Resources and Tools for Elementary Math Specialists and Teachers

Developing precise math language with pattern blocks

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I've had students work in pairs, each at a computer but without seeing each other's screen. Student A creates a design on her/his workspace with virtual pattern blocks and describes it to the other student in enough detail for student B to be able to duplicate it. I usually insist that B may not speak or ask questions, but that's an option. When finished, students compare designs and, if there are differences, discuss how the directions could have been more helpful -- what information was missing or not clear enough. Students learn to be precise about geometric vocabulary and positional language. They also begin thinking about what information student B needs to be given. This is difficult for young children who haven't yet developed the ability to "see" things from another's perspective.


Another adaptation for this activity which I have used before is to give a group of students a set of clues using math vocabulary and they have to build the figure that is described. I've done this with Toothpick geometry but it is adaptable to other topics as well.

This activity is adaptable for other content and vocab sets, for example, configs of regular polygons (polyominoes), abstract assemblages like funny faces, "I'm thinking of a number with factors ...," and many more.