Play-Doh and the Writing Process

The art of writing is very similar to that of creating a sculpture. They both follow a familiar process.

By Shay Kornfeld

There is no secret to “good” writing, just as there is no magic involved in creating an aesthetically pleasing painting or playing an instrument beautifully. Certain steps must always be followed in order to produce an outcome that pleases the artist and their audience alike. Writing with clarity is a skill that can be mastered by anyone. Illuminating words, sentences, and paragraphs on the page is as easy as molding a figure out of clay. Both have a precise method that should be followed; the processes are more similar than one may believe.

You can tell students about the similarity between creating a clay figure and writing a story as you walk around passing out a paper plate and a hand full of Play-Doh (or home made clay using flour and water). Just like you would with a free writing exercise, let students experiment; in this case with the clay for a minute. Let them mold it, bend it, and fold it around their fingers before giving instructions and explaining the rules you would like them to follow. I usually stick with the simple rule: keep what’s yours, yours, and what’s your neighbors, your neighbors.

Step 1: Prewriting

Have students use a think-pair-share to talk about the idea they would like to follow when they mold with their clay. Let them draw a picture first if they choose. Ask them to consider the audience who will view their masterpiece when it is finished. They can brainstorm with classmates, look around the class for inspiration, and list their ideas together.

Step 2: Drafting

In the drafting stage, students take the ideas they discussed and mold a rough outline of what they would like to create. Tell them not to worry about their work being perfect, and that they do not have to include details such as eyes, noses, and ears. As they work, have them show their figure to others to get suggestions and feedback.

Step 3: Revising

During the revising stage students should work on making their creation better. They should think about what others said and imagine what their ball of clay can turn into. Students can envision it, and then make it come to life. They can add details, and rearrange clay by putting it in other places on the sculpture. When they are done they should share with their classmates again and get input.

Step 4: Proofreading

The next step is the proofreading stage in which students make their creation adhere to their vision. If students are making a creature, they should be sure the nose is where they want it to be, and the eyes have pupils. They can change parts of the sculpture that don’t look as clean and perfect as others. This is also the time for students to evaluate what they like and why they like it. Students can have someone check their work and ask for their opinion. They can suggest areas for improvement. People don't improve if everyone agrees with them all the time. We all need opposition. It is very important to listen to what others have to say if you want to better yourself.

Step 5: Publishing

When they are finished, students can share their project with the class. Have students come up to the front of the class one by one and show off their work. Discuss what they like best about it, and have them share the constructive criticism that helped them perfect their creation.

As you go through the steps with them, and their hands are busy molding, write these steps on a big piece of paper in a T-chart formation comparing “molding clay” to “writing a story.” Write down the five steps they are following and ask them to think about what they would change when approaching the writing process instead of the molding process.  Have them write their very own class five steps to writing which correlate to the process they followed for designing their clay figures. Instead of drawing what their clay will look like, they can draw a scene showing where their story takes place.  As opposed to adding detail to their eyes, they can add adjectives to their writing. Just as they had to clarify unclear areas in their clay figure, they also have to clear up omissions in their writing. I hope your students enjoy this hands-on way to approach the writing process, and that the ideas will stay with them forever.

Writing Process Lesson Plans:

5 Senses

This is a fantastic lesson for exploring the five senses. It is great for introducing adjectives into writing.

Properties of Clay

By giving students a good look at artifacts that have been sculpted out of clay, you can help them find inspiration for their own art.

The Clay Pot That You Built

This is a fun story that has an activity that encourages students to become one with the object that they are creating.