Shape Explorers


In this unit students identify attributes of 2D shapes and describe sides and corners of these shapes. They identify and classify shapes by name, number of sides and corners, and they describe 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. The emphasis in the early years of school should include: recognition and sorting of shapes, exploration of the shapes, and investigation of the properties of the shapes.

In the van Hiele model of geometric thinking there are five levels. The first  (Visualisation) is an emergent one where students recognise shapes by their appearance rather than their characteristics or properties. The second level (Analysis) is where students differentiate specific properties of shapes, for example, the number of sides a triangle has or the number of corners in a square. Students recognise certain properties that make one shape different from others.  This unit is focused on this second level of the van Hiele model.

This unit 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. 

As students progress through the curriculum levels, they will meet increasingly more sophisticated geometric objects and concepts. This progression involves the use of more precise geometrical terms and language. 

Required Resource Materials
  • Mosaic tiles
  • Attribute blocks
  • Geoboards
  • Rubber bands
  • Play-dough
  • A4 paper
  • Cut outs of shapes on coloured paper

Getting Started

In this session students are introduced to activities in which they explore the names of shapes and begin to use the words ‘side’ and ‘corner’ in describing shape attributes.

Shape Jumping

  1. Draw large shapes with chalk outside on the playground, or inside on the mat, or alternatively use large cut out shapes on the floor.  Create more than one of each shape. Students need quite a lot of space for this activity so outside is a good option.
  2. Students jump from shape to shape until the teacher stops them and calls either a shape name or attributes.  The students go to the shape that fits the description.
    Find a triangle.
    Find a shape with 4 sides all the same size.
    Find a shape with three corners.
  3. Once all the students have found a shape get them to look at the shape they are on and get one or two students to name the shape and to describe one attribute.
    What shape are you standing on?
    Tell me something you know about the shape.

Shape Walking

  1. Using the shapes for shape jumping, 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.


In the following days students can 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.

Shape pictures

  1. Students use cut out shapes to create pictures. A topic could be provided or students could be free to make pictures of their choice.
  2. Include the names of the shapes and how many of each shape they used.

Geoboard partners

  1. Students work in pairs to make shapes on the geoboards.
  2. One student gives an instruction and the other makes the shape.
    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. A collection of attribute shapes is placed into a feely bag.
  3. The students take turns at feeling a shape in the bag. They get the other student to guess the shape by asking questions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, until they are able to name the shape.
    Does the shape have 4 sides?
    Are all the sides the same size?
    Are all the corners the same?

Shapes in the Classroom

Students find objects in the classroom, which fit into shape categories. They draw or write the name of the objects alongside the shape name.

Play-dough Shapes

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

Shape Jumping

This can be continued independently (as above) by pairs of students.

Shape Walking

This can be continued independently (as above) by pairs of students.


On the fifth day we reflect on all the activities completed and use our knowledge of shape names and attributes to make ‘What am I?’ books to share with each other.

‘What 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?
  3. The teacher starts to list  things about the shape. Students put up 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.
  4. Introduce the idea of ‘What 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.
  5. Students work in pairs to make a ‘What am I?’ book for a chosen shape. Some students may make more than one.
  6. The students share their books with others in the class to see if they can guess the shape from the clues given.

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