needs improvement in reading and writing, and expressive language skills.

Student C:  Needs to improve concentration skills, and descriptive word use.

Student D:  works well in small group instruction.

 Motivation:  The most important thing we will learn is how to make a pot using proper coiling techniques.  The person aspect is a method for inspiring the shape and size of the pot as it is constructed.  Before we start we will look at books with historical ‘people pots’ made in the past.  Each student will be asked to decide on a person whom they look up to (like my people pot example of Maya Angelou) to create the pot based on.

    a) teacher preparation

·        Have ready an example of a people pot that I have made in memory of Maya Angelou. 

·        Decorate walls with drawings of step by step methods for doing the coiling techniques.  

·        Have an example ready that is wet of step one (base and beginning of coils built around small plastic bowl without coils smoothed) and continue making the next step to show it to students in consecutive classes.

  b) step by step directions

Session One:

  1. Pass out a plastic bag with tape on it to each student as they walk into the room.  Tell them to put the bag on the back of their chair after they have written their name and section on it.
  2. Introduction to the lesson, showing of examples of coil pots in a book about African Art, and a demonstration of coiling technique.  I will demonstrate how smoosh their ball of clay into a disk of medium thickness to be their base.  The base should be the same thickness all the way across.  The rolling pin is mainly used to smooth it more, not flatten it more.
  3. I pass out a lump of clay to everyone that I precut before class to be the right size for a base. Students pass out rolling pins.
  4. After I see most everyone has that step completed, I use the bell to get everyone’s attention, and show how to roll a coil.  I emphasize rolling from inside to out, then flipping.  They need to be aware of keeping the coil the same thickness all around.  Also the coil should not be too thin, or thick.  Then I demonstrate how to scratch onto the base of the pot, around a small bowl.  Then scratch on one side of the coil, and connect the scratched surfaces as the coil is wrapped around the bowl.  When the coil begins to overlap onto itself, the top of the underlying coil needs to be scratched first.  At the finish of that coil, the end should be smooshed onto the coil below for added security.
  1.  Ask two students to pass out a small bowl to everyone, a scratch tool, and one small shallow bowl of water for each table. They also pass out a paper bag for students to keep project on so base does not stick to tables.  Each table will get a large lump of clay to share to practice rolling out coils and building them together with the scratch technique.  If the clay is already pretty damp and sticky, use no water.  I will pass out the balls quickly.
  2. Stop everyone from working with bell. Show students how to wrap a wet paper towel under and around the base they’ve made and then how to gently put clay in the bag, with their name showing, and tie the top.  They can then bring it to the back shelf to set to dry.  Inform them that I will be giving them a wet paper towel at the door for their hands to be cleaned, and that they should not use the sink since there is no clay trap. Students keep the bowl in the coiled base.
  3.  I will pass out wet paper towels and ask one student to collect scratch tools, one to collect paper bags, one to collect the leftover clay, and one person per table to clean the table with a damp sponge.
  4. Have them line up by whichever table is cleanest.  Then hand each of them a wet paper towel.

 Session Two:

  • Have steps written on the board when students come in:

Roll three Coils:

a)      Scratch the surface of each coil and the top of the underlying coil it will connect to.

b)      Smooth the beginning and end of each coil down to keep it attached.

c)      Smooth away any cracks on the entire inside of pot with finger or tool to keep it strong and the coils well connected.

  • I tell students to pretend I have never rolled a coil before, and they need to raise their hands and describe it to me in detail.  When they get to the step of connecting the coil to the underlying coil, I will stop them and say I need to show them something new. *I show students how to bring each newly added coil slightly to the inside of the coil below it.  This will cause the mouth of the pot to become narrower which is better for placing the head on later.
  • I smooth the inside coils of my pot going up and down with my tool and then back and forth.  I walk around showing students more closely how this is done.
  • I call on students to pass out paper bags, scratch tools, and one large lump of clay to each table.
  • I tell students not to use the water cup in the middle of the table to dampen their clay as they connect it if the clay is already pretty damp.
  • Call on one table at a time to carefully go to the drying shelves to get their clay base they started from last class.
  • Once everyone is working, I will walk around and help students with their pots, especially with the new techniques* I showed. Tell students that they do not need to keep the bowls inside of their pots any more, and to carefully twist it to take it out.
  • When it is time to clean up, I tell students to finish the coil they are working on or just start cleaning up.  Explain that I will be coming around with a bucket to allow them to save the wet paper towels they used last time by rewetting them in my bucket.  They should wrap it up like last session. 
  • This time remind students that they should not put their clay on the shelf too close to or pushed up against anyone else’s.  These pots are easily smooshed.
  • Call on the students who are done cleaning up their clay pot to collect either:

