When it's time to introduce polygons to elementary students, make things as concrete as possible! Use real-world connections, hands-on manipulatives, and repetition to help students master the polygon vocabulary.
1. Make Polygons using Geoboards
Give students opportunities to create polygons tangibly. They can bend pipe cleaners, use toothpicks as polygon sides, or (my favorite) make polygons using rubber bands and Geoboards. Geoboards are great because students can easily adapt their designs and make multiple shapes quickly. You can use a digital version at the Math Learning Center if you don't have Geoboards. Here's an example of what a student using the digital Geoboard to construct quadrilaterals.
Students must understand that each polygon can look several different ways. They shouldn't only recognize the "regular" version of each polygon. For this reason, I always ask students, "Can you make it another way?" I created a recording sheet (see below) that students can use to document the polygons they make. A great follow-up activity would be to have students compare polygons with a classmate and see if any of their shapes are congruent!
2. Identify Polygons in the Real World
It's crucial that we help students connect what they're learning to the real world. I created a 17-slide PowerPoint that provides students with lots of real-world examples of polygons. For example, a Dorito chip is shaped like a triangle and the Best Buy store sign is a pentagon! Students love seeing everyday objects like a soccer ball through this new lens. My polygons lesson also includes a printable note-taking sheet to keep students focused on the activity. A great follow-up activity would be to go on a polygons scavenger hunt at school or home and let students share their findings with the class!
3. Practice Vocabulary with Matching Games
In the Virginia SOLs, there are so many terms for students to learn. It's overwhelming, especially for ESL students! I created a set of matching cards to help students practice the geometry vocabulary. It includes words from three different standards (see below). Students can do a speed match (race a friend or try to beat a certain time). They can play a memory-matching game or review as a class with the cooperative learning activity Mix, Pair, Match, where students mingle around the room, exchanging cards with classmates. When the music stops, they must find the person with a card that matches their own.
Here are the vocabulary words used in this set of 32 cards:
SOL 3.11: point, line, line segment, ray, angle.
SOL 3.12: polygon, triangle, quadrilateral, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon
SOL 3.13: congruent figures and noncongruent figures
4. Combine Polygons
My favorite way to practice combining polygons is to use pattern blocks. They are a staple in most elementary classrooms, but if you need a set, you can get them on Amazon. I teach students how to combine polygons side-to-side (not just corners touching) and then give them time to explore with the pattern blocks. I created recording sheets where students can trace their new polygons, count the sides, and identify the new polygon they made. There are multiple possibilities, so comparing answers at the end is fun!
What are your favorite activities to use when teaching about polygons? Please share your ideas below!