Shape Explorers

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In this unit students identify and describe the attributes of 2D shapes (i.e. sides and corners). They apply this knowledge to classify shapes by name, number of sides and corners, and to describe the similarities and differences between shapes.

Achievement Objectives
GM1-2: Sort objects by their appearance.
Specific Learning Outcomes
  • Use the language ‘side’ and ‘corner’ in describing shapes.
  • Classify 2D shapes according to how many sides they have.
  • Identify 2D shapes by name.
Description of Mathematics

Spatial understandings are necessary for interpreting and understanding our geometric environment. Therefore, in the early years of schooling, emphasis should focus on the recognition, sorting, and exploration of shapes, and investigation into the properties of the shapes.

In the van Hiele model of geometric thinking there are five levels. The first (visualisation) is an emergent one in which students recognise shapes by their appearance rather than their characteristics or properties. The second level (analysis) involves students differentiating between specific properties of shapes, for example, the number of sides a triangle has or the number of corners in a square. Within this, students recognise certain properties that make one shape different from others. This builds on the ideas introduced in the unit Shape Makers and focuses on the exploration of 2D shapes, their properties and the mathematical language associated with them. It is therefore focused on this second level of the van Hiele model.

Opportunities for Adaptation and Differentiation

The learning opportunities in this unit can be differentiated by providing or removing support to students and by varying the task requirements. Ways to differentiate include:

  • extending the range of shapes you use in each activity, ensuring students use correct names for each (square, circle, triangle, rectangle (oblong), hexagon...)
  • exploring digital shape models
  • encouraging students to cut out their own shapes for the "Shape pictures" activity
  • providing opportunities for students to work in pairs and small groups in order to encourage peer learning, scaffolding, extension, and the sharing and questioning of ideas
  • working alongside individual students (or groups of students) who require further support with specific area of knowledge or activities.

The activities in this unit can be adapted to make them more interesting by adding contexts that are familiar to your students. For example, you could look for shapes in the local community, either by going for a short walk or by looking at pictures.

Te reo Māori kupu such as āhua (shape), tapa (side), and kokonga (corner) could be introduced in this unit and used throughout other mathematical learning.

Required Resource Materials
  • Whistle
  • Chalk or masking tape
  • Mosaic tiles
  • Attribute blocks
  • Geoboards and rubber bands (a digital model could be used)
  • Play-dough
  • A4 paper
  • Cut outs of shapes on coloured paper

Getting Started

This session uses two games to help students explore the names of shapes and begin to use the words ‘side’ and ‘corner’ in describing shape attributes. You could use any misconceptions or gaps in knowledge highlighted in these activities as the base for subsequent, targeted whole class/small group teaching.

Shape Jumping

  1. As a class, discuss the kinds of shapes students are familiar with. Encourage students to describe the shapes. As discussion progresses, create a mind map (including pictures of the shapes) that displays students' ideas. 
  2. Provide students with chalk or masking tape and an open space. Have them draw or create large shapes (more than one of each). 
  3. Have students stand back from the shapes to listen to your instructions. Explain to the class that they are to jump from shape to shape until the teacher blows the whistle. When they hear the whistle they need to stop and listen. The teacher will call out a shape name or description. The students are to jump to a shape that fits the description or name.
    Find a triangle.
    Find a shape with 4 sides all the same size.
    Find a shape with three corners.
  4. Once all the students have found a shape get them to look at the shape, name the shape, and to describe one attribute.
    What shape are you standing on?
    Tell me something you know about the shape.
  5. Alternatively, you could play a game of Make-a-shape. Play some music and have students move (e.g. skip, run, jump, dance) around an open space. Stop the music and either say the name or hold up a picture of a shape. Students have to work with the people around them to make this shape.

Shape Walking

  1. Using the shapes created for shape jumping, have students explore sides and corners by walking around the shapes.
  2. Use the words along for sides and around for corners.
    Choose a shape and stand on one of the sides. Walk along the side of the shape.
    Now go around the corner.
    Walk along the next side and around the next corner.
    How many sides and how many corners are there on your shape?
  3. Walk around school buildings and/or around the shapes painted for netball and tennis courts. Get the students to give directions to one another about walking along the sides and around the corners of buildings or shapes.


Provide opportunities for students to explore shape attributes and shapes through a variety of activities and materials. The students could be grouped and rotated around the activities or could be given a contract to complete activities and then given the choice of which activities to do and when. Make sure you model each task. Again, consider what small group/whole class lessons could fit in with these activities. Perhaps you could begin with a whole class review in each session, before allowing students to work across the stations.

Shape pictures

  1. Students are to cut out shapes to create pictures. A topic (perhaps one that is relevant to students' interests, cultures, and learning from other curriculum areas) could be provided or students could be free to make pictures of their choice.
  2. Have students include the names of the shapes and how many of each shape they used.

Geoboard partners

  1. Have students work in pairs to make shapes on the Geoboards (a digital model could be used).
  2. For this, one student needs to give an instruction. The other student needs to make the shape. For example:
    Make a shape with 4 sides.
    Make a shape with 3 corners.
  3. Encourage the students to give specific instructions.
    Did your partner make the right shape?
    What else did you need to tell them?
    Did you need to say how long the sides should be?

Feely Bag guessing

  1. Students work in pairs using feely bags and attribute shapes.
  2. Place a collection of attribute shapes inside a feely bag.
  3. Have students take turns at feeling a shape in the bag. Once they feel a shape, their partner needs to guess the shape by asking questions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Eventually, the partner should name the shape. The shape should be taken out of the bag and the partners should check to see if it is the correct shape.
    Does the shape have 4 sides?
    Are all the sides the same size?
    Are all the corners the same?

Shapes in the Classroom

Have students find objects in the classroom that fit into shape categories. They can draw or write the name of the objects alongside the shape name.

Play-dough Shapes

  1. Have students use play-dough snakes to make shapes.
  2. Students can locate mosaic tiles or attribute blocks to match the shapes they have made.

The above activities, Shape Jumping and Shape Walking, can also be continued by pairs of students.


On the fifth day, reflect on all the activities completed. Use the creation of a ‘What Shape am I?’ books to encourage students to apply their knowledge.

‘What Shape am I?’ Book

  1. Gather the students on the mat. Talk about the shapes that they have been exploring over the last few days. Share some of the activities that the students have completed and talk about the shapes and their attributes.
  2. Play ‘I’m thinking of a shape’.
    I’m thinking of a shape. Can you guess what it is?
    Starts to list things about the shape. Students should raise their hands and make suggestions about which shape it is.
    The shape has 4 sides.
    The shape has 4 corners all the same size.
    The shape has two long sides and two shorter sides.
    This is the shape of the classroom door.
    The student who guesses the shape then has a turn at describing a new shape.
  3. Introduce the idea of ‘What Shape am I?’ books. Use A4 paper folded in half. On the inside of the ‘book’ draw a shape or paste in a cut out shape. On the outside cover of the book get the students to suggest clues and record these. The recording part of this could be done in writing.
  4. Have students work in pairs to make a ‘What Shape am I?’ book for a chosen shape. Some students may make more than one.
  5. Provide time for students to share their books with others in the class. They should see if their peers can guess the shape from the clues given.
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Level One