For my 7th graders, surface area usually is one of the hardest topics we do all year. I work with a lot of students who don’t have a solid foundation with math and especially with spatial ideas. When they take the final test on surface area they have to really be able to conceptualize a three-dimensional idea in a two-dimensional drawing. To get them there, students need to see surface area in the 3-D realm and then we need to help them transfer everything to paper. I find that they just need a lot of practice and a clear transition from the real life learning to the drawings. The eleven activities in this post will help your students get that practice they need with surface area, in both the 2D and 3D worlds.
This curated list has both activities using 3-D solids as well as practice on paper. You’ll find a variety of activities that you can utilize as learning activities during this unit of study, or as review activities later in the year.
By the time students get to my class, their second math lab class, they’re often discouraged or have misconceptions about surface area. They struggle to remember the difference between surface area and volume. So, I focus just on surface area, and then we work on volume, careful to express the differences between them. This post is all about ways to teach and practice finding surface area. For a deeper dive into how to teach surface area, check out the post How to Teach Surface Area Like a RockStar.
The list of activities:
Let’s dive in
These activity ideas practice surface area in fun and engaging ways. Some of them are paper and pencil while others are done online. Also, you’ll see that some of them are for partner activities while others work for the whole class. I hope you enjoy looking at and choosing some activities that will fit right into your classroom.
Kids love this surface area coloring activity. There’s something about being about to do a little coloring while practicing that gets kids engaged. This activity features two coloring pages: a page of rectangular shapes and a page of triangular shapes. This works as a great practice for finding surface area on paper from a drawing. I have students complete their work on a whiteboard and have them check their work with me after each question until it is obvious that they get it. (One way to make checking a bit faster is to have them color their answer choice, quickly visually check it, and then let students color in their picture.) Some kids want to do all of the work without writing anything down and they really need to write down the steps. There’s just too much going on for them to keep track of it in their head.
At the end of the activity students all have a funky looking penguin and a better understanding of solving for surface area. As a teacher it gives you a great opportunity to see what the misconceptions are among your students. The biggest mistakes that my students make include not adding everything together and finding volume instead of surface area. Give this one a try and you’ll see your kids get excited about surface area.
When it comes time to review before a test, we often use this surface area knockout game in my classroom. It consists of an interactive PowerPoint presentation and some review questions. Students keep track of their own points as we play. As the game goes along there are “bonuses” for students to choose between that can be good or bad. This part of the game really gets kids laughing. I don’t really do much with the points, but some kids really like keeping track of theirs. Sometimes they ask me what the points are for and I just say something like, “You can never have too many invisible and imaginary points.”
This particular game goes from finding area, to recognizing nets, to calculating surface area of prisms and pyramids. It takes about 30-40 minutes to complete and works perfectly for the day before a test. Students are engaged and they kind of forget that they are practicing math.
A lot of the students that I work with need a review of nets before they start working on surface area. I love partner activities, and this nets matching game is perfect for partners. It gives students a great chance to talk about the shapes and reinforce vocabulary. Each work mat has a figure represented in three ways: name, net, and picture. Students can work through this fairly quickly. You could use it as a short review at the beginning of class for several days in a row.
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Task cards have become a staple activity in my class. We use them for almost every topic that we learn. You can do so many different things with task cards. The activity that we use the most is a self-checking partner activity. Students work with a partner at their own pace. When they’ve answered a question, they check their work against the answers and explanations on the back of each card. You do have to train the students that the point of the activity is not completing the activity, but rather learning what parts of the concept they struggle with.
These surface area task cards start with identifying characteristics of a variety of shapes. Then, students have to find the area of two-dimensional shapes. Finally, they will calculate the surface of shapes from pictures and from story problems. This is a lot of work for students to do, so you could use these task cards over the course of a couple of days.
This set of nets is a free printable from the Math Geek Mama. Also, she writes a blog post that gives several ideas for using these foldable 3D shapes. You can use them for so many different things related to this topic. Also, I love that you can print them out and have a model for students to work with. You don’t have to store them. Students can cut them out and build them.
Three-Act Math activities are extension activities that you can have a few advanced students work on, or you can do with the whole class. We use them at our school during our enrichment lessons for the whole class. This 3 act math activity uses surface area and volume and gives students a challenge to hypothesize which soda box is better for the environment, meaning it has less surface area. This is a great way for students to see a real case of where surface area is relevant.
I have never used this activity, but it’s one that I will use in the future. This activity gives students a blank net printed on graph paper, and asks students to notice everything they can about it. Then, through a series of guiding questions, students make observations that lead to a better foundation for learning the actual formulas, and understanding what they mean.
I think you can’t emphasize enough with students that surface area is in square units. This activity really gets students to notice the grids on the paper behind the image, and hopefully thinking about what they mean. If students can make the connection between the number of squares that fit on a surface and surface area, they have a much better chance of remembering it in the long run.
I would give students different examples of nets that have the squares on them. Then have students answer a series of questions and explain what surface area is. Also, at the end of every discovery activity I find it imperative to have students reflect. This gives them an opportunity to individually make sense of what they just did. So I would ask a question like, “What conclusion can you draw from this activity?” or “What rule could you write based on what you saw today?”
After students are really familiar with calculating surface area and they understand the concept, you might want to give them a performance task. This activity takes the concept to a higher level and students should try it without a lot of help. This particular activity is a free find on Teachers Pay Teachers from Hilda Ratliff. It gives kids the chance to find the surface area by drawing their own nets, and really helps them strengthen their understanding of this topic.
This website has a variety of free worksheets, including some on surface area, or you can subscribe and get a ton more. I use the free worksheets often, but I never use them as worksheets. You can take any worksheet and gamify it so that kids don’t realize that they just have a boring worksheet. The same amount of work gets done and your students will be so much more engaged while they learn.
For example, you could play the target game with your students. The target game consists of drawing a huge target on the board and assigning each ring a point value. Then, have students use a suction cup ball that they throw at the target. In my classroom the game has evolved to where I ask three questions about the problem they just completed. The three people who answered each get to throw at the target. The rest of the kids choose one of the 3 throwers who they think will get the best score. Then, all three kids throw it and you get the points from the person you chose. It’s really fun and gets the students super involved in what we’re learning.
If you still need a whole class review activity, then this Kahoot game will work for you. Students answer the question that is displayed at the front of the room on their device (Chromebook, iPad, even phone, etc.). This Surface Area Kahoot game consists of 15 questions. Some of questions ask about the characteristics of solids, and the rest are surface area questions. You can download the game to your account and add or take questions away.
This Chocolate Bar Math activity from MashUp Math is a challenge activity that pushes kids to use what they have learned about surface area and volume. They are given a candy bar and some of its dimensions. Then, they have to figure out the height of the package. I haven’t used this activity, but I plan to use it in the future. I would like to have it as a problem of the week and offer a candy bar to the group who gets it first. There are so many awesomely weird candy bars out there. My favorite is the bacon one, or maybe the potato chip one. This sounds like so much fun to have students math battling to win some crazy chocolate.
I hope that sharing this idea doesn’t make you want a candy bar! And if it did, then I hope that you have someone on your campus who can hook you up with some chocolate.
Try one thing
You only have so much time to teach each topic, so I hope that the activities in this post can save you some time in your lesson prepping. I would challenge you to try one new thing and see how it goes. If it’s a raging success, then you can find more activities like that for whatever you’re teaching. Also, remember that you’ll need to review this topic multiple time, so you could take one or two of these activities and have them in your back pocket for review. Happy teaching!
Thanks so much for reading! Until next time.
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