Geometry Math Menu for Primary Grades
L.J. Dowell-Hantelmann
Grades 2/3 Teacher, Lakeview School,
Regina Saskatchewan

  A menu is a collection of problem-solving activities that provide class work for one or more weeks. The activities are organized around a particular mathematical focus and often are continuations or extensions of activities introduced in whole class lessons. In general, the activities on a menu are not hierarchical and do not conceptually build upon each other. Students have the opportunity to make choices about the sequence in which they work on the tasks and the amount of time they spend on each activity.
This quote is taken from an overview on the second videotape in Marilyn Burnās video Mathematics: teaching for understanding. Grades K-6, Parts 1-3. I had the opportunity to view these tapes in the spring of 1997 and became interested in the menu approach for teaching math. The video shows different classrooms talking, writing and preparing their materials at different stages of menu work. I decided to try and design a menu for a money unit I was about to teach and was very impressed with what I saw in my grade 3/2 classroom. I organized a few more menus before the end of June and tried different approaches to menu math. My students liked working independently on the menu activities. I see as math menus having an important role in my math class along with math groups and individual seat work.

Why use a math menu? This is what I discovered in my classroom:

  • I have time to observe students interact with math and talk to them about what they are doing.

  • Students are learning to work independently and problem solve as they complete the activities.

  • Students have choices for their learning, they are in control of their learning.

  • I am free to work with one grade for several lessons if I am introducing them to a new concept exclusive to that grade. This is an very important issue for myself as a teacher of a combined grade. One group of students are doing real active learning while I teach another group of students.

  • Each activity is explained and demonstrated at the beginning of the menu and reviewed as necessary at the beginning of each class. I can quickly assess the difficult activities that need further instructions as I observe the students working.

  • Students discuss daily activities or problems they encounter at the end of each class and I encourage students to share different ways to solve the given problems with their classmates.
Choices you have as a teacher to design a math menu to suit your teaching style or student needs:
  • Students can work independently, with a partner or in groups of four.

  • Students can prepare for a class discussion by having a particular activity completed by a specified day.

  • Students can work on a menu in sequence beginning with activity #1.

  • Work can be collected in a notebook or organized in a regular folder or a construction paper folder. Students are shown how to label each activity and file the activities in sequence in their folders.

  • I set up the materials needed for the menu as I explained the instructions.

  • I corrected a folder of activities after the menu work was completed and filed it in their student portfolios.

  • Menu activities can range from a few days to a few weeks.

  • Menu activities can involve both grades in a combined grade classroom or involve one grade while you teach the other grade.

  • Assessment rubics can be developed for grading the menu work.

  • A checklist of activities can be designed for the student folder cover.
A sample of a menu for plane geometry:

The following is a sample of a plane geometry menu that I have designed using the 1992 Math Curriculum Guide, and activities from the Math Curriculum Guide, Quest 2000 (by Addison Wesley), Active Math (by Gage) and Interactions (by Ginn). I also recommend viewing Marilyn Burnās video to listen to her explain and demonstrate math menus. I use chart paper to display the menu in my classroom.


  1. With a partner collect 1 basket of pattern blocks. Take turns sorting blocks into two different groups and ask your partner to guess your sorting rule? (Some rules could be shapes that stack, roll, slide, or shapes with 3 edges, 4 vertices, 6 faces)

  2. Finish these patterns: square triangle circle square triangle circle square ______ ______
    circle oval oval circle oval oval circle ________ _________
    Make up one more pattern using 2-dimensional shapes.

  3. Look around our classroom, draw: 2 things that are rectangles, 3 things that are square, 1 thing that is a triangle, and 4 things that are circles. Remember to color the pictures. (Grade 3ās can also try to find a hexagon, an oval and an octagon shape.)

  4. Design a robot using only one shape. Choose a square, circle, rectangle, diamond, or triangle. Everything in your robot has to be that shape. Have fun! We will put these pictures up on the bulletin board.

  5. Use a set of tangrams to create a design. Trace around the outside of each shape.

  6. Choose 2 geometric solids. Write 3 facts about how they are different and 3 facts about how they are the same. For example: a ball has 0 corners, a cube has 4 corners. Think about their edges, vertices, faces, and if they slide, stack or roll.

  7. Use a geoboard and create a shape with 1 elastic. Copy the shape onto dot paper. Now use 2 elastics to create a shape and copy this design onto dot paper.

  8. Use pattern blocks to trace different shapes out of construction paper. Use these shapes, string, straws to design a geometric mobile.
Learning Objectives

Strand: Geometry
Topic: Plane

  • G-12 design classifications and sort two-dimensional shapes according to various characteristics

  • G-13 name, illustrate, and identify examples from the environment of square, rectangle, circle, triangle (grade 3 only - hexagon, octagon, oval)

  • G-14 trace and draw two-dimensional figures

  • G-16 combine two-dimensional geometric figures to make other figures.
Active Mathematics, 
 (Investigation Booklet, Space, Level 1), Gage Educational Publishing Company, c. 1992.
 (See What I Can Do booklet, Exploring Geometry Patterns, Grade 2), Ginn Publishing Canada Inc., c. 1994.
Mathematics A Curriculum Guide for the Elementary Level, 
 Saskatchewan Education, September 1992.
Quest 2000 Exploring Mathematics, 
 (Grade 2 Teacherās Guide & Journal). Addison-Wesley Publishers Limited., Don Mills, ON, c. 1996.
Mathematics: teaching for understanding, 
 (video), Marilyn Burns, Cuisenaire Company of America, Inc., White Plains, New York. c. 1992.

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