Pottery 1: Pottery Quest

What You Need

Pottery 1: Pottery Quest


To explore pottery making from a technological perspective.


This lesson is the first in a two-part series on pottery making. Though the lessons in this series complement one another, they are designed to stand alone. The creating and building of pots is an art form first developed in Neolithic times. When the food-gathering peoples became food-producing peoples through the cultivation of crops, there arose the need to store these crops in pots or baskets.

The lessons in this series provide students with a context in which to compare present technology with that of earlier times. Reading about other civilizations can help illustrate the central role that different technologies play. Examining what life was like under different technological circumstances in the past can help students understand how modern technology has shaped their own lives.

In Pottery 1: Pottery Quest, students learn that the production of ceramic pottery requires detailed knowledge of the physical properties of different clays and tempering materials, as well as knowledge about how these combine and react under specific firing conditions.

In Pottery 2: Pots and People, students explore the history of pottery from the perspective of the unknown men and women who contributed to the development of the early technology.


Show the class a piece of modeling clay. Ask students to suggest some things that they could make with the clay. Categorize the items that they suggest as either functional or decorative. Elicit from students their prior knowledge about pottery and clay. They may know, for example, that some clay can be hardened as it dries out but that often clay is fired in a kiln or oven. Also talk about ancient pottery and ask students to think about how people in the past may have developed the knowledge of how clay could be shaped into vessels strong enough to be used for a variety of purposes.

To introduce the ideas that will be covered in this lesson, students will explore History of Invention Timeline, using the Pottery Quest student esheet. Direct them to click on "pottery" to read a general introduction to the history of pottery. After students have read the resource, discuss these questions:

  • What is pottery used for?
  • What is the advantage of mixing different types of clay?
  • What is the advantage of putting pottery in a fire oven?
  • How did the pottery wheel improve the making of pottery?


Now student should use the Pottery Quest student esheet to explore the Gather Around this Pot website individually or in small groups. As they are reading, the esheet will prompt them to think about the issues involved in pottery making, how the techniques might have developed, and how they might have been passed on or improved upon. Students should answer the questions on the Gather Around this Pot student sheet.

After students have explored the resource, discuss these questions:

  • What understanding is at the root of making pottery? (It is the understanding of material properties and the control of their modification through the application of heat.)
  • According to the article, what was the most important use of ceramic pots? (It was the preparation and cooking of food.)
  • What were the main types of materials used by the ancient potters of Canada?
  • What two manufacturing techniques have been discovered by archaeologists? What were the advantages of each? (The Coil Method and the Advil and Paddle Method.)
  • Were the decorations significant? Why or why not? (Answers will vary, but students should understand that the symbols and drawings found on some pottery likely had ceremonial significance to the people who made and used the pottery.)


Using the esheet as a guide, have each student complete the Pottery Quest student sheet by viewing the Pottery Quest slide show found on the student esheet. When students are done, ask them to present their findings on the pottery, focusing particularly on their speculations about the pottery's uses. It is important that students understand that pottery making has been shared by cultures throughout the world and throughout history. Some of the extensions below may be used to help students explore these ideas in other cultures.


Follow this lesson with the second lesson in the Pottery series: Pottery 2: Pots and People.

Nineteenth-Century Pottery and Porcelain in Canada highlights selections from the National Ceramic Collection.

For more historical information, explore A History of Pottery.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards State Standards

Other Lessons in This Series