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Designing a Clay Automobile with Scale Drawings (TIU-11 Enrichment)

Lesson Plan

Designing a Clay Automobile with Scale Drawings (TIU-11 Enrichment)

Grade Levels

5th Grade, 6th Grade

Course, Subject

  • Big Ideas
    Measures can be estimated by using known referents.
    Numerical quantities and calculations can be estimated by using numbers that are close to the actual values, but easier to compute.
    Some attributes of objects are measureable, e.g., length, mass, capacity, and can be quantified.
    Geometric relationships can be described, analyzed, and classified based on spatial reasoning and/or visualization.
    Measurement attributes can be quantified, and estimated using customary and non-customary units of measure.
    Numerical quantities, calculations, and measurements can be estimated or analyzed by using appropriate strategies and tools.
    Patterns exhibit relationships that can be extended, described, and generalized.
  • Concepts
    Surface Area and Volume: Units, strategies and tools to find measurements; and the development of formulas
    Area, Surface Area, and Volume
  • Competencies
    Extend informal understanding of volume of solids to the measurement of capacity and weight or mass.
    Calculate the area of a polygon on a plane given the coordinates of the vertices.
    Determine the area of triangles, quadrilaterals, irregular polygons and compound polygons.
    Find volumes of right rectangular prisms with fractional edge lengths.
    Solve problems using simple conversions.
    Use nets to find surface area of 3 – dimensional figures.


Students will step into the shoes of an automobile designer by applying the principles of mathematics in their creation of a three-dimensional, scaled automobile. They will witness how the principles of mathematics influence the aesthetic of an automobile, as well as the embedded utility.


Metric System-students are already familiar with the vocabulary.  This is an extension activity.

Thumbnail sketch- a quick small sketch, similar to a doodle.

Scale drawing- a drawing that shows accurate dimensions but has been reduced in size.



1. The students will read and interpret the history of the first automobile factory.

2. The students will critique the effectiveness of the assembly line.

3. The students will follow the procedures to accurately measure their clay.

4.  The students will convert their clay mass from grams to ounces.

5. The students will create an original automobile design.

Lesson Essential Question(s)

How are spatial relationships, including shape and dimension, used to draw, construct, model, and represent real situations or solve problems?
How can geometric properties and theorems be used to describe, model, and analyze situations?
How can recognizing repetition or regularity assist in solving problems more efficiently?
How can the application of the attributes of geometric shapes support mathematical reasoning and problem solving?
How precise do measurements and calculations need to be?
In what ways are the mathematical attributes of objects or processes measured, calculated and/or interpreted?
What does it mean to estimate or analyze numerical quantities?
What makes a tool and/or strategy appropriate for a given task?
When is it is appropriate to estimate versus calculate?
Why does “what” we measure influence “how” we measure?

How can we use mathematics in the process of automobile design?





4-5    (50 minute sessions)


Materials:  Each student will need the following:

  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Colored Pencils
  • Sketch Paper (8 1/2 x 11 is fine.)
  • 12 x 18 White Drawing Paper or Graph Paper
  • Toothpick (heavier type works best.)
  • Clay (cut into small 2 x 3 blocks or pack of Model Magic.)
  • If using clay, items will need to be fired in a kiln before painting.
  • Paint (acrylic metallic paint works best.)
  • 11 x 14 Poster Board Paper for group work
  • Markers
  • Small paper plates for students to use when working on creation.
  • Scissors
  • Index Cards
  • Model cars (at least one per group)


Class materials:     

Pamphlets of car designs from a local car dealer

Poster paper for group work

Computers, iPads, or Smart Board for viewing videos.



Optional Materials:  Cut out circles, triangles, rectangles of differernt sizes for students to use as a stencil for drawing.  


Suggested Instructional Strategies

Students will learn a variety of skills to promote understanding of historical concepts with automobile production and design, measurement, and transformation of a piece of clay or model magic into their own automobile design.


Before the activity begins, use the pre-assessment below to determine prior knowledge.  The sentences must be written in full complete answers.  The struggling learners may require a pre-lesson to help with understanding of the concepts.  Gifted students will be able to complete all tasks accurately with a 90% accuracy.



The lesson is appropriate for students who have a beginning understanding of weights and measurement. The students will be able to reinforce their understanding of concepts and extend their knowledge of engineering.


Students will have the opportunity to create an automobile out of clay, as well as a booklet describing the features of their design.  


Students will have the opportunity to plan and design a car out of clay. This will provide them not only with a tactile experience, but also, the opportunity to apply mathematical experience coupled with art.


The lesson is designed so that students have an opportunity to rethink their design while it is created, and reflect on the project when they are finished. Throughout the lesson, students will have an opportunity to share, discuss, and revisit their work, if applicable.


