Volume and surface area are some of the most difficult concepts for my students to understand in 7th grade. I feel like they get the two confused and they need to really understand what each entails. I like to make sure that students have a pretty good understanding of volume before we move on to surface area. Each year I have probably tried something a little different though. One of the best ways to build their foundation is through a discovery activity. A lot of students don’t come into our class with enough background knowledge, and leading them through the discovery process works great as way to build that background. In this post I’ll explain more about the discovery activity I use for this topic, and twelve more engaging activities to help students really get a solid foundation with finding the volume of pyramids and prisms.
You’ll see a lot of activities presented in this blog post, but it’s always important that throughout the learning that students keep discussing the “why”. For example, why is the volume of a triangular prism half of a rectangular prism? Give them a chance to answer this and similar questions multiple times. Show them examples of prisms, like this one, and have them talk about it with a partner.
Also, we can’t just rely on students moving a whole bunch of formulas from their notes into their long term memory. They need the underlying understanding to understand and hang on to those formulas. So, activities must build their conceptual understanding, not just memorize formulas for the test. Okay, enough of the lecture- these are just the lessons I keep learning over and over with my students, so I’d love to save someone else some of the heartache that comes when students do well on their post-test, but have no idea what you’re talking about just a few weeks later. Let’s look at some fun activities that engage students while learning about the volume of prisms and pyramids.
Here’s the list:
Let’s dive in
This list of activities includes a variety of activity types. Some of them work best with small groups, and others are for the whole class. You’ll find some great resources for your initial teaching, and others for reviewing later in the year. Let’s look at these activities and get our students rocking the volume of pyramids and prisms!
A discovery lab provides students an opportunity to really see what they’re trying to solve. It encourages them to make meaning and works best before the formal instruction, or notes. To do this volume of rectangular prisms discovery lab, all you need are some type of little cubes for the students to work with. Students are given a rectangular prism that’s made of cubes and they have to figure out how many cubic units it is without taking it apart and counting the cubes. I love this discovery lab. My students also loved it. At first they weren’t sure what to do, and then it was so cool to watch them come up with strategies. Each group came up with their own unique strategy to answer this question.
At first some students tried to count every cube. Then they tried to find more efficient ways. I can’t explain how awesome it was to see the wheels turning inside their brains. And keep in mind that the group of students I originally did this with struggle with math. This discovery activity really gets students thinking. Also, it gives them some of the background they need to remember it over the long term.
Math mazes are a great twist on the traditional worksheet. Students get to the practice they need solving problems, and they get the satisfaction of working towards the finish line of a maze. I use mazes every day for bell work, and heaven forbid I ever try to leave something else for students to start class with.
This Volume of Prisms Maze actually contains three mazes. To complete each of them, students solve 12-15 prism problems to reach the finish line. In the first two mazes students find the volume of the prism. On the third maze students are given the volume and need to find either the height or width of a missing side.
One thing I like about mazes is that it makes it easy to visually check how students are doing. I can look at the path and instantly give students feedback on their progress. Or, students can quickly check their work by seeing the completed path. This ability to quickly see what students, and what they’re not, allows me to give students quick feedback before they’ve done all the problems wrong and gotten all that bad practice.
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When you need a partner activity for students to get more practice, look no further than this Volume of Triangular & Rectangular Prisms QR Code game. It has 16 questions, and half of them are word problems. The rest or the problems have a picture of a shape and students calculate the volume. The fun part is that students get to check their answers using QR Codes. They love it. Also, they don’t know how many points they’ll get from the card they chose at first. After they get it right they check the points. QR code games just add a little bit of novelty and keeps students engaged. (Read more at 5 Ways to Use QR Codes in the Math Classroom.)
I love the versatility of task cards. You can use them for almost anything. Sometimes I even use them as a coaster or pass to the office (after we’ve done the math with them and they’re on the way to recycling, of course!). You can’t underestimate them. In all seriousness, task cards make a great partner activity or whole class review activity. We use them just about every week in my class. This past week we used the task cards to play football as a class, and last week we used them as a partner activity.
This set of Volume of Rectangular and Triangular Prisms task cards has a variety of question types. They challenge students to more than just calculate volume of rectangular and triangular prisms. Some of the questions have students add things together. Also, they have to find the volume of irregular prisms.
One suggestion that I have is print the answers on the back of the cards. Let the students check their answers and get immediate feedback. This gives them a chance to fix their mistakes before they get totally set with any bad habits.
When you’re looking for some good old fashioned practice, this Volume of Prisms Riddle works great. It adds in some silly riddles. I make sure that I emphasize to students that the riddles are silly. This is one of this situations where you just embrace the cheesiness. Some of the kids really get into solving the riddle and then you get the audible moans of cheesiness.
