- Building blocks or other building materials
- Photographs of buildings or individual structural features (e.g., stairs, towers, arches, etc.) (TIP: You can use your own photographs of buildings with which students are familiar.)
Setup — Less than 5 minutes
- Before you begin the activity, choose what building feature(s) to focus on and how many of each feature to build. On a piece of paper or on the board, write the number next to the feature, such as 2 towers or 4 windows. (TIP: Adjust the number and complexity of features to meet your students’ skill levels.)
- Print or display one or more pictures showing the structural features you want students to replicate in their own buildings.
- Distribute the blocks or building materials.
- Look at the pictures of buildings and tell students what items and how many of each item to include in their buildings (e.g., 4 walls, 2 doors, and 1 ramp).
- Students work together in pairs or groups of three to construct a building that includes the features in the pictures.
- The teacher checks in periodically with the children to determine whether they are building according to the requirements.
Checks for Understanding
To deepen children’s learning about early math concepts, talk and ask questions while doing this activity together. Here are some examples to get you started:
- “What did you build above/below the window?”
- “Without pointing, tell me where you put the door?”
- “What’s your plan for building the window? Where is there space to put it? Talk to each other to figure out where to build it.”
- “How many blocks do you need to make the right number of ramps?”
- “How many windows do you have in your building?”
- “What block looks like the column in the picture?”
- “What shapes make the top of the tower in this picture? How could you make a similar shape using these blocks?”
Here are some other things you can do to keep the activity engaging and challenging all year long:
- Castle Construction: Imagine that a king and queen have given you a list of features they want in their castle (e.g., staircase, tower).
- Construction Site: Students are construction workers who need to decide what items and how many of each item to include in their buildings.
- Give two or more groups of students the same set of features to build. Compare how their creations are different and the same. Did they include all of the required features?
- No pictures! Instead, tell students verbally the multi-step requirements (e.g., “2 windows beside the door,” “The door should be 3 blocks away from the arch”).
- Assign one child to be the lead inspector/engineer. They check in with other children about the type and number of structural features.
- Have students roll a die to determine the number of features they will build (“How many ramps? Now how many stairs?”) and write down the number.
- Assign each student to be responsible for a different set of blocks (e.g., “Carlo has all the cylinders, Violet has all the cones”).