Students will assess and express their understandings of the creation and manufacturing of automobiles in meaningful ways. 


The lesson provides differentiated instruction, because it allows students to design and create an automobile in two and three-dimensional forms.


This beginning of this project operates on the gradual release model; it soon transitions to student-centered, evolves to cooperative learning group, and concludes with self directed work.

Instructional Procedures

Instructional Procedures:  


1.  Have the students think about what they know about automobiles.  How are they made?  Think about the most interesting automobile they saw either on the road, at a car show, or in a movie.  What made the car so special?  Was it the color, design, wheels, sound, or the speed?     Allow a few seconds for students to think about their response.  Now, students will turn and talk to a partner and describe that automobile.  Have the students select 1 of the items they shared with their partner.  Use active engagement such as Popsicle sticks with students name on to randomly select students to share their thoughts.  Write ideas on the board.


2.  Ask the students if they know who invented the first automobile that was affordable to most Americans?   Pass out a handout on Henry Ford and the beginnings of the automobile industry or share the following links:



Students will read about Henry Ford and write down 3 interesting facts on 3 separate index cards to share. Assign students to work in groups of four and place their facts in a pile.  Each student will take turns reading the card and placing it in chronological order.   Students will use masking tape to tape the back to the poster board and share with the class.  When students are finished, pass out an index card with the following questions to each group:


  •    How has the auto industry changed from the beginnings?
  •    Is shopping for a car the same or different than it was shopping for a Model T?  
  •    How has the auto industry changed America?
  •   Show the following short video about the assembly line in the early 1900's and    




Ask the same small group of students to list 3 different aspects of the assembly line. Tell students they will critique the assembly line; discuss any problems that might arise with the assembly line production. Students will discuss their answers in their group and with the class.  Teacher will review and discuss with the students.  Assign students to respond to the following writing prompt.


The following prompt is attached to a response sheet at the end of this document.


The assembly line made the workers’ jobs repetitive; now, these jobs are done by robots.  Do you think replacing workers with robots is a good idea?  Explain.


3. Tell the students that the oldest and most traditional method of creating an automobile is making a scale drawing and creating it 3D out of clay.  Ask the students if they ever watched the Batman series. Christopher Nolan, the director of the Dark Knight Rises, wanted to recreate the Batmobile design so he created the “Batmobile tumbler” out of clay before it was created for the movie.  He wanted the car to have the solid weight of an army tank and to be fast and classy like the Lamborghini.  Have the students think-pair share the importance of Nolan’s design of the Batmobile Tumbler.


4. Tell the students that they are going to see the most traditional and common way cars are designed.  A few companies have started to use 3d printers to create the different designs of their cars.

Share the link if you have a Smart board or copy the following page onto a handout.  Discuss.


5. Tell the students that they are going to design an automobile but they will need to look at scaled down replicas to identify the geometric shapes that are present.  First, assign the students to work in small groups to identify the geometric shapes that are visible.  Each group will list the make of their car, year designed at the top of a poster board paper.  Secondly, the students will create a list of the shapes and angles that are present.  Share.

 Secondly, have the students write down items that are necessary for an automobile and some extra features or items they would feel is important to include. They can use the same paper or write on the back.   First, they will need to create a list of features and extras that are needed on an automobile.  Share and discuss.  Hang up the posters so they are visible for all students.  Share the automobile pamphlets for students analyze and add additional information if needed on their list.


6. Share the following video.  It shows an artist demonstrating how to draw a car with the correct perspective.


7. Tell the students they are going to create their own car design.   Hand out a copy of the rubric so the students clearly know the expectations for the activity.  Discuss.

First, they will plan it on the sketch paper using a pencil.   They will need to think about the perspective. It is a way to make something appear 3-dimensional on paper.  Model how to do quick sketches on the board or show the video on car design sketch.  The sketches should be 1 minute each.

 An option is to divide the paper into fourths and draw quick designs in each box.  This is a quick way to help plan the picture.  It is helpful to have the cutout shapes on hand for students with fine motor difficulty or special needs.  

After they have finished with their sketches, they will pair-share their drawings and each will select the best design.  

 8. Teach students how to use their thumbnail sketches to effectively create the booklet  to use as their scale drawings.  Pass out the 12 x 18 paper and colored pencils and cut out shapes.  Students will fold the paper in half and create their automobile designs on the folded paper.

Students will write frontal view on the front of the booklet, Side view for pages 2 and 3, and rear view for the last page.  The students will create the designs and color them in with colored pencils or twistable crayons.


9.  Explain to students that before we begin the car designs with clay, they will need to measure the mass of the clay in grams, the length, width, and height because when it dries, the mass will change.  Pass out the handout on measurement.  Students will weigh the clay and write in the response.



