Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Must Have Manipulatives: Part 1

I remember when I first started researching how to best help English Language Learners in math class, I read a lot about manipulatives. There was a a cornucopia of research out there to support the need for ELL's to be able to see, touch, and manipulate the math. Cool right? I was totally on board. Can I get an AMEN?! And then I saw the catalog of math manipulatives I had access to. For a girl that loves to shop, I was so overwhelmed. With a restricted budget, what's going to give me the best bang for my buck? What manipulatives am I going to use more than just one day a year? 

This post, and the ones to follow, are meant to serve as a guide to help teachers see how I use my favorite manipulatives. I may not have a million dollars, but I am working on finding a million ways to make a few great products work! 

Yesterday for our Right Now Rowe (aka Bell Work), students worked on a quick review problem that asked them to compare the perimeter and area of two rectangles. Definitely not an 8th grade standard, but I know that in a few weeks we will be combining like terms and solving equations and there are some great contextual problems that combine that 8th grade concept with area/perimeter tasks. OH MY GOSH. Students were so lost. From how to find the actual answer, to how to understand the answer, to deciding what unit the answer was in. Total melt down. Poor geometry chapter, always gets shoved to the end of the year and forgotten if time runs out. Boo. 

Today, we decided to back it up and do a quick review about how to measure around and inside a shape. Real basic. Students were handed MUST HAVE MANIPULATIVE #1: Square Tiles! Students were given a prompt up on the SmartBoard and had to build a shape using the square tiles that would satisfy the given requirement. For example, "Build a rectangle with a perimeter of 14 units". After students built their rectangles, students would draw their example up on the board. If there was more than one option, we would collect them all. From there the tasks got more challenging, like "Build a rectangle with an area of 12 square units but a perimeter greater than 15 units". 

Although there isn't an obvious "language" component to the task today, it definitely hit home for many of the ELL students. They could see it. Light bulb moment! 

After we built the shapes, students were handed a worksheet with about 12 blank rectangles on it. Then, students were given MUST HAVE MANIPULATIVE #2: Dice in Dice! Students rolled the dice, used the smaller number as the width and larger number as the length, and then calculated the perimeter and area of the rectangle. If they got the same number on both dice, they had to draw a square instead and go form there. They REALLY didn't like "pretending" the rectangle was a square, which was my first suggestion. Good for them. Attend to precision, kiddos!

There you have it! Two manipulatives that really add a lot of visual aid and interaction to my classroom, which benefits ALL students, but especially helps English Language Learners SEE the math! Stay tuned for more ideas on how to use square tiles and dice in dice with other concepts! 


  1. Love it! A simple activity on the surface with a deep connection to many other topics! I've never seen those dice in dice. I can't wait to see how you use them!

  2. You are such an inspiration Meg! Simply amazing!