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Education Home Search Lesson Plans All Curricula Ceramics: A Vessel into History Lesson Plans Ceramics: A Vessel into History—Lesson 1
Ceramics: A Vessel into History—Lesson 1

Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson

Author: This lesson was adapted by J. Paul Getty Museum Education staff from a curriculum originally published on the Getty's first education Web site, ArtsEdNet.

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Lesson Overview

This is the first lesson in a sequential unit. Students view ceramic vessels from different time periods and cultures, and discuss their meanings, functions, and original contexts. They develop criteria for value and meaning of these objects, and create a timeline to situate the objects in history.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• identify ceramic artworks from different historical and cultural contexts.
• discuss how ceramic artworks reflect specific concerns and intentions of an artist and his or her culture.
• identify and interpret expressive properties of ceramics and speculate on the maker's intent.
• analyze similarities and differences between ceramic objects from different cultures.
• form opinions about value, meaning, form, and function.


• Information about each object, printed out from, for use by small groups
• Journals for note taking and sketching
• Copies of a world map identifying only the countries in which the Getty objects for the lesson were made
• Copies of a timeline that includes only the creation dates for each object
• Images of ceramic objects for small groups of students. Below are suggested objects for this unit. Click on thumbnails for brief historical information. Additional research may be added and other works may be substituted.

Lesson Steps

1. Divide students into groups of four or five. Groups should select a note-taker. Provide each group with images of ceramic objects from the Getty's collection, a world map, and a timeline. The world map should identify or highlight only the countries that the objects students are studying came from. The timeline should also list or highlight the dates for the objects students study in the lesson.

2. Display the following questions on the board and have groups answer them for each object. Students are not expected to know the correct answers, rather they will speculate as a means to understanding the critical thinking process. The note-taker will record the responses to the questions.
• What country or region do you think the work came from?
• What culture do you think it might be from?
• When do you think it was created? Speculate.
• What do you see in the work that leads you to these conclusions?

3. Have each group guess the relative age of the objects by placing them chronologically on the timeline provided, using the dates given or highlighted as clues.

4. Distribute information from about the objects to each group.

5. Groups should re-consider the objects in light of the information provided. Have groups make adjustments to their timelines and maps, if necessary. They should then answer the following questions for each object:
• Looking back at your previous answers, were you correct or incorrect about where and when the object was made?
• What were some of the things you saw in the works that led you to correct conclusions?
• What were some of the things you saw in the works that led you to incorrect conclusions?
• Were you surprised by the correct answers?

6. Continue discussion as a class. Have students articulate the assumptions they made about the objects and the visual clues they relied upon to speculate about the objects' origins and ages. Have students point out visual elements they didn't notice until after reading about the objects. Note-takers will report on small-group discussions. Record this information on the board or on a large sheet of paper. Collect small-group notes for assessment purposes.

7. Have groups analyze differences and similarities in the works based on surface, decoration, function, and construction. Have students sketch the ceramic objects in their journals as a means of assuring close observation.

8. Finally, as a class, discuss why these objects are considered important enough to be in a museum. During this session, the teacher should discuss one or more of the concepts listed below and have the class generate a list of criteria for each. Record answers on the board or a large sheet of paper. The criteria established by the class will be used again in Lesson 4. • quality craftsmanship
• rarity
• beauty
• sacredness
• historical significance

Lidded Vase / Unknown
Lidded Vase, Chinese, about 1662–1722


Students should be able to do the following:
• Place the historical objects in chronological order.
• Describe and analyze images of works of art.
• Develop criteria for subjective concepts such as beauty, rarity, etc.
• Express informed opinions regarding the significance, value, and meaning of a work of ceramic art.
• Engage in small group and class discussions.


Obtain a copy of Puzzles about Art: An Aesthetics Casebook by Battin, Fisher, Moore, and Silvers (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1989). Have students read and respond to "Pile of Bricks" (p. 13). This is an interesting approach to posing the question: "Is it art?"

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grades 9–12 Proficient

1.0 Artistic Perception
Develop Perceptual Skills and Visual Arts Vocabulary
1.1 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
Role and Development of the Visual Arts
3.1 Identify similarities and differences in the purposes of art created in selected cultures. Diversity of the Visual Arts
3.3 Identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Derive Meaning
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.
Make Informed Judgments
4.3 Formulate and support a position regarding the aesthetic value of a specific work of art and change or defend that position after considering the views of others.

National Standards for Visual Arts Education
Grades 9–12

3.Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas
a. Reflect on how artworks differ visually, spatially, temporally, and functionally, and describe how these are related to history and culture.

4. Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
c. Analyze relationships of works of art to one another in terms of history, aesthetics, and culture, justifying conclusions made in the analysis and using such conclusions to inform their own art making.

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