10. When everyone is finished with the measurement, pass out the toothpicks for scoring and paper plates to place their car on to dry.   Teach the students the properties of clay.  If applicable, show the short YouTube video.   


Clay (other than self-hardening clay) must be fired in a kiln to become permanent. It items need to be attached such as tires, hood scoops, etc, both pieces must be scored and attached with slip- a mixture of clay and water.  To score an item in clay, each piece needs to have the surface scratched really well before items are attached with slip.    If not scored properly, when the clay items are fired in a kiln, the pieces may sometime fall off.  Also, the clay will begin to dry out and become hard unless it is wrapped in plastic, and it is not possible to add additional pieces to the work.  


 **If you are using model magic, it will need to air dry for 24 hours before you can apply paint.


11. It is best to begin with a solid rectangular prism.  The students can use their scale drawing booklet as a guide to create their automobile.  .

If you are using clay that needs to be fired in a kiln, the 3D car creation will need to be completed in a single class.


12. Have the students scoop out a small amount to hollow the car if using clay.  This will enable the car to dry efficiently and it can be used for tires, spoilers, rear view mirrors, or other special features.


13. Review measurement with the ruler.  Tell students they will work with a partner and record the length, height and width. 


14. Review symmetry.  Students will apply symmetrical design on their cars.   Monitor progress. When finished, each automobile must have the student’s name written on for identification.  


15.   After pieces have dried if using model magic or self drying clay, or were kiln fired, the students will measure the mass and explain their conclusion about the disparity between the clay and the creations on their handout.  


16. Have the students paint their cars with metallic paints.  The designs must be symmetrical as well as the car.  Allow time to dry.


17.  Students will organize an automobile show; this will be facilitated by organizing the students into groups.  this will be facilitated by organizing the students into groups allowing them to finding a way to organize their creations (by design, type, features, etc.) 


Ticket out the door:  Why is it important to create a scale drawing?  How do automakers design cars? Why is it important for designers to design a car in clay before manufacturing it on the assembly line? 


Extra Activity


Students will create an advertisement for their car.  First, students will peruse advertisements for cars from the past to present.  Discuss visual layout and create a list of persuasive words.  Students will use an 11x14 paper to create their advertisement design.  Show samples of the original advertisements. Students will compare/contrast advertisement with a car advertisement of their choice.

Formative Assessment

Throughout the lesson and activity, the students will be informally assessed by teacher observation and by their participation. Students will have to time for self, peer and small group critique with their computations and paperwork before submitting it to be assessed.  The essay can be graded with the SAS PA Core Aligned Writing Rubric. 


Related Materials & Resources

Rubric for Automobile Design






16-20 Points





6-10 Points


Below Basic

0-5 Points



Used time constructively in class and focused on project.

Used time constructively and most of the time, focused on the project.

Did not appear to be focused on project and displayed limited participation on project.

Minimal participation and focus on project.  

Scale Drawing

Automobile scale drawing booklet is complete with specific details.  It is colorful and attractive.  The student demonstrates perspective drawing.

Automobile drawing booklet is complete and colorful.  Most of the details displayed demonstrate understanding of perspective drawing.

Drawings are complete in the booklet.  Limited attention to detail is displayed.  Most of the pages are colored.

The booklet is missing detailed drawings or little attention if any to perspective drawing.




The automobile design is a 3D replica of the scale drawing.  Items are proportioned on the vehicle.  It is well built and all of the pieces are attached.

The automobile resembles the scale drawing.  Most of the items display appropriate proportions. The pieces are attached to the vehicle.

The design of the automobile does not resemble the picture.  Little effort to make it the display appropriate proportions.  Most of the pieces remain attached to the automobile.

Little effort was placed with design of the project.  The automobile is 2D and no effort was made to make it 3D.  There are no pieces remaining attached to the vehicle.


Points expected   _______________





Automobile Design


Measurement of Mass


Weight of clay in Grams

Total weight of automobile

after it is finished and dried.

What is the difference between the initial weight and dried weight?




List the automobile project’s dimensions


Length    ________________


Width      ________________


Height     ________________

Draw a thumbnail sketch of your automobile.





The assembly line made the workers’ jobs repetitive; now, these jobs are done by robots.  Do you think replacing workers with robots is a good idea?  Explain.




                                                              Quiz on the Automobile




Who invented the first car? 


List three facts about the famous automobile inventor?





Who invented the assembly line for manufacturing of the automobile?  Summarize the purpose of the assembly line.




Explain how the assembly line changed from the 1900’s.



Formulate an opinion on the process of automobile design.











Sally Frehn

Date Published

July 16, 2014
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