First-grade students come from Kindergarten having learned basic shapes and geometry vocabulary. They will be ready to build upon those skills to continue to grow their geometry common core state standards expectations! Before promoting to second grade, first graders must understand how to work with composite shapes, geometric shapes, three-dimensional shapes, two-dimensional shapes, and partitioning circles and rectangles into equal parts to describe the equal shares or parts. In first grade, little learners are also expected to draw shapes to define their attributes. Here are the 1st Grade Geometry Standards:
Distinguish between defining attributes (e.g., triangles are closed and three-sided) versus non-defining attributes (e.g., color, orientation, overall size); build and draw shapes to possess defining attributes.
Compose two-dimensional shapes (rectangles, squares, trapezoids, triangles, half-circles, and quarter-circles) or three-dimensional shapes (cubes, right rectangular prisms, right circular cones, and right circular cylinders) to create a composite shape, and compose new shapes from the composite shape.
Partition circles and rectangles into two and four equal shares, describe the shares using the words halves, fourths, and quarters and use the phrases half of, fourth of, and a quarter of. Describe the whole as two of or four of the shares. Understand these examples that decomposing into more equal shares creates smaller shares.
These common core standards cover many new skills that may be challenging for some young learners. Here are 15 activities to use when little learners are working through the 1st-grade standards.
When teachers introduce new shapes or concepts, anchor charts are helpful and valuable for students. They provide a reference point for young learners when doing their work or needing a refresher. They are also beneficial to create when teaching a lesson because they will be something the students will visually see and recall what you said when they see the anchor chart. These are helpful not just with geometry; they are very helpful when teaching concepts that are built upon. For example, the teacher should reference the associative property of addition or any basic operations when teaching the different addition and subtraction strategies in 1st grade. It is helpful to refer back to past anchor charts, so students have a reference point. Many “I remember those!” moments will help make the lesson or independent work easier and more accessible for students.
The more a child practices and is exposed to shapes, the more it will become something they master. Just like number sense skills, the more opportunities students are given to practice with shapes and the attributes they have, the more they will become second nature. Using popsicle sticks to create 2D shapes with straight sides is a fun way for students to get hands-on practice understanding the attributes of new shapes they learn. Unlike addition word problems, these 2D shape word problems can give the attributes of the shape as clues, and young learners will build the shape based on the clues. This activity is an engaging one that even second or third-grade students find helpful and fun!
Flat 2D shapes are not the only shapes that can be built. Three-dimensional shapes can also be a hands-on building activity that is great for first-graders and even fourth-grade students! For 3D shapes with straight edges and faces, such as rectangular prisms, students can use toothpicks as sides and marshmallows or balls of playdough as vertices. This process encourages students to think about attributes to build the correct shapes. For 3D shapes with curves, such as circular cylinders or circular cones, students can use all playdough to build these shapes. This also helps students to understand what is meant when 3D shapes are called “solid figures.”
First-grade math worksheets can help with learning the attributes and understanding 2D and 3D shapes; however, building these shapes is helpful for hands-on learners and makes it a lot of fun!
Create an addition problem or number sentence with shapes for students to solve to make a new shape. For example,
The students would use paper cut-outs of the shape, Tangrams, or any blocks to help them solve the math problems. Using their understanding of addition problems and seeing composite shapes related to an addition problem further supports a student’s understanding that composite shapes are created with two or more basic shapes. This explanation will appear like a basic addition problem, but it really provides a better understanding of what composite shapes are and also provides hands-on practice. Students can even apply the commutative property of addition to this and see the same shape will be made no matter the order of the basic shapes. Therefore, this activity also helps with understanding the properties of operations!
Subtraction problems can be used when practicing composite shapes to make things a little more complex or challenging. Start with a composite shape and take away a basic shape to see what is left. For example,
Practicing writing subtraction equations with the shapes is a great visual to help students understand the meaning of the equal sign. To expand on this idea, students can write the subtraction equation from subtraction word problems about composite shapes. This is a different way of looking at subtraction facts, but what a fun way to review and practice composite shapes!
Just as you would when practicing subitizing with whole numbers in a ten frame or number line or how you would review subtraction fact families, this activity is a fun game in reviewing shapes, in particular composite shapes. Depending on their needs, your first-grade students can play this activity in different ways. To play, show a composite shape. Allow the students to look at it for a few seconds. Next, hide the picture and have the students draw the shapes that made up the composite shape or build it with blocks, Tangrams, or paper cut-outs. They will draw or create the shape from their memory. This task is challenging; however, it allows them to use all their knowledge of shapes and attributes. To introduce this activity, show the picture in color built with the actual basic shapes that make it up. This activity will help students to see the basic shapes and understand the game. Next, you can make it black and white, which might stretch their knowledge of the shapes. Last, show the outline of the composite shape so students must “see” the basic shapes that built the outline—allowing students to use concrete models to help them understand how to compose and decompose composite shapes is very engaging and crucial when teaching geometry.
