Project Description

How to Teach 3D Shapes | 8 Practical Tips

Children learn about shapes, beginning with 2 dimensional (flat) shapes (circles, squares, triangles, etc.). Then, once kids have a good grasp of 2 dimensional (2D) shapes, they can move on to learn about 3 dimensional (solid) shapes. Learning about 3 dimensional (3D) shapes opens up a new world to kids. They become aware that not all shapes are created equal.  2D and 3D shapes have different attributes/features. While 2D shapes have sides and vertices (corners), 3D shapes have vertices, edges, and faces.

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Comparing a variety of 2D and 3D shapes allows children to explore some of the similarities and differences.  We may point out, or kids may notice, for example, that a square is a ‘slice’ of a cube or that a circle can’t hold water, but a cylinder can.

Once kids grasp the basic differences, you can move on to a more in-depth exploration of 3D shapes.  Here are 8 practical tips to help you teach young learners about 3D shapes.

Tip #1    Introduce 3D shapes With a Word Mat

A visual representation of the shapes is essential in helping kids to grasp the concept.  A simple word mat featuring the image of each 3D shape, its name, and the various attributes/features (faces, edges, vertices) is an effective way to teach kids the proper names of 3D shapes, as well as the terms for the attributes, and the number of each.

Begin by having kids connect the shape to its proper name and introduce the attributes’ proper names (faces, vertices, and edges) and the number of attributes each shape has.

Tip #2    Use Shape Flashcards and Connect to Real Life Objects

Flashcards are a simple and engaging way for children to learn about and solidify concepts.  Flashcards can include any combination of the shape, its proper name, and a corresponding number of attributes.  Cards with images of real-life objects will connect the concept to the world around them.

For example, images of a ball, an orange, and a balloon, show spheres in real life.  Kids will enjoy cutting out a pre-printed set of cards or even creating their own set.  Students can use flashcards to play memory or matching games.  Flashcard activities can be adapted for use by a single student, in pairs, or a group.

Tip #3    Sorting Activity

Have children sort 3D shapes into appropriate categories.  This can be done in a variety of ways.  For example, by using real-world objects (marbles, blocks, manipulatives), by sorting 3D shapes that kids have assembled out of 2D nets, or by cutting out various pre-printed images, and pasting them on a sheet or chart in the appropriate category (rectangular prism, pyramid, sphere, etc.).

Alternatively, children can cut out pictures from magazines that show real world images of 3D shapes.

Tip #4    Performing Experiments with 3D shapes, and Recording the Observations

This is a great way to teach math while introducing the scientific method!  Using various real-world objects, children can experiment with how each 3D shape moves and its limitations.  Choose an object/shape and model students’ activity by attempting to roll, slide, and stack it.

Record your observations on a simple chart, then have students work on their own, in pairs, or small groups and complete the movement experiment with each shape.  When everyone has completed the activity, have children share their observations.

Tip #5    STEM Activity for Teaching 3D Shapes

Children love hands on learning.  Engage them by having them build their own 3D Marshmallow Shapes, using everyday materials like toothpicks, popsicles sticks, playdough, and marshmallows.  Children will enjoy engineering 3D nets using toothpicks, or popsicle sticks for the edges, and connecting them with small chunks of playdough, mini marshmallows, or even soft candies like jelly beans.

Provide children with a picture, or sample of a 3D net, and the materials required to build their own.  Once the building is complete, have them record the number of faces, vertices, and edges of each shape they’ve constructed.

Tip #6    Fun With 3D Nets

A STEM activity, is an engaging and practical way to teach kids about 3D shapes.  Children will enjoy using 2D nets printed on sturdy paper such as cardstock, to build 3D Nets.  For added engagement, have kids color and cut out the shapes, before folding and fastening them into 3D solids.

Once the shapes are constructed, they can be used to further the learning through a variety of activities such as, naming and recording the number of each attribute (edges, faces, vertices), or using them in other activities like numbers 3 and 4 above.

Tip #7    Focus on the Attributes

An important part of learning about 3D shapes, is learning about their attributes.  Kids need to learn not only the proper names for each attribute (face, vertex, edge), they also need to count how many of these attributes each shape has.

Activities that focus on the attributes will go a long way in helping them learn about the properties of 3D shapes.  Several of the activities above, can be adapted to focus on the attributes of each shape.

Tip #8    Review & Consolidate the Learning

With any new learning, practice, repetition, and review are essential to consolidate the concepts.  To help kids review, use activities that allow them to show what they have learned about 3D shapes.  Provide students with a picture or object of the shapes they’ve studied, and have them describe the shape in words, including the correct names and number of attributes.

You can also have them give examples of real-world objects that correspond to each shape.