This activity has 16 problems. Eight of them include a picture of a rectangular or a triangular prism. The other eight are story problems. There are 2 worksheets, so you could use one now and then one later when you review. Also, they work great for homework or a center activity.
With this Cut-Out Fold-Up activity you can show students why the volume of a pyramid is one third of a rectangular prism. Using the provided template, students get to make paper pyramids and fit them together. Then they can draw conclusions about what’s happening. What a perfect discovery activity for this concept! Just like the other discovery activity, you’ll see students make their own connections. They’re more likely to remember these connections after this kind of activity than just memorizing formulas.
Anchor charts come by many different names. I’ve seen them called “cheat sheets” lately, especially for secondary classes. When I use anchor charts I print them two to a page and then we put them in our notebooks. They become a reference for students. Also, we can come back to them when we review for the end of the year test as well.
For the volume of prisms, here are two great anchor charts to check out. The first reference page (shown below) comes from Mrs. Newell’s Math. As you can see, this makes a great addition to students’ notebooks as a reference for solving volume problems. The next anchor chart comes from Cazoom Maths and is a great visual reminder of the different formulas (this freebie does require an email sign up).
These anchor charts aren’t an activity in and of themselves, but you can do activities with them. For example, as an anticipatory set you can have all of the students answer questions based off of the cheat sheet. When I do this I usually give a Jolly Rancher for each kid that answers a question. It just gets them looking at the chart and seeing how it can be useful for them.
This video from PBS is a basic video that shows how to find the volume of a rectangular prism. Also, it has some supplemental materials to along with it. If you are looking for a no prep lesson to reinforce or reteach the volume of rectangular prisms, this will work for you. It includes a lesson plan that has additional activities and an extension activity.
This Building a Roof Activity from PBS Learning starts with a video that shows how to calculate the volume of a triangular prism. If you click on the support materials tab it will show you a detailed lesson plan. I would recommend following their lesson plan. They give students a lot of chance to engage in math talk. Students get to find the volume of some everyday items and estimate which object has greater volume. Then, they are given a roof challenge. Altogether, this will give your students a hands-on experience with finding the volume of triangular and rectangular prisms.
I love using, “What do you notice?” activities from Family Math Night as an anticipatory set. This blog post shows some ideas on how to use this strategy. In the example shown in the post, they gave students some prisms and a chart with their dimensions and volume, but nothing is labeled. This works great because the students have to recognize the patterns. I like to have students write their responses on their SmartPal or whiteboard. There are so many different ways that you can do this.
You could so something similar with triangular prisms. Another thing you could do is to have a rectangular prism and a triangular prism with the same dimensions. Then, have students draw conclusions about why the triangular one is half the volume of the rectangular one. The options for using this strategy are endless.
Maybe your students struggle with one part of volume and you need some problems just for that. This website allows you to customize your worksheet by choosing the specific shapes and units of measure you want. You just click some check boxes and boom, you have the problems that you need. These problems can then be easily gamified, taking this from a traditional worksheet to a fun game. Read on to see how I play the Target Game with worksheets, or checkout this football game strategy.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I talk about upcycling worksheets. (Btw, have you ever used the phrase “broken record” with your students? They don’t have clue what you’re talking about, and then you just feel really old!) Anyways, I like to find ways to use worksheet in fun and engaging ways. At this website you’ll find a variety of free worksheets. Also, they have some you have to pay for.
I use the questions and play a game called the target game because it spices up practice. If you want to know more of the specifics of the target game, check out this post. Basically, kids get to throw a ball at a target after they answer some questions about the problem they are doing. It brings some fun into what could be a boring activity. As a result of playing this activity, students even get a brain break.
When I show videos like this in my class, some students seem to come alive. Depending on the group of kids and how you present it, videos like this can have a lot of impact. This video shows a song about the volume of triangular and rectangular prisms to the tune of “Happy” by Pharell. After you’ve watched it all day with all of your classes, you’ll have it in your head for the next three weeks (sorry about that, but you’ve been warned!). It’s fun and if you have students watch it a couple of times, they’ll definitely remember it. I still remember a song from 10 years ago that I used with my ELL class. Whenever I see one of the students from that class, they can still sing it back to me.
Try one thing
It can get overwhelming to see so many activities, so I always encourage people to just try one new thing. Personally, I really think of my classroom as a lab. We try things and see if they work. If they work we keep doing them, and if they don’t work then we can either make some adjustments or leave them behind. My challenge to you is to try one new thing that will engage your students.
Thanks so much for reading. Until next time!
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