Lesson 1: Making a Test Batch

Students work in pairs to make their first batch of playdough, using tablespoons to measure specific quantities of flour, salt, water and oil. It is anticipated that this first batch will be unsuccessful for most pairs based on predictable counting and measurement errors, and that there will be little consistency in the results from batch to batch. The lesson culminates in a whole class mathematical discussion that will set students up for success in their subsequent iterations of playdough making.The discussion focuses on SMP 5 — Using Appropriate Tools Strategically and SMP 6 — Attending to Precision.


Safe Delivery Warm Up

5 min


Cover tables with butcher paper/table cloth/newspaper for easy clean up.  

Table materials:  

  • 1 container of flour
  • 1 container of water
  • 1 container of salt if there are 3 pairs at the table
  • 1 complete set of Safe Delivery Cards, pre-cut and paper-clipped

Materials Per Pair:

  • 1 Tablespoon
  • 1 Bowl
  • 1 washrag


This warm up is for students to become familiar with the idea of wet vs. dry ingredients and to practice sharing ingredients with table group and transporting ingredients from the storage containers to their batch. Students practice one-to-one correspondence while counting out spoonfuls of water and flour. The goal is to mitigate mess and conflict and alert students to an important initial aspect of attending to precision — careful counting when making recipes. 

Launch (narrative could include comments on timing)

For the next few math lessons students will follow recipes and make batches of playdough using a few different set and dry ingredients. Before starting with the real recipe, students practice working with the ingredients for three reasons: 

  • to share our resources with our whole table. 
  • to convey ingredients from storage containers to batches without making a mess
  • to practice “partner counting” with one-to-one correspondence while scooping in order to have more accuracy when following recipes for the actual batches.    

Students also need experience reading the three kinds of information in a recipe: to share our resources with our whole table. 

  • What ingredient
  • What measuring tool
  • How many measures. 

Let students know that for all the playdough recipes they will make, they will use Tablespoons and that Tablespoon is always abbreviated with a CAPITAL T.  (You may mention and show a teaspoon that is smaller and uses a lower case t. )  

Students are already in pairs at their tables use the “safe delivery cards” to practice reading these 3 things. They take turns with one partner reading the card then counting quietly aloud while the other partner scoops the correct number of Tablespoons into the bowl. One pair at the table starts practicing with water while the other pair practices with flour (3 minutes).  Students then carefully put your ingredient back in its container and wipe out the bowl with the washrag. Students then switch ingredients and cards and repeat the process (3 minutes). Note: If there are three pairs at the table add the salt cards and increase the timing to include 3 rotations. 

Task Statement

In partners practice reading recipe elements, practice moving ingredients from containers to batches without making a mess, and practice counting tablespoonfuls of wet and dry accurately.

Orchestrating and Monitoring (narrative could include comments on timing)

Add a note about monitoring for on task work.  

Mathematical concepts to monitor during the warmup include:

  • 1-to-1 correspondence between the scooper and the counter (Take anecdotal records; it is okay to respond to what you see if it might be helpful to a pair) 
  • Iterating the same size unit when measuring and use of measuring tools (It is useful for the teacher to be aware of different ways students are doing this, but DO NOT RESPOND to what you see at this point. Take anecdotal records including photos if possible.)

Be sure to read the section on anticipated misconceptions and challenges as they explain why you should/shouldn’t respond based on your observations.  

Discussion (could be synthesis; narrative could include comments on timing)

After everyone has had time to practice counting tablespoons with wet and dry ingredients, have class stop the warm up in order to transition to activity 2.  Ask students what helped them be successful and what they learned about careful transport and keeping track of counting with a partner. Collect the Safe Delivery Cards.  

Anticipated Solutions


Anticipated Misconceptions and Challenges

  • 1-to-1 correspondence between the scooper and the counter — You may notice that some partners are not working in concert with counting corresponding with scooping, or that there are errors in the counting sequence (e.g., double counting, skipping numbers, numbers out of order).  You may want to remind students that they want to do slow and careful work and listen carefully to their partner’s counting so they will have the best possible results when they’re following a real recipe. 1-to-1 correspondence is a developmental step in counting and for some students it does happen later than for others, and it develops with experience. So, if students are not demonstrating consistent proficiency, this is an opportunity for them to practice with their partner’s guidance.  
  • Iterating the same size unit when measuring — You will notice that students are very inconsistent in how they use their tablespoons, especially with the dry ingredients.  Some will have heaping spoonfuls, others will have half-empty spoons, and a few who have experience cooking may have level spoonfuls. Some may use the same technique repeatedly, while others are sometimes have heaping and sometime empty Tablespoons.  Make notes of the kinds of spoonfuls you see, and record some notes to be used later. — While it may be tempting to offer students suggestions at this point for how to make more accurate measurements, do not do so. The whole class discussion at the end of the first Maker lesson is based upon students having the opportunity to discover for themselves that their recipes all came out differently because they didn’t all use the tool in the same way.

