Art Lessons: Clay Project Ideas

Clay project ideas, rolling a slab image

I love teaching clay, but it can be challenging and stressful to teach. If you feel intimidated or unsure about how to introduce clay in your classroom, check out my clay project ideas below.


The key to making any art project a success is scaffolding techniques. Students need to build understanding and confidence as they move through an art class. Teaching clay is the same, start with basic hand building techniques before moving into more complicated sculpting, wheel throwing, and similar art projects.

If you only have time for one clay lesson my go-to is a set of three clay bowls. In my introduction to art class students are introduced to one 3D project during the course, this is the perfect time for my trio of bowls lesson. Students practice all three basic hand-building techniques by creating a coil bowl, a pinch pot bowl, and a slab bowl. Once the bowls are formed students are free to add other sculptural elements or carved decoration. Check out my three-bowl lesson pack here, it’s perfect for upper elementary art, middle school art, or high school art classes.


Clay whistle, clay project ideas thumbnail

If you have more time to dedicate to multiple clay projects go more in-depth into pinch pot, coil, and slab building in individual projects. For upper middle school art and high school art classes my go-to pinch pot introduction is clay whistles. Although clay whistles can be tricky, a lot of time will be spent on the front end getting whistles to work, there is nothing more satisfying than finally hearing a clear whistle from a student’s creation.

I also love this project because it gives students the freedom to turn their whistles into whatever they want. They can create an animal, abstract design, or object, the possibilities are endless. You really get a chance to see the students’ interests and styles as they add to their designs. Check out more whistle examples and the lesson pack on my TPT here.


Pinch pot bell, clay project ideas thumbnail

Another fun pinch pot lesson for upper elementary through high school art classes is creating a clay bell. Students use pinching techniques to make the body and add sculptural details to the design. Similar to the pinch pot whistles, students have a lot of freedom in the design with this project. As a bonus, my favorite way to finish the design is a thin layer of paint wiped off, you can skip the glaze and second firing with this project! Check out more examples and the lesson pack on my TPT here.


Flower pot pinch pot clay project ideas thumbnail

For younger elementary students a face pinch pot is the way to go. Students have the chance to explore facial features, basic sculpting techniques, and practice their pinching with this project. If you have a kiln and fire the clay these can be turned into flower pots to give the faces fun hair. If you use air dry clay students can use them to hold crayons, pencils, and similar or add an air plant to it. Check out the kiln clay version of this project here or the air-dry version here.


Coil vessel clay project ideas

After students get the hang of pinching techniques it’s time to move to the next hand-building technique with a coil-focused project. I love a traditional clay vessel project to teach coiling. If you have an extruder in your classroom I would set a height requirement of 16″-18″ or taller. Because students can work with thicker more even coils, they can focus on the design. If students are rolling coils by hand you can set the height requirement a little shorter to 10″-12.”

The requirements of this project are using coils as the construction method, meeting the height requirement, and including negative space in the design. This can be accomplished by adding a handle, adding a coil design to the top or middle, or cutting into the vessel to create a design. This project is best for high school students but can be used in advanced 8th-grade level classes. Check this project out on my TPT here.


Coil frames, clay project ideas thumbnail

In upper elementary and middle school classes, a fun coil project is creating a picture frame. Because students are working on a flat design and blending one side, there is less risk of the coils falling apart. I love including a school picture of the student if possible and having students wrap these up around the holidays or Mother’s day. Check out the lesson pack here.


Draped coil clay project ideas thumbnail

In younger elementary classes a simple draped coil bowl can have a big impact. Students create a coil design flat on their table. Once finished they blend the back to keep the coil design together. Next, students drape the design over the bottom of a bowl to form it into a bowl shape. These beautiful coil bowls only need a clear glaze to finish them off. If you don’t have a kiln, use polymer clay for a bright final sculpture. Check out my kiln version of this lesson here and the polymer clay version here.


Slab  clay project ideas thumbnail

The next hand-building technique I teach is building with slabs. My favorite slab lesson focuses on food traditions. Students brainstorm traditions they have with their friends or family that focus on food. Next, they design a functional clay piece that can be used in that tradition such as a turkey platter, popcorn bowl, or similar. Using draping and drying/constructing techniques students create their clay pieces.

If you have the time and resources have students create a plaster stamp by creating a design out of clay, building a clay box, and filling it with plaster. The plaster will harden into a stamp they can use to press designs into the clay. Check out this lesson pack here.


If you want to continue focusing on vessels, a slab vessel is a great way to focus on construction techniques. Students use templates to cut pieces to perfectly fit together. Press textures into the clay as you roll slabs for beautiful final pieces. Check out the lesson here.

Slab clay project ideas thumbnail


Clay projects for younger students can focus on small slab bowls, vessels, frames, or one of my favorites, a slab fish. Students roll out slab pieces to cut into shapes to create a fish. Rather than glazing these, focus on using lines and colors to create patterns using Sharpies or paint pens. Instructions for using air-dry or kiln clay are included in the lesson pack here.

Although clay can be intimidating to teach, it’s often one of my students’ favorite projects. It’s important to introduce them to clay and sculpture techniques to have a well-rounded art program. To build confidence in teaching it, make an example of each project before teaching students to work out all the kinks and get more comfortable with the material.

You can hit the easy button and get a full clay curriculum here, sculpture and ceramics curriculum here, 14 air-dry projects here, or 14 kiln fired clay projects here. Get even more clay project ideas by looking through my art curriculums.

I hope you have clay project ideas for your next art class and feel more confident in bringing clay into your classroom. Please reach out with any questions or comments! Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and TikTok for weekly visual journal demos and other project ideas. Subscribe here to get freebies, project tutorials, and more straight to your inbox. Until next time!

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