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What's in a Name? What's in a Glaze? (16 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Polyatomic Ions, Naming Compounds, Molecular Formula, Ionic Bonding. Last updated May 14, 2019.


In this lesson students will learn about some of the chemical compounds involved in the art of pottery by practicing naming and writing formulas for ionic compounds commonly found in components of glazes for ceramics.

Grade Level

High School and Middle School

NGSS Alignment

This activity will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • MS-PS1-1: Develop models to describe atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.
  • MS-PS1-2: Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
  • HS-PS1-1: Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.
  • HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to

  • Name ionic compounds with monatomic and polyatomic ions.
  • Use the Stock System to name ionic compounds with transition metals.
  • Write formulas when given names of ionic compounds.
  • Identify components in ceramic glazes and make connections between chemical formulas and pottery.
  • Cite differences and similarities between traditional pottery ceramics and the emerging field of advanced ceramics.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Ionic Bonding
  • Naming Compounds
  • Writing Formulas
  • Polyatomic Ions


Teacher Preparation: 15 minutes or less


  • Engage: 10-15 minutes
  • Explore: 20 minutes (can be assigned for homework)
  • Explain: 20-45 minutes
  • Elaborate: 15-20 minutes (can be assigned for homework)
  • Evaluate: 25-35 minutes


  • Copies of student documents
  • Examples of different glazed pottery pieces or test slabs with different glazes
  • Student access to periodic tables and list of common polyatomic ions (see Appendix I)


  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this written activity.

Teacher Notes

  • This lesson is intended to be used after students have a general introduction to writing ionic formulas; students should already have some practice balancing charges to achieve an overall charge of zero, including practice with using parentheses with multiple polyatomic ions in a formula. A few different polyatomic ions are used in the lesson, but not an extensive list. A sample list of some required memory ions is included in this document (Appendix I) if you do not have one you prefer to use. If you do not require memorization of common polyatomic ions and a few additional transition metal monatomic ions (like silver, zinc, and cadmium, which usually do not employ the Stock System), students will need to have access to the names and symbols of these ions for completion of this activity.
  • If you have a Ceramics class at your school or if a Ceramics unit is taught within one of the Art classes, this could be a fun lesson on which to collaborate with the Ceramics teacher. He/she can share some samples or test slabs with different glazes for students to observe before and after firing and could briefly explain the firing process to students.
  • Engage: To start this lesson, begin a conversation with your students about pottery and ceramics and then direct the conversation towards glazes. If you are assigning the Explore portion of this lesson as homework, it would be best to start this discussion towards the end of class.
  • Begin by posting these questions on the board or projector for students to pair-share with a partner:
    • What word or words come to mind when you hear the word “ceramics”?
    • Have you ever created a piece of pottery from start to finish? If so, describe the process.
  • Ask for a few groups to share their answers with the group. Next, pass around samples of ceramics for students to observe and touch. Try to find stoneware pottery and earthenware pottery pieces like vases or pots that are more traditional. Also include some ceramic evaporating dishes or crucibles from your lab as well as commercially-produced ceramic mugs. If your school offers a ceramics class, you can ask the teacher to borrow samples or old test slabs. It would be great to have a sample before firing, after initial firing, and after glaze application, but it is not necessary.
  • Ask students about their familiarity with pottery techniques, especially painting the finished, fired product with a glaze that is fired again in a kiln.
    • Teacher response: Did you notice that a number (or all, depending on your chosen pieces) of the samples were painted with a smooth coating? That is called a glaze. Turn to your partner and name two reasons that you would want to glaze a piece of ceramic pottery.
  • Once again, solicit student answers from groups. Students will most likely give answers that encompass the general categories of aesthetics (color, beauty, artistic appeal, etc.) and practicality (waterproofing, heat conduction or lack of heat conduction, shatter-resistance, etc.)
  • Finally, get students to think on the connections to chemistry.
    • How do you think glazes on pottery relates to chemistry?
  • Explore: The Explore portion of the activity can be completed for homework or in class with computers, phones, tablets, or other internet-accessible devices. Use the student handout “Researching Your Favorite Glaze.” Students research the 3 main components make up a glaze and then pick a favorite color glaze to research. Students will then post their favorite choice of the 3 colored compounds along with a few sentences about it and a picture. Students may find a picture of the actual chemical compound in the glaze or a glazed object employing the glaze. Students are asked to cite their sources including the source for the photo. You may want to require that all students choose a different compound. If you use Google classroom or Google drive, you can ask students to add information to a class document; if not, you could have students post information to a different class website, Moodle, or even bring in a picture printout with short caption that they could physically post to a classroom poster or bulletin board.
  • Upon completion, review the answers to the 3 components of a glaze (flux, glass-former, refractory). See the provided Answer Key document for more information.
  • You may want to show this short video from the American Ceramic Society that gives a car analogy about the role of these compounds in the formation of a ceramic glaze.
  • Explain: Pass out the student handout “What’s in a Name? What’s in a Glaze?” and ask students to read through the background portion, which gives some references to the information about glazes, but also focuses on the chemistry concepts needed for naming and formula writing.
  • Depending on student level briefly review balancing of cation and anion charges to reach desired neutral or zero. Also, you may need to review a few examples of how to determine the charge (and, subsequently, its Stock System name) of a transition metal cation by working backwards from its formula and its anion. Students should work through the activity in small groups to learn how to name these ionic compounds. Circulate to make sure that students are grasping the concepts and give class explanations if you find numerous students struggling with the same concepts. Answer key has been provided.
  • Elaborate/Extend: This section of the activity introduces students to the field of advanced ceramics with many exciting applications. It can be completed as follow-up homework or as an in-class activity. You can show the video clips on the projector and print out the article or have the students read it from the website. The student handout, “Extension: Advanced Ceramics” has been provided for this section, and the website described below will also need to be accessible.
  • Science Learning Hub, based in New Zealand, has a great website with information on this emerging field. The Extension activity has students watch the first video clip available at the link provided, where a scientist from New Zealand discusses the differences between traditional and advanced ceramics. Then the activity asks students to read the short article and watch the embedded 2-minute video clip from the same website about some specific advanced ceramics and answer the questions. The answers are available in the Answer Key document.
  • Evaluate: This section of the activity is intended as an open-notes assessment. It is written for students to use the previous student sheets from this lesson as a resource for identifying certain types of ions within an ionic compound, as well as correct use of ionic nomenclature, Stock System, and formula-writing. You can choose to go over answers to the initial portion of the activity with students and have them correct their own work before the assessment, or you can have them complete the assessment at the conclusion of the activity to turn in as proof of completion and understanding of the topic. If you prefer to use a closed assessment, you can eliminate the last row of the table about ceramics applications for different compounds and just ask students to write formulas that meet the criteria whether or not they were specific examples in the activity. You could also use the assessment activity with partner groups instead of individuals.

For the Student

Download all documents for this lesson, including the teacher guide, from the "Downloads box" at the top of the page.