Real World Scavenger Hunt
Sometimes little learners need a change of pace and scenery from the indoors and practice worksheets. Take your students outside on a shape hunt! When students are on the hunt outside for 2D or 3D shapes, have them draw what they see and label their pictures. Another option on a shape hunt is to take pictures of the objects the students find and create a class book of their hunt. You can incorporate writing into this math activity by having your first graders come up with a story problem for each shape they find. These story problems can go in the class shape book! What a fun memory to display at Open House for parents to read! Another option on this hunt is to create a bar graph of all the shapes they found. This can be a class graph where all students can share what they drew and found while on their hunt. The students can share their pictures and findings with their classmates, and then the results of comparisons can be discussed as a whole class. This task would bring some listening and speaking skills into math as well!
Geoboards have been around for a while but for a good reason! They help students to build and create the overall size of 2D shapes using geoboards and rubber bands. Geoboards are physical boards with pegs or nails half driven in the board and half pointing up (sharp side down, of course) and evenly spaced apart. The pegs or nails that are sticking up are there to wrap rubber bands around them to make a 2D shape. You can give young learners a shape and have them recreate it on their geoboard, or give them copies of a shorter object and see if they can enlarge it on their geoboard. As long as the pegs or nails are spaced out evenly on the geoboard, this will help students to understand the importance of the length of an object’s sides. For example, when creating a square on their geoboard, students must understand that the sides of a square are all equal. These are great for shape exploration as well as fine motor skill practice!
Crunch and Munch!
To continue to build on the attributes of 2D shapes, give students different shape crackers. Many crackers come in shapes, such as rectangles, squares, circles, triangles, hexagons, and more! Students have to name the shape of the cracker and write the whole unknown number for its sides and vertices.
Make printable worksheets of circles and rectangles and place them in sheet protectors. Students can use dry-erase markers to make equal parts. This activity helps them see that the more equal parts there are, the smaller shares are created. Students can use dry-erase markers to explore creating equal shares and erase as needed. After, they can use the phrases “half” or “quarter” to describe how they partitioned the shapes.
Playdough and Cookie Cutters
A great hands-on way to work with fractions is using circle or rectangle cookie cutters and playdough. Have students roll out the playdough and use a cookie cutter to make a perfect circle or rectangle. Next, use a popsicle stick to cut the whole into equal parts. This activity is a fun way to review math skills and build fine motor skills.
Real Life Fractions
Give students pictures of real-life objects shaped like a circle or rectangle, such as a plate, digital clocks, pizza, or clock face. Have students partition the picture into equal shares. This task will help them see things around them and break them into equal parts.
Give students several objects that are the same size and shape. For example, a plate and pizza are both circles. Have students divide the objects into halves or fourths, whatever you want them to work on. Then add a third object of the same size and shape, like a cookie for the previous example. Partition the third object the same way. Students can discuss how the size of the shares compares when divided into fourths and halves. This discussion will help with the common core math standard part, which covers a student’s understanding of how the share size gets smaller as the number of equal parts gets larger.
Divide sticky notes into equal and unequal parts can help create a class sort. Give each student a sticky note and have them put it under the heading “Equal Parts” or “Unequal Parts,” depending on what their sticky note shows. This class sort can also be used for sorting “halves” and “fourths.” In some special cases, students can show the written numeral form of the fraction. This knowledge is the foundation for the math skills required for understanding fractions.
A 1st-grade math worksheet is helpful for independent geometry work or homework. These provide an opportunity to show you what they know through a variety of ways. Thes ways include coloring to distinguish certain shapes based on their attributes, sorting by the number of equal shares, drawing the standard form of a basic shape to make a new composite shape, and so much more!
Many math stories cover topics like two-digit numbers, addition facts, and algebraic thinking, but there are some great ones just for geometry! Here is a small list of some wonderful geometry stories:
- If You Were a Polygon by Marcie Aboff
- Grandfather Tang’s Story: A Tale Told with Tangrams by Ann Tompert
- Icky Bug Shapes By Jerry Pallotta
- Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes By Roseanne Thong
- Shapes That Roll By Karen Nagel
- Fraction Action By Loreen Leedy
- The Doorbell Rang By Pat Hutchins
Geometry can be a challenging concept for some first-grade students, but engaging and varied activities will help reinforce and practice these skills!