Shish-ka-Beads: Simplified Beadmaking

Shish-ka-what? That’s right, beads on a stick!

My students love wearing their art and I love teaching jewelry lessons, but for years I struggled with the logistics of beadmaking. How could kids put their names on all of them, paint them without making a royal mess of themselves and my tables, keep the holes from squishing closed, and organize them in a way that was simple for everyone? The solution, my frazzled friends, is SHISH-KA-BEADS! It sounds corny, and it is, but it is a magical catch-phrase and technique that sticks deep in kids’ brains. Plus, you know it works, because the idea was borne of my failures. That’s where all of the really good ones start.

Anyway, here’s what you do…


First, have your students make a tape flag by wrapping a piece of masking tape on the end of a drinking straw and pressing the ends together. You can do this for your littlest students, it doesn’t take much time, but I always like kids to do as much of the work as possible. This flag is for their name and class code.

Now I have my students roll out their clay medium into beads. This techniques works great for Model Magic or other air dry clays. Push the beads onto the straw. This will warp them a bit, so they’ll have to do a little reshaping. Once they are finished, the beads can be set to dry on any surface they won’t stick too.

Once they’re dry and it is time to paint, students can keep the beads on the straw and use it as a clean handle.

Painting Beads copy

After they are painted, simply rest the straws on the wires of your drying rack. Hands, tables, and surfaces are cleaner, and beads tend to be more successful.

drying rack copy

What kind of bead making have you tried with students?

What are other techniques you’ve found to make tough processes easier?

Sarah Dougherty

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • Abi PG

    I do clay beads and a pinch pot. My students learn how to make a pinch pot, put their name and class on the bottom, then fill the pot with their beads. I do this with Kindergarten every year to cover form and pattern.

    • Abi, I’ve done the same lesson. Do you glaze the beads? If so how do you deal with them all? The bisque fire is easy, but glazing is another story!

      • Abi PG

        I string them on fish line and have the kids do acrylic paint drips on marble thix in a yogurt cup and we dip the beads then the bowl and they turn out super awesome and are done pretty quick.

        • LOVE! I’m going to have to try that one out.

  • for my classes we have used magazines and also paper that we colored with permanent markers…. we use chopsticks for rolling our beads and straws for a larger opening… toothpicks for a small opening … we finish our beads off with modge podge
    and use memory wire or elastic string …..these beads are beautiful and colorful and can also be used to make a variety of projects

    • I love the idea of Mod Podging beads! You’ve got my wheels spinning, Susan. Thanks for sharing!

      • ArtClasswithLMJ

        I have done the exact same with students after school during a craft club and during summer camp but instead of modge podge, I used embossing powder, extra thick and a heat gun or hair dryer; the “Next to Nothing Jewelery” session a couple years ago at AEI’s fall conference use the same process! I’ve also made ceramic beads and painted them, then used this same process to give it that glossy glaze-like appearance.

  • Vicky Siegel

    Love this! If using Model Magic, you can skip the painting part. You can color white Model Magic with watercolor markers. Just add dots of color to flatter pieces, knead the clay, then form the beads- and it turns colors! Students love to leave it “marblized,” too!

    • Yes, Vicky, thanks for the tip! Love that marbelization.

  • Phyllis Brown

    I’ve done a similar thing using bamboo skewers that I bought at the dollar store. They won’t bend like the straw and have a nice point on the end for getting the beads on smoothly. Plus, you can balance your skewers across an open shoebox for painting. Cut a little groove in each side of the shoebox and your skewer won’t move around. You can spin the skewer, kind of like a bead rotisserie!!

    • I use the bamboo skewers too. If you use oven-bake clay, you can bake the beads right on the skewers. It works great!

      • Phyllis Brown

        Ooh, I never thought of that. Great idea, thanks!

  • Vivian

    I have made beads with students by rolling magazine strips over a thin straw which I collected, washed and used from students in the cafeteria. Elmers glue and water were mixed and paint brushes to brush the glue on the strips, then rolled. I cut the magazine strips into triangles so that you start with the wider part and end with the point so there’s more color variations. They dry fairly quickly and I’ve had them store their beads in (reused) envelopes. Adding a piece of wax paper over them would be good too if the glue consistency is too sticky. Fourth grade students really enjoyed this one!

  • Laura Toney

    I use a straw with Model Magic also. The straw creates a hole that is large enough for yarn that has been stiffened at the end with masking tape. I’ve tried the skewer with Model Magic but had a sticking problem. I use my clay drying rack to lay the beads on to dry.

  • Amanda

    I have the students make up to 10 beads (cone, cylinder, cube, and sphere) and put them on lunch trays to dry. After, I combine them all in large terra cotta pots to fire easily. After firing, I put them in copy paper box lids and drizzle two different acrylic paints in the box. I roll them around so they are coated. Shake throughout the day so they don’t stick to the lid. Students come in the next week and choose 8 beads to add to their medallion necklace. (Each student keeps their own medallion but we collaborate on the beads.)