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Back to School – Getting Students Talking

Helping Your Students to Connect 

The first few days back to school can be a difficult time getting students talking in front of the entire class. 

Get your students talking with play doh back to school activity Terri's Teaching Treasures

I have worked at a few schools in my small district and I saw the same thing happening each year. Students tend to need some coaxing to take to the whole class. 

Maybe they are new to the school. Maybe there are new students they don’t know. Maybe you are new to them. Whatever the reason, I love to hear my students share their summer adventures and I don’t want these reasons to stop them.

I have no idea where I read/saw/listened to this idea but I have used it ever since discovering it and I want to share it with you. 

This is THE ONE activity that has EVERY student talking no matter how nervous or shy they are. The best part is you only need 1 supply.

OK Here it is…

Play Doh is the magic supply!!!! No I am not getting paid to write this post ( I wish I was though…lol) so if you don’t want to use brand name Play Doh go ahead and use whatever you have. I am not that cool teacher who makes my own dough and it certainly doesn’t taste (we all know we have kids who eat the stuff) or smell as good as the homemade dough, but I stick to using my debit card to get store bought Play Doh. 

Here’s how I use it

I give each student a can of Play Doh and emphasize that the color does not matter in any way. If they switch color with someone I don’t draw attention to it or it will become a thing. I just look the other way. 

I tell them to build ANYTHING that has to do with their summer. I know that not all students go on elaborate family vacations or do cool things with their bajillion cousins so that is why I make a big deal about building anything that relates to their summer in any way.

If they ate 137 hot dogs they could build a hot dog. If they slept in every day they could build a bed (tons of comfy pillows are needed for this one). If they saw a snake they can make a snake. Seriously anything is a go. 

This student did a lot of camping with her family so she is creating a campsite scene.

I usually give them about 10 minutes but this can be altered if they need more or less time. I also tell them not to share their ideas as they are building. They will have time for that later. 

When they are all done, I give them a couple minutes to share with a person next to them what they built and how it relates to their summer. This is the part that I have to watch the clock carefully because they will just keep talking if I let them. 

This student was creative and used the lid from her Play Doh as a boat. She was creating a fishing scene because she did a lot of fishing with her dad.

After they have shared with their partner, we do a gallery walk.  We line up and then slowly walk around the desks admiring (and trying to silently guess) what everyone made. Remind them to look with their eyes not their hands. 

We head back to our seats and now is the time to watch all the hands shoot up. I am not kidding here. Try it and you will see.

I learned VERY quickly that this guy loves pizza. Everything he did that year had to do with pizza.

I ask if anyone wants to share what they built and how it relates to their summer. I let everyone who wants to share have a turn. You can do what you see fit for your class but I do not limit the amount of time they can talk and they get to pick 2 people to ask a question when they are done. 

This part takes the most time but I guarantee by the time you are finished everyone will have wanted to share and it sets the stage for future sharing in your classroom. 

At The End

When we are all finished with the activity, I let my students keep their can of Play Doh in their desks. I tell them that if it dries out… oh well. If they lose it… oh well. AND if I find it on the floor it goes in the garbage… uh oh. 

They are allowed to play with it while waiting for breakfast (they get breakfast served in the classroom), when they are all done everything else, or when I say it is free time. They are pretty good at sticking to the rules. 

Take Notice

One thing I always watch for while students are working is who is repeatedly starting over or who needs some more reassurance that they don’t have to create a perfect masterpiece. This helps me identify who may need some extra growth mindset and positive self-talk guidance in the future. 

Have fun with your students on the first day and don’t worry about academics. Academics can come once they feel like they belong to the class and are welcome.

If you want to save this post for later, here is an image to pin to Pinterest. 

Another Fun Back to School Activity

If you are looking for more activities to fill your first week of school here is a FREE word search that I have my students do with a partner or trio. There are 100 words to find!


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