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Identifying Geometric Attributes

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Students begin identifying geometric attributes at a fairly early age. Our 1st Grade teachers introduce vertex, edge, and face. Still, it seems that kids have trouble answering questions about geometric attributes. A lot of times they get the vocabulary mixed up–they can’t remember which are the vertices and which are the edges.

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Another common mistake is that they leave out some when they count. And faces are the hardest to count, because it’s really tough to mark them. So today I have some tips for helping kids count geometric attributes.

  • Gives students hands-on experiences with physical geometric shapes. Just as with any other math concept, working with concrete materials builds understanding.
  • Help kids develop a routine for counting vertices, edges, and faces. I typically count the attributes in this order: vertices, edges, and then faces, because vertices are the easiest and faces are the hardest. Again, allow students to practice this routine with physical shapes.
  • Have students record their counts. I see kids try to hold the numbers in their heads, and that’s often not successful.
  • The V in vertex actually makes a vertex. A capital E is made up of a bunch of straight lines, and that’s just like edges. The faces are the two-dimensional figures that make up the 3-dimensional shape.
  • Vertices are marked with small circles and the edges are marked with a little dash. But teach kids to use an organized approach for counting. For example, to count the vertices below, the square on the bottom has 4 vertices–mark those first. Then mark the vertex on the top. Likewise, when marking edges, count the 4 on the square base first and then the 4 on the triangular faces.
  • To count faces, I have the kids decompose the figure into its 2-dimensional figures. You can see below how it looks. I see 1 square and 4 triangles, so it’s a total of 5 faces.

Click here to grab a free copy of this sheet for practice

For a fun workstation activity on geometric attributes, check out Geometric Attributes War.

21 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks — will try this out with my 1st graders after the vacation.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Euler’s Formula helps and even 2nd graders can remember this:
      F+V-2=E
      Faces + Vertices-2=Edges

      Students can ususally count faces and vertices without trouble, so this formula gives edges easily without having to count.
      wa-lah!!

      Reply
  2. Mrs. Plum

    My third graders still struggle with this — especially faces. I’m thinking of experimenting with coloring each face a different color so that students will see the colors mixing on the “see-through” models and realize that represents another face.

    Reply
  3. Sally

    Love this!

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Wow! I could spend hours learning from your blog:) Thanks to this post, my 7 year old now has a deeper understanding.

    Thanks again

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Aw, thanks so much! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Stephanie R

    Help… haha I get the basics but what about a circle or a cone.. I would say nothing for a circle.. but the cone confuses me! [email protected] thanks

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Confusion is understandable!! Just Google ‘does a cone have any faces’ and you’ll be shocked at the number of hits. The most widely accepted description is that a cone has one circular face (the base) and one vertex.

      Reply
      • Babs Holiday

        If the definition of a vertex is the place where two or more edges come together, then I wouldn’t think a cone has a vertex because it does not have any edges. Just a thought.

        Reply
        • Donna Boucher

          As I said, Babs, it’s hotly debated! I agree with you, but there’s lot of different information out in cyberspace!

          Reply
  6. Linda

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Donna! We will be starting Geometry soon and these will be so helpful!
    Linda
    AroundtheKampfire

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Glad it’s useful to you, Linda. It’s a method that I’ve very good results with! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Catherine

    We have them construct and identify shapes using toothpicks and gumdrops. It’s a fun activity. They have to then sketch it and fill in the number of vertices/edges/faces.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Yes, that’s a great hands-on activity, Catherine!

      Reply
    • Babs Holiday

      Thank you. I am going to try building shapes with gumdrops and toothpicks. I think the kids will love it!

      Reply
  8. John Doe

    If you are teaching kids these concepts in Grade 1, you are overloading them… basic geometry, IMO, can be put-off until grade 2 or 3, using Grade 1 to instead strengthen basic arithmetics; its better to introduce multiplication than go to geometry beyond the shapes

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Teachers are required to teach the skills outlined in either their state standards or the Common Core curriculum, so there’s not a lot of flexibility. The standards are vertically aligned, so each grade level’s standards build upon the previous grade’s standards. The primary focus in 1st grade is addition and subtraction, both the structure of addition and subtraction problems and strategies to develop fluency with addition and subtraction facts. This geometry piece is only a small part of the overall curriculum.

      Reply
  9. Marcie

    Thanks so much! Your geometry explanations and assessments are very helpful!

    Reply
  10. Kay Lithgow

    When I used to be a substitute, there was a teacher that played a game with his kids called WIMP (What’s In My Pocket). He would take a geometric plastic shape and the kids would ask questions about the attributes and fill in grids to try to guess the shape. They would ask yes or no questions like, “Is it thick?”, “Is it red?”, etc. I can’t find the game anywhere online. Has anyone heard of it? If so, can you refresh my memory on how to play it? Thanks!

    Reply

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