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Tips for Teaching Math Measurement to First Graders

written by: Tracey Bleakley • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 1/5/2012

It is important to give first graders lots of opportunities to practice measuring with both standard and non-standard units of measurement. Use these fun math activities and books to teach your first graders about measuring length.

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    Learning about Length

    When teaching your first graders about length, give them lots of time to practice comparing lengths and using non-standard units of measurement, before introducing standard ones like inches and feet. These fun measurement lesson plans for first grade will help your students get started with measuring length.

    How Many Steps?

    Challenge your students to measure how far it is from their desks to different places in the classroom such as the sink, the door or the teacher's desk. Have them measure using their own feet and taking steps heel to toe to ensure that their steps stay uniform. Before sending them off to measure give each student a paper with the different locations you want them to measure and a pencil. Then practice what it means to step heel to toe. When they are finished measuring, gather them together to discuss their results. Some questions to discuss are:

    • Do they all have the same answers? Why or why not?
    • Does it matter what size feet different people have?
    • Will smaller feet need to take more steps or fewer steps?
    • How about bigger feet?

    Measuring with Smaller Units

    To practice measuring smaller units, give each pair of students a few smaller items to measure. Some things to measure are erasers, pencil boxes, markers and glue bottles. Then provide them with two or three different items to measure the lengths with, such as paperclips, snap cubes and pennies. Have them measure each item with all three units and record them on a chart. Then compare and discuss their findings.

    How Long is a Foot?

    Give each student a length of yarn or string that is longer than a foot. Have them mark how long they think a foot it is on the string and then measure with a ruler to see if they guessed longer or shorter. Help the students cut their yarn to be one foot long and then give them time to measure items in the classroom and compare whether they are shorter than, longer than, or the same as a foot. They can record their findings in their math journals or on a chart.

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    Using Children's Literature

    Children's literature is a great way to introduce your students to measurement. These measurement lesson plans for first grade using literature will help.

    Students will begin to think about measurement in new ways when they are exposed to a variety of measurement situations presented in picture books. Here are some great books for learning about measurement.

    • Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy

    Lisa's homework is to measure something in as many ways as she can think of, so she chooses to measure her dog Penny. Lisa measures her nose, her tail, how high she can jump and more. A variety of units of measurement are introduced in this cute story.

    • Twelve Snails to One Lizard: A Tale of Mischief and Measurement by Susan Hightower

    Students will be introduced to inches, feet and yards in this silly story about a beaver learning to measure so that he can patch his dam.

    • Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni

    This classic book tells the story of an inchworm who uses his ability to measure to outsmart a hungry bird.

    • How Big is a Foot? by Rolf Myller

    Standard units of measurement are introduced when a king's apprentice must figure out how big to make the queen's new bed.

    All of these measuring books and others are available here.