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ESL Activities with Playdoh - Part 1

By Edited Sep 18, 2015 2 2

Why Use Playdoh?

When I tell people that I use Playdoh in my adult ESL class, I am usually met with a raised eyebrow, derision or an encouraging smile, followed by, "I don't think I could ever pull that off!" However, if we go past a teacher's initial discomfort with adopting Playdoh for the classroom, there are actually many advantages to using Playdoh in adult ESL lessons.

For me, Playdoh brings back memories of childhood and fun times and I found that whenever I introduced it into a class of young adults, everyone who had played with something similar when they were younger became more relaxed and talkative, even the quiet ones!

In addition, Playdoh allows students who have a kinesthetic or visual learning style to internalize the lesson objective better, especially since almost all activities require some form of touching or moving things around.

Finally, I was delighted to learn that while students might not remember the name of the grammar point when it came to review time, they definitely remembered the activity and what they did during class with the Playdoh!

It is important to note that while this article focuses on the merits of using Playdoh, it can be substituted for any other similar items, such as modelling clay, plasticine, etc

Playdoh Ideas

1) Prepositions of Movement

The easiest lesson in which you can integrate the use of Playdoh is one on prepositions. 

Prepositions of Movement

1) Teach the target prepositions of movement. Some examples would be "around", "under", "through" and "across".

2a) Provide controlled practice through a worksheet.

2b) Provide controlled practice through creating a 3D Playdoh map of your own and eliciting the prepositions. This is better for lower level students to understand the next part

3) For free practice, tell students that they are to create a treasure map, with rivers, bridges, apartment blocks, etc by using the Playdoh. They will create the map in pairs and decide where the treasure is.

4) Between each pair of partners, label one A and the other, B. Give all student As a counter of some sort (in the illustration above, I used a coin). This will represent them on the map. Explain to the Bs that they are the guides and will decide where A starts on the map and will give directions to the treasure WITHOUT USING THEIR HANDS. For example: Start here. Swim across the lake. Walk across the bridge. Go through the tunnel in the mountains.

5) Check that students understand their roles. Get As to stand up and move to a B that is not the person they built their map with and let them start their treasure hunt! Check that Bs are not using their hands to point out where A should move. The beauty of this exercise is that Bs get immediate feedback on whether their preposition was correct or if they were understood correctly from the way A moved their counter.

6) Rotate As several times so that they try out different maps. (Optional: Bs can choose another starting point for the next A who comes to them)

7) Have As return to their seat and pass their counter to their partner, who will now go on a treasure hunt!

Another activity that students can do to practice this piece of grammar is to describe how they get from their bed to the classroom everyday (or from point A to point B).

2) Prepositions of Place

Playdoh can also be used to teach 2D and 3D shapes, as well as to practice prepositions of place. For this activity, you can slightly increase the difficulty by adding more Playdoh colours.

Prepositions of Place 1

1) First, review/teach the different shapes that you would like students to make. I like to distinguish 2D from 3D (e.g triangle vs pyramid) shapes to give students more variety, but depending on the level of your class, you might want to limit the vocabulary. You might also want to quickly review the colours that you are using. If you have previously taught shapes and colours, this activity would serve perfectly as a review.

2) Teach the target prepositions of place - on top of, between, below, to the left of, etc.

3) Provide controlled practice through a worksheet.

Consider demonstrating the activity with a student, since if you are teaching this piece of grammar, students are likely to be at an elementary level. 

4) Have a student sit with their back facing you, such that you are able to see them, but they will not be able to see you. The student should still have access to their table or work space. Take a seat behind the student. You should also have access to a table or work space.

5) Tell the student you will create a set of shapes on the table and they will receive instructions from you to create an identical set of shapes on their table, in the same order.

6)  As you create a shape, tell the student to make the shape. "Create an orange cube and a green ball."

7) Tell the student where to put the shape. "Put the green ball on top of the orange cube."

8) Continue having the student create shapes and having them place it with respect to a previous shape. 

9) When the exercise is finished, students can turn around and check if their model is exactly the same as yours. 

10) Pair students up and have them do this exercise with a partner, with the student sitting behind giving the instructions while creating the reference model, while the student in front creates their interpretation of the model based on what they hear.

11) Have students switch roles.

The biggest issue for this activity is that for the prepositions 'beside' and 'next to', students will have to clarify where exactly they should put the shape, whether it is to the left or right of another shape.

Another activity that students could do to practice this piece of grammar is to describe what they see in their neighbourhood and where everything is located.

Closing Notes

In addition to the above ideas, Playdoh can also be used to practice various functions of language. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to get in touch with me below! 



Aug 14, 2015 5:59am
Clever use of Playdoh. Some people have a hard time grasping concepts until they are shown something more visual. Welcome to InfoBarrel!
Aug 14, 2015 1:37pm
What fantastic activities for kinesthetic learners and for helping nervous learners to feel more relaxed! I love these hands on activities.
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