Composing Shapes in 1st Grade

Composing Shapes is such a fun topic in first grade and kindergarten geometry! Learning how to compose 2D and 3D shapes is fun because, well, they get to build! What kid doesn't love building?

I have a TON of small group activities, centers, and ideas to share with you for teaching composing shapes that I hope your students will love!

First and foremost - use pattern blocks in every activity that you can! Students are so much more engaged when they can hold and physically manipulate the shapes to build new ones.

Give them time to explore.

They love making pictures out of the blocks so that's an easy introductory activity to get them used to putting the blocks together to make a picture.

Let them build whatever they want on their mat then write how many of each pattern block they used. I recommend printing out the color version of these mats and either laminating them or putting them in a sheet protector like I did above and having students use a dry erase marker to write on them. That way you can use them over and over and the kids can build and record multiple pictures in one sitting by writing and wiping.

Then, in small groups, you can have them build something specific. Have each person build a flower (in their own way) or a robot, person, butterfly, a big triangle, etc. Talk to them about how they put the blocks together to make a new shape. Have them talk to each other about the shapes they used.

Kids love making pictures out of the blocks... and will do it anyway whether it's an activity you give them or not, so it's best to get this out of their system early :)

Once they've had fun exploring, give them activity cards to build! 

In small groups, show the entire group one card, place it in the center of the table so they can all see, and have them build it. Ask them questions about what shapes they used, how many shapes make up the new shape, etc.

If you want to make this an independent center after you use it in small groups, simply give the kids a stack of cards and a recording sheet. I made 2 sets of them so they can do the math station twice (or you could copy it back to back and give more cards to challenge higher kids). Have them take a card, build it, then color in the shapes they used for that card like this:

If you want to be referred to as the "best teacher ever" for the day, you could also incorporate dough into these composing shapes lessons.

Give each kid at your table their own can of dough to build into a ball then have them flatten it. It's important that each child uses the entire can so it's thick enough to imprint in. Then, select a card for them to build with the pattern blocks. Have them build it on top of the flat dough. 

Once they've built it, have them push down really hard to imprint it into the dough. Have them hold the pieces together in place as they push so the blocks don't move away from each other. Have them carefully peel the pattern blocks off and it will reveal their new shape!

I also made these composing shapes cards for 3D shapes. You know me, I differentiate everything I can so there are 2 sets - one where it's just combining two 3D shapes and one set where it also combines 3 shapes like in the N card seen below.

Students simply look at the card and color in the 3D shapes that the new composite shape is made of. You can also have them build each card with three dimensional shape blocks if you have them. 

Asking questions about which shapes were used is a great vocabulary review for geometry as well. 

If you want to incorporate the dough again, a great small groups activity is talking about what shapes make up 3D shapes. For example, show them a cylinder and point to the circle face and ask them what shape it is. They can stamp it into the dough to see that it is a circle. Do this for all the three dimensional blocks (triangular prism, rectangular prism, etc.) to see what shapes they're made of. Again, it's a great vocabulary review to talk about "faces" and apply that to real world questions.
"This rectangular prism is made of 2 square faces and 4 rectangle faces" etc.

I also made worksheets for this skill where they just look at the picture and color in the shapes it is made out of. The star in the upper right corner of my worksheets always tell you the level (A, B, or C) that a worksheet is for easy differentiation.

I also made worksheets like this for 2D shapes like this one:

I definitely recommend letting students use the pattern blocks to figure out these answers. Have them try to build the hexagon using each given set until they find the set that makes a perfect hexagon. You could have them build it on top of a hexagon block to make it easier.

Speaking of making it easier, like I said, I differentiate everything I can so I also made an easier version where the lines are already there for them (level A - note the star in the corner). Still have them build it and color it in on their sheet to show you that they built it.

I've talked about this in other math posts, as well as other posts, that I think it's important to meet kids at their level but with the same activity (or at least working on the same skill) whenever you can. This activity provides the extra help struggling students might need by providing the lines but is still working on the same skill.

You also want to challenge every child, including your high kids.

A great challenge is to make big triangles!

This is obviously a little bit more challenging because they need more shapes to do it and have to fit it into the triangle perfectly without white space or overhangs. Your higher kids will love this but so will your lower kids. It's like a puzzle to them and kids LOVE puzzles. As you can see, there's a C in the upper right corner so you know it's a more challenging activity.

Going off of that, a small group activity I LOVE for challenging kiddos is Grow It!

Grow the Shape is a super fun composing shapes activity to keep making the same shape but with more blocks - great critical thinking geometry activity!

