Soft, fine-grained, easily pulverized, white-to-grayish variety of limestone, composed of the shells of minute marine organisms. The purest varieties contain up to 99% calcium carbonate in the form of the mineral calcite. Extensive deposits occur in western Europe south of Sweden and in England, notably in the chalk cliffs of Dover along the English Channel. Other extensive deposits occur in the U.S. from South Dakota to Texas and eastward to Alabama. Chalk is used for making lime and portland cement and as a soil additive. Finely ground and purified chalk is known as whiting and is used as a filler, extender, or pigment in a wide variety of materials, including ceramics, putty, cosmetics, crayons, plastics, rubber, paper, paints, and linoleum. The chalk commonly used in classrooms is a manufactured substance rather than natural chalk.
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 (Fe2O3) created a more vivid red.