Environmental Geology > Teaching Activities > Playdough geology

Playdough geology

Lyn Gualtieri, Seattle University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: May 16, 2012


This activity utilizes kinestetic learning by having students make models of geologic concepts, landscapes and processes using playdough in the classroom.

Key words: kinestetic learning, playdough



This activity can be used in any level, but it is particularly appealing to introductory level, non-majors courses.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

There are no prerequisite skills for this activity. This activity assumes that students have read the assigned reading for the day.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity can be used as frequently as you wish. I use it the first day of class and all throughout the quarter.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This activity doesn't have a specific concept goal, but it is more so a teaching technique that can be used for any content goal.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This activity forces students to 1) think in three dimensions, 2) create with their own hands and 3) be creative

Other skills goals for this activity

This activity forces students to 1) take pride in something that they created with their own hands, 2) orally present their creation in an impromptu setting

Description and Teaching Materials

This is an informal, in-class activity in which students use playdough to create models of geologic processes, concepts or landforms. Students create their favorite type of plate boundary, glacial landform, volcano type etc.. via this kinestetic learning technique. This is an informal in class activity that students can do at the beginning of class in 5 minutes or less. Using playdough creates a playful and non-intimidating atmosphere in the classroom and provides a starting point for discussions. I use playdough in the classroom to immediately engage the students. I use playdough the first day of class as an "ice breaker" as I ask students to create a model of something that represents their summer/winter/spring break. We then all walk around the room to tour the models as each student gives a 1-2 minute presentation about their creation.

Teaching Notes and Tips

  1. Multiple colors of playdough are recommended for students to accurately portray rock or sediment layers.
  2. Playdough tools, such as scissors, plastic knives, rolling pins and other tools that help to create texture are helpful.
  3. Sometimes students just copy photos from the book. Encourage them not to do this but to come up with their own example.
  4. Sometimes it is useful to specify if you want a cross section model or a plan-view model.
  5. I usually give the students plenty of freedom in choosing what they want to model, but you might want to divide the classroom up into large sections so you have multiple groups making a model of the same concept/landform.
  6. Store playdough in ziplock bags to avoid drying out.


This is an informal, ungraded assignment, but you could set up a rubric if you wanted to grade the models for scientific accuracy and creativity. In my course all students orally present their model and I ask them questions to clarify any inconsistencies.

References and Resources

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