Not many of the tasks I post about here happen due to careful, calculated efforts on my part. Sometimes I am simply riffing from another idea I see. Sometimes it is out of sheer necessity. Sometimes it is pure luck. Such is the case with this task: it was pure luck that I happened to have in my classroom, stuck in the closet, three different sizes of Play-Doh canisters awaiting purpose. And a game is born. 

The canisters happened to be empty because, as it is in life, Play-Doh when played with enough is eventually left out or falls on the floor or is eaten by hungry students and thus an empty container is born. Luckily for my students, I never throw anything away that has a lid. Everything is useful. (Seriously, the smallest containers have been in my classroom since January 2012. I'm not even sure we used the fake-doh that was in the canister because my paraprofessional would not permit it. She said, "It's fake!")

So gather the Play-Doh containers, grab an empty shoe box, and sort through your box of random or leftover manipulatives and, Voila!, a sorting, ordering, sequencing task is born. 

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For the most part the lid colors are the same. Only the smallest green lid differs from the two larger green canisters. There was no intent here; just what was available. I will probably rectify this at some point in the future–and if you want to use this task, you should probably just build it correctly to begin with–but for now, it is sufficient. 

You can see that the three canisters in each column are of three distinct sizes. There are also four distinct colors. You can use any colors you like, but I chose simple colors for the purpose of this task for a specific reason: there are objects inside the canisters that match the canister lids. 

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Notice also that the sizes of the objects are also relative: small, medium, and large. These objects fit inside the small, medium, and large Play-Doh canisters according to color. Really, this task is about as simple as it gets. 

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Below is the jumbled mess. You can start the task here by asking the students to sort the objects by size, by matching the manipulatives to the correct canister size, or matching by color. Frankly, you can have students work this task any way you like. That's what is fun about it. (I start with all the lids off the containers too just to make the mess in the box look even worse.) Differentiate the task by including less objects and/or less containers. Some students may need only one size; some may need only one color; others may need only one set of objects. Really, it's up to you. 

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At the end, all the pieces fit nicely into an empty shoe box for safe and convenient storage. You may want more uniformity in your choice of objects that go inside the Play-Doh canisters. That's fine. Honestly, I should probably be more concerned about it, but again, for now, it works just the same. 

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This task came together in a matter of about 10 minutes or so. It was easy to build and it will be a nice addition to our classroom curriculum. And not only that, but we have saved space in our local landfill by keeping 12 empty Play-Doh cans and a shoebox out of it. 

I would categorize this as a math task; however, we are also working with fine motor skills too. It is a chore for the students to remove and put the lids on the Play-Doh containers so they will have to work at it. I also use tasks like this for measuring what I call 'time on task.' That is, it's a long task that I want the student to work at for more than 5 minutes. 

So enjoy the task. Let me know about your use and variations on the task. I'm always happy to hear from readers. 

Related articles

Building Curriculum: Recycle, Reuse
Cereal boxes, breakfast bars, etc: Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle, pt 3
Recycle, Reuse: Country Time Lemonade Containers & Film Containers
I Love Old Shoe-Boxes: Recyle, Reuse, pt 2
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