      -         the scratch tools
-         the paper bags
-         clay scraps
-         collect cups from bases last time.

  • Students line up and I give each of them a wet paper towel to clean their hands with.  I explain that our sink does not have a clay trap and the pipes will get clogged if they wash their hands in it.

Session Three and Four:

·        The overall goals spread out over these two sessions, 3 and 4, are to get the mouth of the pot narrow, smooth and even, to make the shape of the pinch pot head, and the face and hair, and to hopefully even make arms attached onto the body of the pot.

·        As students come into class in session 3, I will tell them (it will be written on the board) that they need to finish making the mouth of the pot by narrowing it, smoothing it, and evening it out.  After all of this is done, and they have smoothed the entire inside, we will start our pinch pot heads together as a class.

·        Tell students that by now they know how to roll a coil, attach it, the works.  If they have any questions today, they need to follow a new concept we are doing called 3 before me.  They must ask three table-mates for help before they ask me.

·        As students work, I walk around telling them whether or not they appear to almost be done, or if they are not almost done, what to do to get there the most quick and efficiently.

·        ¾ of the way through our studio time, I will stop everyone and tell them that I am going to pass them out a ball of clay which will start the head.  They are not to trade balls because I am giving them a size that is right for the opening of their pot.  They should not touch it until I say to.

·        Once everyone has one, I tell them to hold it up in the air, and look at one side of the ball, look for the middle of that side, and carefully place their thumb on it and twist through almost to the other side without smooshing the shape of the ball with their other hand.  After that they keep their thumb in, and using their pointer and middle finger, pinch all the way around on the bottom, middle and finally the top of the pinch pot.  I will hold mine out to the class so everyone gets an idea of how wide their opening should get.

·        Then, I show students how we will clean up.  First we place a dry paper towel between the head and body (unless head is to heavy and clay body is too wet and smooshy), then I will hand everyone a new wet paper towel which they will either use to cover the head or the body, their old paper towel is used to cover the rest.  They tie them up tightly, and as soon as someone’s is tied up and ready, I call on that person to collect pots and gently put them on the back shelf.  After I have picked three people for that task, I will pick other students to collect:

Leftover clay, water cups, scratch tools, paper bags, scraps of paper towel, and table cleaners.

·        In session 4 three students will pass out the clay pots to everyone.  Today is the day that everyone must be done shaping the pot since after this class, we will let the pots dry out to be bisque fired.

·        I will demonstrate on a head how to shape a chin, and talk about using the subtractive process (taking away clay) for the eyes, and the additive (adding on clay) for the nose and mouth.  They can be creative with this aspect, I am demonstrating only to give them ideas.  I will tell students about how forgiving clay is when you mess up and show them techniques for changing things they do not like.

·        They should also put some type of hair on the head by using additive or subtractive, or both.

·        Last on the head, I will show how to make a short fat coil and place it inside the head as a cork, then using wet clay to weld the cork to the opening of the pot so it does not move around and it stays secure.

·        After most people are done with the head/face, I will stop everyone from working and show them how to roll out a short coil for an arm, and use a scratch technique, and a blob of wet clay to connect it to the side of the body.

·        Students must put their names on the bottom of the base of the pot, and on the inside of the head, and carefully, three students will walk back and place every ones pots on the shelf.

·        I will call on students to collect all plastic bags and put them inside of other plastic bags, to collect all scratch tools, all wet paper towels get thrown away, all extra clay in a ball, all paper bags, and all water cups.

·        When they line up, I will give them a wet paper towel to dry their hands.

