DAILY LIFE IN A MISSION
Teacher Information: Adobe Bricks
Background:Years ago people could not go to their favorite store and purchase items as we do now. Our ancestors had to make many of the items that we now purchase. Some men and women were very talented in producing an item or in performing a particular task. People would seek their wares or ask that an item be made for them. Barter was the normal practice.
Making bricks for building was one task that had to be done correctly. If done incorrectly, a brick might dissolve in rain, or break and crumble when weight was placed upon it.
The three primary building materials used in constructing the San Antonio missions were limestone, wood, and kiln-dried brick. Adobe brick, a sun-dried brick, was occasionally used. In fact, Native Americans had been using adobe for hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived in the Americas. Adobe was a very efficient building material.
It was inexpensive and easy to make.
Adobe is made primarily out of clay, soil, small pebbles and rocks, straw, grass, and sticks. One could compare adobe to concrete of today: The mud formed from clay and soil mixed with water forms the cement; the pebbles and rocks are like aggregate in concrete; and the straw, grass, and sticks are like the steel rebar.
After the raw adobe mixture was made up, it was molded into bricks, which were left to harden in the hot sun for several days. They were then used, just like modern bricks, to construct buildings. The bricks were held together with an adobe mortar. In the missions, adobe bricks were used until kiln-dried brick could be made.
TEKS (Texas education standards)· Gather information by observing and measuring.
· Construct simple graphs, tables, maps and charts to organize, examine, and
· Demonstrate safe practices during field and laboratory investigations.
· Make wise choices in the use and conservation of resources and the disposal or
recycling of materials. Describe ways people have adapted to and modified their
environment in Texas, past and present.
· Identify reasons why people have adapted to and modified their environment in
Texas, past and present, such as the use of natural resources to meet basic needs.
· Analyze the consequences of human modification of the environment in Texas,
past and present
Materials· Book about the life of a Spanish Colonial child (available at the Visitor Center at
Mission San José or possibly in the school library)
· Spade per group
· Trowel per group
· 30-lb Clay (from garden or building supply companies)
· 50-lb. bag of sand per class
· Hay or dead grass clippings
· Paint (white and primary colors)
· Concrete-brick comparison chart (one for each group)
· First Aid Kit (if the class is away from the school)
· Camera (for once in a lifetime shots)
· Brick Forms: (The trades department in your high school might help with the
1. Use four 1 pieces of 2" X 6" lumber.
2. Construct 12" X 12" squares (internal dimensions). The forms will be 6" deep,
3. Use plywood (exterior grade) to make 12" X 12" temporary bottoms and tops.
4. Make the same number of forms and bottoms as the number of adobe bricks that
are desired, and three tops. Three tops will allow three students to fill and
compress the adobe brick in all the forms.
Teaching Hints and Safety Precautions· This activity can take several weeks from start to finish, due to the time it takes to
dry and cure the bricks. Plan accordingly.
· Have students work in groups of three or four students: stompers/mixers, hay
cutters, spaders/ measurers, and form fillers/ packers
· Old shorts, tee shirts, and no shoes are appropriate for this activity.
· Provide a garden hose and nozzle for water and clean up.
· Invite parents to help.
· Dig a pit approximately 3-ft wide by 4-ft long by 12-in deep. The pit should be
without grass burrs or sharp objects.
· Use goggles when "stomping" the mud.
· Wear gloves when using the trowel and spade.
· Provide drinking water and shade on hot days.
· Have the student compile a list of "rules" for good behavior.
ReferencesNoble, David Grant. 101 Questions About Ancient Indians of the Southwest. Tucson,
Arizona; Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. 1998.
Warren, Betsy. Indians of the Southwest. Dallas, Texas: Hendrick-Long Publishing
Zappler, Georg. Learn about Texas Indians. Austin, Texas: Texas Parks and Wildlife
Martinello, Marian L. and Nesmith, Samuel P. With Domingo Leal in San Antonio, 1734.
The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures. 1997.
Kalman, Bobbie and Nickles, Greg. Historic Communities: Spanish Missions. Crabtree
Publishing Company, N.Y. 1997.
Last updated: November 17, 2021