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5 Ways to Teach 2D Shape Classification

By the time our students get to upper elementary, they generally have a good understanding of basic shapes and how to identify them. The next step is to build on that understanding so that shapes can be classified into geometrical groups according to their attributes. These different activities will have your students mastering 2D shape classification in no time!

5 ways to teach 2D shape classification

1. Reinforcing Vocabulary

reviewing vocabulary by creating it with their bodies helps students remember

Vocabulary is an important place to start when working on 2D shape classification. This is because students need to be familiar with the various vocabulary terms in order to later describe and classify shapes by their attributes.

A fun and interactive way to review vocabulary is to have students work in small groups to create the vocabulary words with their bodies. If the weather permits, this is a great outside activity. If not, just move those desks to the side so students have some open space in the classroom.

Start by giving the class a vocabulary word. Then give them 10 – 30 seconds to create it with their bodies. Don’t tell them what to do – just let them be creative and figure out how they can visually represent the vocabulary word.

Here’s some important words to include in your vocabulary review:

building vocabulary with fingers star shape or angles
  • obtuse angle
  • acute angle
  • 90 degree angle
  • parallel lines
  • perpendicular lines
  • line
  • curve
  • vertex
  • shapes (name off the shapes students should be familiar with)

Not only will this be a fun activity, but students will remember it too!

As groups form the vocabulary word, ask them to explain their thinking. This will help you see if there are any misunderstandings in the terms and clear up any confusion.

2. Interactive Notebooks

Adding shapes to your math notebooks, or creating a 2D shapes booklet, is a great way to connect the vocabulary to the shape. Students love these foldable shapes that they cut out and glue into their notebook.

Each shape not only gives a visual representation of the shape, but when you lift the flap the shape attributes are provided. As students create each shape and write in the attributes they start to build the connections between what the shapes have in common.

These posts on Classifying Polygons and Classifying Triangles provides more details on how I teach these skills in the upper elementary classroom.

triangle foldables for shape classification
quadrilateral foldables for shape classification
polygon foldables for shape classification

You can find these interactive foldable activities in the 2D Shapes Foldables pack. This resource includes triangles, quadrilaterals and other polygons.

  • 2D shape foldables help students recognize shape attributes

3. Digital Shape Activities

Engaging students through digital activities is a sure fire way to get them excited about learning. Students love working on technology and when you can incorporate that into their lessons you get instant engagement.

digital shape classification activities for Google slides

These digital shape classification activities will have your students naming shapes and describing the attributes. Similar to the notebook foldables, students will be able to connect the vocabulary to the shape. They also start to build an understanding of how to describe shapes using the proper vocabulary.

These digital activities can be done in lieu of the notebook activities or as an additional review.

4. Sorting Manipulatives

Once students have a solid understanding of classifying shapes by their attributes, it is time to take it to the next level. Students should also be able to take a variety of shapes and sort them into groups with similar characteristics.

using shape blocks or paper shapes to do hands-on sorting by various attirbutes

A great way to do this is through the use of pattern blocks or other shape manipulatives. You can even use paper shape cutouts or any other blocks you have available. The key is having something students can physically touch and move.

Begin by giving students a specific attribute to sort by. Let them sort their shapes accordingly. You can easily see who is understanding the attributes and who is struggling by walking around as they work.

After a few guided sorts, have students choose their own attribute to sort by. But don’t stop after the sorting. Make sure to give them an opportunity to explain what they did and why. Students should be able to explain what they sorted by and why each shape was put in its group.

5. Shape Scavenger Hunt

Help students connect their classroom learning to the world around them with a shape scavenger hunt. Students can use a phone or tablet to take pictures of shapes they see in their school, home and community. If this is not feasible, then I suggest using Google Slides where students can do an online search for images.

finding and classifying shapes in the real world helps students connect their learning

You can leave the activity very open ended and have students find all of the different shapes you’ve discussed, or have them create a visual portfolio of shapes by attribute. Using a program like Google Slides or Powerpoint, students can create a digital portfolio of shapes in their world.

Make sure that on each slide, students group 2 or more photos. Also, have them label the attribute the shapes have in common. You can provide them a list of the attributes they must find or you can just have them do a specific number of groupings.

This is a great culminating activity that students love and really helps you see their understanding of the standards. Additionally, it is a great way to include technology standards in the classroom too.

Save these Ideas

Pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board and save these 2D shape classification ideas.

2D shape classification ideas for helping students master classifying shapes by attribute

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Amy Hughes

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I'm Shelly Rees of Appletastic Learning. First and foremost, I'm a mom of 4 boys, wife of 25 years to Aric, and Wyoming girl at heart. I love being creative, making resources for teachers, baking cookies, Diet Coke, teaching, public speaking, and spreading kindness wherever I can. After teaching in the upper elementary grades for over 23 years, I retired early and focused on creating and helping teachers around the world with my teaching ideas and resources. I also serve as a mentor to hundreds of teacherpreneurs and help them get focused on growing their own successful businesses. With 100% honesty, I LOVE my life! Thanks for visiting! I hope you'll stay awhile and come back often. Read More

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