       Session five:

  • At the beginning of class, I will draw an example of a ‘people pot’ on the board, and I will ask students to give me ideas of things I can paint onto it with glaze (shoes, buttons, pockets, collars, patterns).  Tell students to make sure they decorate the pots, and that they do not paint the pots entirely the same color.
  • I will call on three extremely responsible students to go to the shelf and pass everyone’s pots out to them, one at a time, making sure to help the head and the body as they carry them.
  • I will demonstrate how these under-glazes appear very light but will get darker when fired.  I will also explain that they can apply two layers to get a darker effect.
  • Students must make sure not to muddy up the under glaze colors by mixing colors from not cleaning their brushes in between each color use.  I will demonstrate how to use a color, wet the brush, and then drag it across a dry paper towel until no more color comes off before using another color.
  • Students pass out two small water cups to every table, paintbrushes, dry paper towels for brush wiping, and glaze palettes. 
  • Students paint under-glazes on their pots, I will come around and help as much as possible.
  • Students put their initial in under-glaze on bottom of pot.
  • Students put paper towels in between head and body as they are put together on the drying shelf.
  • Students collect paintbrushes, water cups, throw away paper towels, collect under-glazes, and clean tables.

 Session six:

  • I will call on three extremely responsible students to go to the shelf and pass everyone’s pots out to them, one at a time, making sure to help the head and the body as they carry them.
  • Today students need to finish their under glaze and make sure that there are no white spots showing on the pot.
  • Students must make sure not to muddy up the under glaze colors by mixing colors from not cleaning their brushes in between each color use.  I will demonstrate how to use a color, wet the brush, and then drag it across a dry paper towel until no more color comes off before using another color.
  • Students pass out two small water cups to every table, paintbrushes, dry paper towels for brush wiping, and glaze palettes. 
  • Students paint under-glazes on their pots, I will come around and help as much as possible.
  • As students finish they can bring one part of the pot over to the ‘final glaze’ table and cover their head and their body, making sure not to put this glaze on the bottom of the pot, or on any areas that will touch (top of pot, bottom of head) or it will stick to something.  Students put their initial in under-glaze on bottom of the pot.
  • Students put paper towels in between head and body as they are put together on the drying shelf.
  • Students collect paintbrushes, water cups, throw away paper towels, collect under-glazes, and clean tables.


Materials needed:

  • 30 small plastic bowls (like a leftover plastic apple sauce cup)

  • Four large bags of Stoneware clay

  • 25 rolling pins

  • 135 plastic bags

  • 65 Short plastic cups (for glaze)

  • Clay tools (carvers, cutters, smoothers, textures)

  • 18 watercolor under-glaze boxes

  • 26 medium size paint brushes

  • 20 small paint brushes

  • 25 black permanent markers

  • 5 rolls of opaque art tape

  • 135 pieces of manilla scratch paper

  • 30 pencils

Important Vocabulary: coil, form, texture, mold, Stoneware clay, under-glaze and shape.  

Evaluation:  There should be evidence of proper connecting techniques with the coils, and the shape and glaze should resemble a person.  The other part of grading will be about creativity and effort; how much effort did the student put into painting the pot, did they create a unique person that was inspired by a historical pot, or did they base it on someone who inspires them?  Grading will be done also considering each students previous abilities coming into the project, their effort shown, and the overall ability level portrayed by the class as a whole.  Grading is N = Not satisfactory, S = Satisfactory, and O = Outstanding.

      Extension:  Students who finish early could make a series of three tiles that tell a      visual story.
Self Evaluation PMI

February 1st, 2005 – 5th grade, Mrs. Haney’s class


  • Two boys who usually misbehave and challenge authority actually listened and even helped me out today.  I believe it had something to do with the fact that I used their table to do my demonstration at.  They got their work done very well, and volunteered to clean up!
  • The class showed up late, so I stopped them in the hallway before they came in and told them that anyone who disturbed the lesson by talking or getting up while I am talking will have to sit on the back carpet.  This seemed to make them a little more quiet. 
  • I passed the bags out as they walked in the door and told them to write their names on it right away and put it on the backs of their chair.  I already had the markers on the table before they came.
  • Nobody was rude, everyone seemed to be trying their best.