Give your kids a triangle block then tell them to make a bigger triangle.... once they do, tell them to make an even bigger triangle... and so on! You can easily differentiate by just having your higher kids make bigger and bigger triangles. It's an awesome challenge and they love doing it. 

You can do this with any of the shapes. Give them a hexagon and have them build a bigger one... and a bigger one... and a bigger one... You can also do it with trapezoid or the square. It's just super fun and encourages critical thinking - I really recommend it. 

Another game I absolutely LOVE is Fill Me Up!

Kids take turns rolling the dice to know which shape to grab and add to their hexagons. I made 2 dice - one with a hexagon and one without so you can make the game easier/harder. They can move their pieces around at any point in the game to fit new ones because their hexagons have to be filled perfectly where there is no white space and no shapes overhanging (going over the lines). The first person to perfectly fill all their hexagons wins!

It's a kid favorite but I personally love it because they have to be critically thinking in order to fill their shapes perfectly and they're super motivated to manipulate them around. It's just a lot of great practice where they don't even realize how much thinking they're doing. :)

I also included 2 different spinners so you can do spinners instead of dice. I also made a more challenging game board where they have to fill up both triangles perfectly (no white space or over hangs) to win!

Another fun game to use this spinner or the dice with is a game I call Towers. It's a great partner game. Give each set of partners some pattern blocks and a shape spinner or shape dice.

They take turns rolling the dice to know which shape to grab next like in Fill Me Up BUT each kid grabs that piece to add to their tower. Their towers will be identical. You could also have them pick their own shapes but I think it's more fun to have them look the same. That's just me though - tweak it however you want to for your class!  

The most fun part is that it's VERTICAL! They're building up!

So Partner A rolls the dice and gets a hexagon so he puts a hexagon standing up and Partner B copies them. Then, Partner B rolls and gets a trapezoid and adds it to their tower. Partner A copies what they do. And so on. Each time they roll, they add it to their tower and the other person copies them.

When someone's tower falls, the other person wins! If you don't want it to be a game where someone wins... use it as an activity where you just try to build as tall of a tower with your partner as possible before it falls. It's really fun!

Another highly engaging way to practice is with cut and pastes! If you've read all my math posts, you know I am obsessed with cutting and pasting for math!

Just because you're doing a cut and paste activity doesn't mean they can't use blocks!

Again, the more you can use hands on materials, the better! It really just helps them build that conceptual understanding and see the new shapes they're making.

Let them get those pieces on the paper and build it to figure out the new composite shape. 

The same thing goes for the paper and pencil worksheets. They can still use the blocks.

For example, this activity asks them to figure out how many of each block they need to make a certain shape. 

See how they "filled" a hexagon with triangles on top of it to figure out how many it took? 
Then, for the next question, they're doing the same thing with the rhombus blocks. 

For this activity, they're supposed to make a new shape with the given ones and draw it. They can build it with blocks first on their paper then trace and color them. It's just nice to give them that added support. These worksheets can be used independently or in small groups.

Again, the level is in the corner. See how this level C below is just a little more challenging by adding 3 blocks? I'm all about the sneaky differentiating. :)

Okay, just ONE more activity and then I'll let you get back to your day. I just love sharing ideas and get excited and then these posts end up being a mile long BUT I hope they're helpful for you and that you gained some things you can take back into your classroom. I'd love to hear from you in the comments if you found this post helpful!

So this activity is all about patterns!

Extend the Pattern activity with pattern blocks and other fun geometry activities for practicing shapes

Give kids a pattern (the first one above is trapezoid + triangle/rhombus) and have them simply continue it! They can also do this with a partner where their partner starts a pattern and they extend it. It's also a great small group activity when first exploring composing shapes.

I hope you've enjoyed this post! If you want the materials for any of the activities I talked about, they're ALL included in my First Grade Math Unit 17 and "Composing Shapes" is only ONE concept in that unit out of 5. It is packed with geometry resources for little learners!

Want to read more MATH ideas from me?
Check out some of these fun posts:
Building Number Sense
Place Value
Telling Time
Adding 3 Numbers
Fact Fluency
Making a 10 to Add
Graphing and Data

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  1. Looks like a lot of fun for some lucky first graders!!! Great ideas my friend!
    Teaching and Much Moore

  2. Wow! Excellent activities! I am going to use some of these with my first grade STEM class. Thank you.

  3. Wow! I love these ideas! Thanks for sharing them! They are perfect for rotating centers!

    1. Thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed the ideas and I hope you enjoy them for your math centers! :)

  4. I love pattern blocks. Great activity ideas here!

    1. I love pattern blocks too - there are so many activities you can do with them! Thank you for taking the time to leave a sweet comment! :)

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you! I hope you enjoy teaching graphing! :)