When I teach measurement I always wonder how kids make it so dang difficult!

“Mrs. Braun, I measured my desk and it’s 2 inches long!”  …..wait, WHAT!?!

Every year I have taught, I encounter a kid who finds a different way to measure incorrectly.  After a while it starts to get humorous!  I’ve found that kids need lots of opportunities to practice measuring and receiving feedback on their technique.  For my own sanity I’ve found some ways to help kids organize what they need to know about measurement and make the repeated practice fun.

One measurement book kids really enjoy is Twelve Snails to One Lizard by Susan Hightower.  In this story Milo the beaver needs to use measurement to fix his leaky dam.  He lines up squirmy snails, lizards, and snakes before discovering a better way to measure.  I like how this book helps kids relate units of measurement to animals that they can remember.  Otherwise it’s so easy for the kids to forget which unit is longer or shorter.  When  asking kids to estimate how many yards long the playground is I could say, “You know, yards, like a snake.”  I created an anchor chart so we could remember these units and some of the advanced students could start thinking about how to convert back and forth between units.

Measurement technique definitely takes some practice. I picked the most common ways kids would “screw it up” and addressed them with this anchor chart.  Of course kids will always find other creative ways to measure…but we do what we can : )
The Common Core standards require that students know about different tools for measurement and be able to choose the appropriate tool for a given situation.  This anchor chart helps students remember the main measurement tools they will encounter and which units those tools measure.
One trick that can really help kids internalize the size of units is to give them “body benchmarks,” that is, a part of their body that is close to the length of a particular unit.  Here are three that I find helpful for kids.  Then when you ask them “which is bigger, an inch or a centimeter?” they can think about how the middle section on their pointer finger (about an inch) is bigger than the width of their pinky (about a centimeter).

Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.