  • I realized I am simply trying to do too much in one class, or perhaps my method of passing out and collecting all of these materials just needs to be improved.
  • They still got too loud overall at certain times during the class.  It was not the ideal learning environment.
  • Part of the excessive noise was probably instigated by the chaotic clean-up going on, and my frantic attitude that I hid well except for a slightly strained sound to my voice that I’m sure they noticed and fed on.  I need to always stay totally cool and collected.


  • A boy asked as he was leaving if he could make his people pot a football player with a helmet on.  When I told him yes he became so excited about the lesson.
  • A few of the students were looking at me with a caring, knowing look on their face as I taught.  These students ended up being the ones that helped me to clean up the most. 

 February 2nd, 2005 – 5th grade, Mrs. Voth’s class  Second Session of Clay Project


·        As they came in I told them that I have learned already that every class of students is different.  That means that some can handle things others can not.  I told them that if they can show me during this class that they are capable of keeping their volume down, I would play music quietly next week while they work.  They were the most quiet 5th grade class I have had yet.

·        I demonstrated, as a review, how to roll a coil.  I had the students instruct me step by step from what they remembered last class and they remembered everything ( smoosh, roll from inside to out, turn, roll more, scratch both surfaces, connect and make sure to mush down beginning of the coil and the end.)

·        I taught them to smooth the inside and they all got it.

·        I wrote instructions on the board, and pushed them to be more independent by saying that they should not have questions for me relating to the instructions on board since they can look up and see them.

·        Class cleanup went great, we even had extra time before class was over which showed me that things were done efficiently and I did not smoosh in to much.

·        They reused their paper towel from last week, less waste.

·        I told them in advance that they would not be washing their hands in the sink at the end of class, I would give them a wet paper towel at the door.


  • I passed out a lump of clay to each student.  It took too long.  Next time either give one large lump for the entire table to share, or have a student help me pass out the small lumps.
  • Despite my warning that I would pass out wet towels for their hands, some of them still went to the sink to clean them.  Next time tell them why they should not use the sink (no clay trap) so they do not think I am being  mean.
  • Next time, I need to demonstrate how to place a coil slightly inward or outward and smooth the inside using the hand for outside support to stop students from making their pot too wide.


  • Many students built remarkably strong, well shaped pots.  Some students seemed to be smooshing in the outer coils with their fingers when they went to smooth the inside.  This is not good.

February 3rd, 2005 Positive

  • I’ve noticed that the students really remember everything I told them about how to build a coil from session one. 
  • Two students who kept trying to get me to do all their work for them last class, and saying, ‘I can’t,’ improved a lot today.  I told them at the beginning of class, when they asked me to ‘help’ them that I will tell them things but I will not touch their clay.  I left them alone for most of class came back, and they had both gotten so much done.  I think I needed to leave them alone and try to let them be independent.
  • A student who is usually a major behavioral problem in class for other teachers ended up making the best coil pot.  It was funny because I told the students we would not be smoothing the coils on the outside because it takes so long and we are going to leave the coils in tact as decoration.  This student got so much done so perfectly on his pot, that he will have time to smooth it, he asked me if he could and I said yes.


·        I was not sure, as I looked around the room, how much time it will really take next class for some of the students to finish up their mouth of their pot, so they can start their lid/head.


PMI Week two of lesson

February 7th, 2005, Mr. Snyder’s Class


·        Students seem to be rolling coils very well.  They recalled all of the steps I taught them last week in relation to rolling a coil and how to connect it.

·        Students are very proud of the pots so far, overall.  I have many students wanting to show me how it looks so far and asking for advice on any improvements they can make.  This shows they are invested in their work.

·        The student who gave me a lot of trouble in this class last week behaved much better (not perfect, but..).  I believe it is because I told the class at the beginning that I would play music while they worked today, but I need them to still show that they are mature enough to keep the volume down and do their art since some people ruined it for the whole class last week by being loud and disrupting me and the class.


·        A boy in this class today smashed the project of the girl sitting next to him because she borrowed his scratch tool for a moment.  I did not know what to do so I asked Mrs. Stimeare.  She gave his project to her and made him start over.

