Use a Non-standard Unit to Measure

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SWBAT measure length using nonstandard units.

Big Idea

In this lesson students will use color tiles to measure classroom objects.

Activating Strategy

10 minutes

I begin this lesson by playing this game.  This game introduces the concept of measuring using nonstandard units.  The key component to this lesson is to get the students to understand making an approximate guess and using them term "about" when referring to units of measurement.  

When I play this game, I project it onto the SmartBoard, and call students up using random sticks to have a turn at the board.  My students love playing these games

After playing the game, I put the students in groups and give each group a classroom object, such as a pen, paintbrush, pencil, etc.  I then instruct them to look in the classroom for an object that is longer and shorter than their object.

After about 5 minutes, I reassemble the class.

Teaching Strategies

15 minutes

I like to use color tiles for the nonstandard measuring unit for this lesson.  They are easy to manipulate and they also present the idea that we measure length with the same-size unit.  If color tiles aren't available, connecting cubes will work as well.  (MP5)

Children will make rows of color tiles to approximate the lengths of a variety of objects and express the lengths of the objects using the term about. This term indicates the approximate nature of measurement. Avoid using exactly the same length or exactly four color tiles long as you guide children through the lesson.

Experiences using nonstandard units to measure length help children connect measurement with everyday objects. It prepares them for using standard measurement tools and units.

After handing out the color tiles, I have model how to use them to measure a pencil.  I like to model this so that they can see how to line up the tiles end to end, and to demonstrate that our measurements won’t be exact.

I then give each student a marker.  I have them use their color tiles to measure the marker.  I ask these guiding questions:

  • How did you use the color tiles to measure the marker? (I lined up the first color tile with the end of the marker. Then I set color tiles in a row next to each other until they reached the other end of the marker.)
  • Why is it important to lay the color tiles end to end? (If there is space between the color tiles, I might not use enough tiles to measure and I wouldn't have found the right number of tiles.)

If necessary I repeat with other classroom objects.  

Independent Practice

30 minutes

For the independent practice portion of this lesson, I have students use their color tiles to measure 7 or 8 classroom items.  To make the lesson run smoothly, I like to put the random objects I want them to measure in a bucket, bag, bowl, etc. and place 1 bucket at each table.  This ensures that I can walk around to observe how they are measuring. 

I have children draw a picture of the item they are measuring, and write how many color tiles long it is.


5 minutes

To close out the lesson, I have students draw a picture of a boat in their math journal.  I then instruct them to give their math journal to their shoulder partner, and have their shoulder partner measure the object with their color tiles.  The partner will then record the measurement in the journal.