Teaching 3D Shapes


A few years ago they added 3D shapes to our Y5 report card standards. I thought, terrific, how am I going to do that?  My students don’t even know the flat shapes!  Do I teach them after they learn the flat shapes, or do I teach them at the same time?  I decided it would be less confusing if I waited ‘til my students had mastered one-dimensional shapes and then introduce this new concept during the second semester and teach it much the same way that I do the

latter and it has worked just fine.  3-D Shape Book.

                                                                 teaching 3D shapes, 3 dimensional shapes, sphere, cone, cylinder, cube


Get Parents Involved:

I get parents on board and we work as a team.  It’s always been my philosophy that Together Everyone Achieves More.  To make this fun for them I recently dreamed up a Shape Scavenger Hunt. Click on the link to view/print the flashcards.  

Post the shapes in the room: I think “A picture is worth a 1000 words.” is especially important for young children.  I have a 3D poster that I purchased at a teacher store,

I have 3 (small, medium and large) yellow, lime green, and turquoise spheres dangling from the middle of my ceiling.

A foam dice (cube), plastic ice cream cone (cone), foil-wrapped toilet paper tube (cylinder) and a plastic ornament (sphere) shapes are stuck to my calendar bulletin board. (We review the shapes whenever we do calendar.)

I have a "What 3-D Shape is our Mystery Shape Today?"  laminated-hinged sign on the black board. Underneath the sign is a picture of one of the 3D shapes.  I call on a quiet child to take a guess, and then reveal the shape.  Click on the link to view/print one for your room.


Play Games:

To help get my students familiar with the shapes and the vocabulary I play familiar games with them.  I print off two pictures of each shape and laminate them and then I hang them from the ceiling in each corner of my room with fish line.  I can refer to them anytime during the day as well as play the game “Four Corners”. Click on the link to view/print the shape signs.  

3 D Shape-Four Corners: I choose a child to be “It” and cover their eyes.  We count backwards from 10-0 while the rest of the students quietly scamper to a corner.  When we get to 0 “It” calls out “Freeze!”  Anyone not in a corner/under a 3D shape-sign or moving and not frozen is out and must come sit on the carpet with me.  “Its” eyes are still covered.  They call out a 3D shape.  All of the students in that shape corner are out and come sit on the carpet.  The first “It” joins the rest of the students who are not out.  I choose a new “It” from the out students and play continues ‘til there is only one person left.

What’s Missing? Students sit in a circle.  Run off a set of 3D shape pieces, laminate and cut them out.  Follow the directions on the game sheet.  Click on the link to view/print the What's Missing Shape Game.

Flashcard Flip: I print off several sets of the flashcards, laminate and cut them out.  Punch a hole in one corner and put them on a split ring.  I keep these by my rocking chair and during reading or calendar time I take the cards off the ring and flip them over really fast.

The child who identifies the card first gets to hold it.  The student who has the most cards by the time I get through flipping through the entire pack gets a sticker or 2 Smartie candies.  Everyone gets one for participating.  (These cards were in the Letter home link above.)

Dice Games: Each week we play a dice game.  I always ask my students what shape the dice are.  All of my units have 2 dice games included in them.

Manipulatives: When my students play with perfectly square blocks I have them refer to them as cubes.  I’ll give them time to play with Unifix cubes and have them do patterning and addition and subtraction activities with them using the word cube as we work.  I’ve made monthly mats specifically for this purpose.  Click on the link to view/print “We’re in a Unifix”

Because catching and tossing is one of our standards, I’ll use a variety of balls and have students say “Sphere!” when they catch it.  I also have a rubber ice cream cone and rubber can from our kitchen set and we’ll toss those and say “cone” and “cylinder” as well.


Use Food:

Children enjoy eating to help learn and snack foods provide the perfect lesson.  When my students are learning the “flat” shapes I buy skinny pretzels and let them make the shapes out of the pretzels and then eat them.  For the 3D shapes I buy Bugles for cones, cheese balls for spheres, croutons for cubes, and a large marshmallow for a great cylinder. 

I read about another teacher using combos which I think is another yummy alternative! You can have your students eat one of each and then glue each one to a strip of construction paper and then label them.  Instead of gluing a marshmallow, we use an uncooked noodle. I buy the large straight ones that are great for making necklaces.


Art Projects:

 I include at least one 3D-shaped art project each month.  This usually turns out to be a cylinder, which is OK, because that seems to be the term that is the most difficult for my students to remember.  Cylinder projects have been toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, tin cans and rolled paper (windsocks).  For a cute March windsock check out the St. Patrick’s day article.  We made a cone-shaped tee pee tent in November.


Tabletop Lessons and skill sheets:

My students complete patterns, play “I Spy”,  match real counter parts and count 3D shapes for various lessons so that they get used to seeing these shapes.  These skill sheets are found in my 44-page Learning 3D Shapes Book.

Also included in that book are 2 Easy Reader Booklets, which is another way my students become familiar with this concept.  In both booklets they TRACE and then WRITE the sentence, and then they CUT and GLUE the appropriate shape to the page.  There’s a graphing extension for one booklet and certificates of praise for both. 

Self-esteem is built because most students can read both of these books by the end of the day whenever I teach them.  I incorporate our simple and most-used word-wall words.  The 3D shapes are reinforced and the pictures of "real-life" objects help them to get a handle on the 3D shape as a real "thing" and not just a block-like object.

I hope that you got some tips to help things shape up for your students!

I’d enjoy hearing how you go about teaching 3D shapes and what’s working for you. diane@teachwithme.com

Something new: While searching the web today I found a site that has free down loads so that you can print off masters to made the paper 3D shapes.  This would be too difficult for my students, but I'm going to make them myself so that I can display the before and after in my classroom.  Click on the link if you're interested.

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