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  Chalk used in school classrooms comes in slender sticks approximately .35 of an inch (nine millimeters) in diameter and 3.15 inches (80 millimeters) long. Lessons are often presented to entire classes on chalk-boards (or blackboards, as they were originally called) using sticks of chalk because this method has proven cheap and easy.

As found in nature, chalk has been used for drawing since prehistoric times, when, according to archaeologists, it helped to create some of the earliest cave drawings. Later, artists of different countries and styles used chalk mainly for sketches, and some such drawings, protected with shellac or a similar substance, have survived. Chalk was first formed into sticks for the convenience of artists. The method was to grind natural chalk to a fine powder, then add water, clay as a binder, and various dry colors. The resultant putty was then rolled into cylinders and dried. Although impurities produce natural chalk in many colors, when artists made their own chalk they usually added pigments to render these colors more vivid. Carbon, for example, was used to enhance black, and ferric oxide (Fe 2 O 3 ) created a more vivid red.

Chalk did not become standard in schoolrooms until the nineteenth century, when class sizes began to increase and teachers needed a convenient way of conveying information to many students at one time. Not only did instructors use large blackboards, but students also worked with individual chalkboards, complete with chalk sticks and a sponge or cloth to use as an eraser. These small chalkboards were used for practice, especially among the younger students. Pens dipped in ink wells were the preferred tool for writing final copy, but these were reserved for older students who could be trusted not to make a mess: paper—made solely from rags at this time—was expensive.

An important change in the nature of classroom chalk paralleled a change in chalk-boards. Blackboards used to be black, because they were made from true slate. While some experts advocated a change to yellow chalkboards and dark blue or purple chalk to simulate writing on paper, when manufacturers began to fashion chalkboards from synthetic materials during the twentieth century, they chose the color green, arguing that it was easier on the eyes. Yellow became the preferred color for chalk.

Almost all chalk produced today is dustless. Earlier, softer chalk tended to produce a cloud of dust that some feared might contribute to respiratory problems. Dustless chalk still produces dust; it's just that the dust settles faster. Manufacturers accomplish this by baking their chalk longer to harden it more. Another method, used by a French company, is to dip eighty percent of each dustless chalk stick in shellac to prevent the chalk from rubbing off onto the hands.