2. Clay Slabs / Animal Archetypes

Grade Level

Grades 9-12, 90 Minutes


Every society and subset of society has their own virtues. Through this unit of study, students will learn what virtues their communities value and promote, allowing the students to assess whether their own personal beliefs align with these virtues. If they do, then students can move forward as a confident and engaged member of their own community and strive to cultivate these virtues in their own life. If their community’s virtues do not align with their beliefs, they will be encouraged to seek out or develop their own set of virtues to guide them as they progress through life.

In this unit of study, students will also work to develop their abstract thinking skills through the creation of symbols based off abstract concepts. Highly developed abstract thinking helps students to more easily process complex ideas and to use theories or metaphors to solve problems.

Key Concepts

   every society and subset of society has their own virtues
   virtues are context specific and highly situational
   virtues are an abstract concept often communicated through visual symbols in art
   animals have agreed upon associations that help them serve as visual representations of abstract concepts

Essential Questions

1. Why does my community value and promote these virtues?
2. How do we communicate the idea of a virtue to individuals in communities other than our own?


•   The student will be able to identify virtues that are valued and promoted in their communities today by interviewing friends and family and generating a list of their own virtues.
•   The student will be able to design and construct a sculpture that serves as a visual symbol of one virtue, of their choosing.

Specific Art Content

   art can be used as a form of communication
•   combinations of color, shape, and lines can be used to represent ideas
   drawing and painting techniques can be used for self-expression and communication

Resources and Materials

computer, projector, large screen, demonstration video, sketchbooks, pencils, colored pencils, pens, markers, charcoal, pastel, clay slabs,  clay tools, small paintbrushes

Instruction and Its Sequencing

The students will need to make slabs during this lesson so they have time to dry before the next lesson, so to begin class the teacher will play a video demonstration of clay wedging and slab making techniques.  The video is titled Unit of Study: Virtues – Demo 1 and can be found here.  (10 minutes)

Each student should make two slabs, roughly 12″ in diameter and 1/4″ inch thick.  Distribute pre-measured 1lb portions of clay to each student.  Students should begin by wedging their clay.  Provide assistance as needed.  As students are wedging, visit with each student to ensure that they brought their list of five virtues from their own communities.  (5 minutes)

After the clay is wedged the students will begin making their slabs.  Even after viewing the demonstration video, the students will need a lot of hands on instruction.  Move amongst the students providing instructions and repeated demonstrations as needed.  Once the slabs are completed, place them all on boards and set them aside to begin drying.  (10 minutes)

At the end of the last class, every student was asked to bring in a list of five virtues from their own communities.  Instruct the students that they are to pick one of those five virtues to investigate further, and that they will need to choose an animal that best represents that virtue to them.  The animal can be real, mythological, or completely fabricated but the students will be required to justify their decision and and explain how the animal they chose symbolizes their virtue.  Next, the students will begin preparation sketches of their chosen animal.  They can use any drawing medium they wish.  As they are drawing, explain how the clay slabs they made will be used to create a sculpture of that animal, composed of hard slab pieces.   As the students are drawing they should be thinking about how they can create their animal using only hard slab shapes.  Encourage them to use this drawing exercise as a way to “map out” the forms for their animal sculpture.  Show the students an animal sketch and clay slab sculpture completed ahead of time.  Examples can be found here and here.  The students may not be able to finish their animal drawings in class.  Inform the students their animal sketches will need to be completed before the next class so they should take them home and work on them if necessary. (45 minutes)

With 20 minutes left in class have the students divide up into informal groups of two or three students each to share and discuss their choice of virtue, animal archetype, and their drawing progress so far.  Encourage the students to give their peers constructive feedback.  Move amongst the groups and provide prompts and constructive feedback as needed.  (15 minutes)

When there are only five minutes left in class, it is time to clean up – instruct the students to stop working, and begin cleaning up.  Ask the students to help return any supplies they used to their proper locations.  Remind them that their animal drawings are due before next class.  (5 minutes)

1. Introduction/Motivation
Begin by showing the YouTube video demonstrating clay wedging and slab making techniques.  Play it twice if necessary.
2. Guided Practice
Why do we wedge clay?  What are some things to remember when creating slabs.  What are some of the virtues that your community values and promotes?  Which virtue did you choose to investigate further? Why did you choose this virtue? What animals might serve as an appropriate symbol of this virtue?
3. Independent Practice
Students will practice the ram’s head method of wedging clay. Students will use throwing and rolling to create clay slabs.  Students will use pencil, pen, markers, charcoal, or pastel to create drawings of animals representing virtues.
4. Closure
Near the end of class students will be encouraged to split up into groups of two or three to share their chosen virtue, their animal archetype, and progress on their animal drawing.  Students will give and receive constructive feedback from their classmates and the teacher.
5. Formative Evaluation
The guided practice questions listed in section 2 above will serve as formative evaluation. If the students are unable to answer these questions, then they will need to be rephrased or simplified in a way that allows the students to demonstrate that learning is taking place. If a student is not clear on what they should be doing, the teacher will sit with them on an individual or small group basis and re-demonstrate the tasks that are required for the day’s lesson.
6. Classroom Management Procedures
Students should be encouraged to raise their hand before speaking. Do not allow students to speak when the teacher is speaking. Encourage questions and answers that contribute to the subject being discussed. Walk around the room while students are working to offer assistance and encouragement. Monitor conversations at the art tables. Do not allow students to use art materials improperly.

Summative Assessment and Evaluation

The clay slabs and animal drawings created during class and the list of virtues that the students bring to class will serve as summative assessment. The drawings will demonstrate that the students are able to relate the abstract concept of virtues to concrete visual symbols and that they are able to use these symbols to create art. The list of virtues that the students bring to class will demonstrate that they are able to identify virtues that are valued and promoted in their communities today.

References and Resources

demonstration video

Aristotle, ., Ross, W. D., & Brown, L. (2009). The Nicomachean ethics. Oxford: Oxford  University Press.


•  117.111 (b)(1)(A) – explore ideas from life experiences about self, peers, family, school, or community and from the imagination as sources for original works of art;
•  117.111 (b)(2)(A) – integrate ideas drawn from life experiences to create original works of art;
•  117.111 (b)(2)(C) – produce drawings; paintings; prints; sculpture, including modeled forms; and other art forms such as ceramics, fiber art, constructions, mixed media, installation art, digital art and media, and photographic imagery using a variety of materials.
•  117.111 (b)(3)(A) – identify simple main ideas expressed in artworks from various times and places;

National Art Standards

•  Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
•  Anchor Standard #6. Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.
•  Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work.
•  Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
•  Anchor Standard #10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.