Images For Classroom Use 

Safe Delivery Practice Cards
(1 set per 2 pairs, pre-cut and paper-clipped by ingredient)

Safe Delivery Extra Card Set
(if there are 3 pairs per table, pre cut and paper-clipped)

Student Online Materials 

Make a Test Batch

20 min (including discussion and clean up)


Students are already seated at their covered tables in pairs with the materials used in Activity 1.  To those, add to each table: 

  • Container of Salt
  • Container of Oil
  • Sharpie marker

Materials per pair: 

  • 1 blue recipe card per pair
  • 1 silicon mixing spoon
  • 1 quart-sized ziptop bag


During this activity, in pairs students will make their first batch of playdough by following the recipe and counting out the appropriate number of tablespoons for each ingredient. It is quite likely that this recipe will not work well due to measurement errors by students. Though sometimes difficult for teachers, allowing this variation in student measurements is essential. The variation in batches naturally leads students to wonder about why their batches didn’t work and/or turned out differently from everyone else’s. This lays the groundwork for a synthesis discussion about the need for conventional ways of using measurement tools and attending to precision when measuring (e.g., that measuring entails using the same sized unit repeatedly to measure accurately). 

Launch (narrative could include comments on timing) 

Students will make their first batch of playdough as the basis for their whole class discussion about measurement and precision.  The making should take less than 5 minutes, followed by a 5-10 minute discussion and clean up.

Task Statement

In partners, work together to follow the recipe step-by-step. 

  1. label your bag with your names.  
  2. Take turns being the scooper and being the reader/counter until you have completed your batch of playdough.  The counter has a three very important jobs. 
    1. reads the ingredient and the number of spoonfuls needed
    2. hold the bag open for the scooper
    3. quietly counts aloud at the same time the scooper spoons. 
  3. Once all the ingredients are in the bag, add 3 drops of food coloring (6 drops all together).  Then zip the top and knead the playdough inside the bag until your practice batch is well incorporated.  Then each partner can and you can take turns kneading it more by hand out of the back.   
  4. Once all the groups are done, we’ll have a whole-class conversation about how the batches turned out, about our counting and measuring strategies, and about ideas for how to improve our making for tomorrow. 

Orchestrating and Monitoring (narrative could include comments on timing)

While partners work, the teacher should circulate to ensure that partners are staying on task, taking turns, and adhering to the quantities in their recipes.  

Encourage patterns to listen to and watch each other while spooning and counting in order to have one-to-one correspondence and counting that is as accurate as possible. 

Take anecdotal records about one-to-one correspondence and counting.  If possible, also take photos that capture the variety in students’ spooning techniques.  (See sample photos in the images for classroom use section). These can be used later during the synthesis discussion).  

While it is tempting to help students create leveled spoonfuls, the following synthesis conversation requires variation in students’ work.  When student notice the variation themselves, the need for precision when following a recipe will be far more meaningful and personal, and they are more likely to develop a conceptual understanding of why we measure precisely.    

Discussion (could be synthesis; narrative could include comments on timing) 

Students should bring their batches to the whole group discussion in sealed bags. Questions for students should include: 

  • What do you notice about our batches? (are they the same or different? In what ways?) 
  • Are all of our batches good playdough?  Why? Why not? What makes good playdough?  
  • Why would they be different if we all followed the same recipe?  (errors in counting; not spooning in the same way; not spooning consistently).  
  • In our next lesson we’re going to make 2 more batches.  What should we do differently to improve our results?  

Big idea:  Recipes are lists of steps to be followed and they were created so that there could be consistent results.  In order for that to actually happen we need to try to be as precise as possible in 2 ways. Counting and Using our measuring tools (Tablespoons).  

Big idea:  In measuring, we have standardized units of measure that help us be consistent, regardless of who is doing the measuring, when, where, etc.  We communicate quantities to each other when we use measurements and we always want to be sure that a tablespoon is a tablespoon is a tablespoon.  So we agree how to use the tool so that there isn’t too much or too little in the spoon. We call this a level Tablespoon. We can use our fingers or another tool to level it off if it is a dry ingredient.  Wet ingredients usually level themselves off, so we just have to be sure the spoon is full.  

Show students the digital photos that were taken while students did their warm up and first batch to illustrate how different the spoonfuls could be. (Note:  if no photos available, use the ones in the images for classroom use section.  

Anticipated Solutions

Playdough batches will vary widely in their success.  Allow this to happen.  

Anticipated misconceptions and challenges

It is expected that many students will not have significant experiences with using cooking measuring tools and that they be inconsistent individually and collectively in terms of how full their tablespoons are.  Allow this inconsistency. It is part of the plan and an important thing for students themselves to notice and wonder about.  

It is also possible that some students will still struggle with counting accurately up to 16.  Working with their partners should and counting slowing should help with this but if there are minor counting errors, the recipes in this lesson and the next shouldn’t be a total loss.  

Images for Classroom Use 


Blue Playdough Recipe

  • 16T Flour
  • 4T Water
  • 2T Oil
  • 2T Salt
  • 6 Drops of blue food coloring


Student Online Materials (will be links for teacher to post) 

Lesson Synthesis (conceptual, maker ideas, math content, generative--set stage for next lesson) 

After making their first batch and discussing strategies for more precise measurement and counting of our ingredients, we’re ready for tomorrow any making two more batches based on different recipes.  We’ll try to figure out which ingredients help make our playdough better and in what ways. Once we’ve made those two other recipes, we’ll get a chance to come back to this blue playdough and try to improve it based on what we’ve learned.  So be thinking about if it needs to be wetter or dryer, or smoother (etc.).   

In order to be ready for the rest of our day today and for our next playdough making session tomorrow we need to clean up our tables carefully.  

  • All the ingredient containers …
  • mixing and measuring tools …
  • bags of playdough…
  • table coverings…  

When we start tomorrow we’ll want to be able to set up our tables for making playdough in the same way.  


Activity 1:  “Safe Delivery” Warm Up: 10 minutes

Activity 2: Make a Test Batch & Debrief: 10 minutes