·        Clean up was chaotic again.  The students took forever to put their pots in their bags and take them to the back shelf.  Next time I will pick three responsible students to take everyone’s pots back for them. 

·        Also, have three students pass pots out at beginning of class instead of everyone crowding to the shelf.  I have been sending one table at a time but it takes too long.


·        It is interesting to see how much the level of motivation affects students’ potential.

February 8th, 2005, Miss Haney’s class


·        Passing out clay and clean up went much better today since I had three students pass all the projects out, and three different students collect them.

·        Most students are finished with their pots and ready to move onto the head next class.

·        We got everything cleaned up with time left (1 minute).  Even the tables were clean since three boys helped me clean them.


  • Clean up was still a little bit stressful since I do not believe I was strict enough with getting students to stop working and wrap their clay up right away.
  • I need to stay calm during clean up and not get worried and start rushing around trying to clean up everything with the students.  Stay calm, organize the class well.

February 9th, Session 3 of lesson, Mrs. Voth’s class


  • The students caught on to the ideas of additive and subtractive very quickly.  The faces of their lid of the people pot looked, overall, pretty good for a start.

  • ¾ of the class is done with the bottom part of the pot.


  • I tried to fit too much into one class session.  I knew some of the students were not done building the mouth of the pot to make it narrow.  I also knew making the head could definitely take up one whole session of class.  But, I "bull headedly" tried to cram it all in anyway and it was a mess.
  • At the end of class, students did not even have time to put their initials or name on the bottom of their clay pots. I can only hope that next week, they will know whose is whose.
  • Next time I need to slow down, and try to do much less in one class. I just got nervous about trying to finish this project with the students before I leave this placement.


·        The students I teach are usually very quick to catch onto things.  I am always surprised by how well they do.  The problem is that they always doubt themselves.  While I taught how to make the nose, and the mouth on the face today, so many students were asking me, “is this okay?” Over and over and finally I just said, “Everyone’s I’ve seen looks good, but you need to lean how to be your own judge and decide for yourself if it is good or needs improvement.

February 10th, William Penn


·        Today I did not expect too much to be done in one class. From the start, I only told the students we were definitely finishing the opening of our pots, and if we got that done as a class, we would do the pinch pot head shape only.

·        I rounded the clay into balls before the students came in, and this made it easier for them to start the pinch pot faster.

·        I was positive in my discipline towards a student who kept calling out.  I could tell he wanted attention, not that he was trying to be mean.  So I ignored him as I talked to the class, and when I went around I tried to give him attention.  Finally, he got too disruptive, so I nicely said, “so and so, can you please listen now for a moment?”

·        We got cleaned up in time today, and every student finished the goal I had laid out for us in the beginning of class.


·        I did not realize that the shelf space we kept their pots on during the week was not tall enough for the pots with the heads on them.  I had to wait till I had time later and take some of the shelves off.

·        I had trouble keeping the entire classes attention at times, maybe I should try giving more responsibility to the students, tell them once, and then tell them they need to be independent and figure things out themselves or ask a friend at their table.  I will only help them if they’ve exhausted these options.


·        They got much more done when I kept asking them to stop and listen, and their pots looked very good, but class was not as enjoyable I do not think.  I think part of the problem with me talking so much is that I feel bad for making them listen to me, over and over.  I need to figure out ways to make listening to me more pleasant, more like an interactive conversation.

February 11, William Penn


·        I was teaching Session 3 to this class today, they are ahead of many of the Miller Heights groups because they have not missed school on an art day as often, and because the class size is smaller and we can get more done.

·        We started clean-up today with about 13 minutes left of class. I felt that things were much more pleasant, but, I still feel like I need to hold a list and go down the list to make sure I remember all cleanup instructions I need to tell at once, so I do not have to try and tell the students things once the clean-up commotion has started.  Everything got cleaned up in time nice and orderly.

·        I tried to allow the students more independence today.  If I would show them something with their pot, I would do a little piece as an example and say, now you finish that coil.


  • I still am not giving the students enough trust, and letting go of my desire for each of their pots to be as perfect as possible.
  • I realized that I need to get the file of all students IEP’s and look into those to know how to teach certain students.