Home Questions Answered Play Doh/clay activities for older elementary?

I have some kinesthetic learners and I’m trying to teach them in a pretty distracting environment. Other teachers are working in the same room, some kids are loud, there’s a lot of ambient noise. I can’t really do anything about this. Some of my kids have trouble focusing and they will fidget, sometimes distracting themselves or damaging stuff.

I’m bringing stress balls for them to hold while they listen to me, or while they read out loud. But I’m also looking for a way to use play doh as a part of my lesson. I’m looking around now and most of the available play doh lessons seemed to be for younger children. I’m focusing on my 4th graders, particularly building their math skills but suggestions for reading and writing skills are welcome too.

So far I guess I can just let them make their own manipulatives by rolling the play doh into balls. I know they’d enjoy this.

Thanks in advance for any other suggestions :)

It sounds to me like you have two problems. One a room not conducive to teaching them, and two lack of resources for kinesthetic learning. The good things is I love clay and playdoh as a learning tool. Ice can be a good one too for this age. So I’ll share some ideas that might help with both problems.


I hate noise in the classroom when it affects how others are learning. If it’s really noisy, which sounds like the bigger issue perhaps try to get creative and find a way to have them wear headphones/earmuffs in class.  Headphones and earmuff can both be quickly removed and put back on if they need to listen to you speak or have a question.

I have taught several students who had concentration issues with a handful of Ipads and made a recording of the lesson and saved it to the Ipad. (With what you are considering simple, inexpensive mp3 players could work too) The biggest thing that helped was making sure that I was talking even slower than usual and made pauses for them to work. I downloaded a paint app and they could write and erase and follow along with what I was teaching. I taught them how to take screen shots so I could see their work at the end of the lesson or throughout as I came around checking. At any point a student could pause the recording to ask me a question and I’d come over and answer it for them and then they’d go back to the lesson.

I was still as busy as if I was talking the whole time so it wasn’t meant to free up my time. For students who couldn’t handle noise it was simply an amazing tool! It helped students focus who would otherwise be lost. Plus, it gave me some practice at what I was going to be saying to the rest of the room. Because the majority of the room followed my regular lesson.

If you only have this handful maybe getting earmuffs for them to wear could be really helpful. If you’re working closely with them they just need to slide off their earmuffs to hear you otherwise it helps block out noise. For this to work, having written instructions will be necessary though.

Kinesthetic Learning

Play-doh or clay can definitely be used with mathematics. I love Play-doh because unlike clay (unless you have the air dry stuff you don’t need a kiln to fire it) you can bake Play-doh in an oven and it will harden and can be painted. You can have them make their own “slates” to use for reading or writing. They can make letters and numbers to use to work out sentences, spelling or math problems.

Math Applications

Fractions and division

Give them a number of problems to solve. Divide the clay in half, 1/3 and 2/3, etc. (This is also dividing by 2, dividing by 3, dividing by 4 etc.)

If you have them divide the clay in 4 equal parts. They have ¼ of the whole. If they add 2 ¼ pieces how much will they have? Of course you know it’s ½ but they get to work out the problem on their own and now they are adding fractions.

For division problems you can do the same thing. Having the divide 10 by 2 using clay you have them make equal sized parts that represent two and see how many make 10. Or you give them what “2” and what “10” is knowing that if they make 5 shapes equal to the “2” shape they will get the right answer. Once they understand that you can go into explain remainders and multiplication.

Basic Algebra Equations

Once that is mastered you can get into Algebra by making different shapes and create equations (ex: What do you get when you add 4 cubes and 3 spheres if 1 sphere equals 2 squares) (show them how to take each sphere and make cubes out of them, then add up all the cubes) Then you can show them the same equation using x and y in written format.

There are many other ways to use it. Get creative and think about what kinds of problems you can give them to solve that meet your requirements and objectives for the year.

Using Ice

This is a great age for it, but it is more of a merging of science and mathematics. But, kids love it!

Melting Ice

First experiment: Does Ice Melt Faster in The Hand or on The Table?

You need two ice cubes that are the same size.

One you place on the table, the other you give to a student. If it gets too cold he passes it to his neighbor and they keep passing it until it melts. There should still be a piece of ice on the table, with a puddle of water around it.

Then discuss the results and let them speculate why it melted faster by holding it.

When they discover it must mean their bodies are warmer than the table and the air itself it’s pretty incredible. They know what it means to have a fever. But they are probably not old enough or tall enough to change a thermostat to know the air is a different temperature than our bodies.

To confirm your hypothesis you should study this in alternate locations, perhaps outside, in the cafeteria, wherever the school will allow you to travel.

Then you can ask if they think it’ll still be true if the cube is a different size. If they aren’t sure then you can test a different size.

Second experiment: Does the larger one melt slower or faster than a smaller one?

For this you’ll need to place the ice on a measuring cup (with a flat top) that is clear. Use a paper plate with a good lip and poke a few holes in the bottom of the plate where the ice will be placed so it can drip into the measuring cup.

In theory they should melt at the same rate (the same amount drips into the measuring cups) even if the smaller one is gone first.

But most students will think that it melted faster because it disappeared first. This is where the math part intersects. You look to see that the same amount of water was melted so it’s melting at the same rate, and have them try to figure out why the smaller one disappeared first then (Obviously because it was smaller and therefore had less water to melt)

Note: Adding food coloring to the ice will help you see the measurements better. And having them be different colors can also help them remember which one is which since they are kinesthetic learners. (Just keep in mind that food coloring can stain fingers and hands, though it should wash out of clothes)

A great follow-up assignment to this is to send them home with the assignment to make ice cubes. One tray with hot water and another with cold water and see which one freezes first. Have them make their hypothesis at which will freeze first. (Almost everyone will say cold water) However, because the molecules are closer together in hot water it actually freezes first. Make sure this is something they can test over the weekend so they can peek in the freezer throughout the day and not miss the excitement of seeing things begin to freeze.

Mathematics inherently is used in these science experiments and you can even give them some math problems that go along with it. Like learning how to use the measuring cup, labeling and marking how much ice is converted to water in an hour. They’ll have to use subtraction to figure out the amount.

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question submitted and answered through reddit.com/r/Teaching by TeacherAffairs

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