Series Building on Young Children's Mathematical Thinking : Build & Describe


Common core State Standards

  • Math:  Math
  • K:  Kindergarten
  • G:  Geometry
  • A:  Identify and describe shapes
  • 1: 
    Describe objects in the environment using names of shapes, and describe the relative positions of these objects using terms such as above, below, beside, in front of, behind, and next to.

Download Common Core State Standards (PDF 1.2 MB)

Build & Describe

Lesson Objective: Use blocks and verbal descriptions to build a structure
Pre-K-K / Math / Shapes


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How does this strategy help students build their vocabulary?
  2. What do students learn from being both the lead builder and the builders who follow the directions?
  3. How did Ms. Krogmann take advantage of a teachable moment?


  • Private message to Avery Baird

This is a great way to get the student to use their mathematical skills as well as communication skills when describing what they built and how. I also like how each student is challenged to build the leader's structure. The teacher asking questions to the students when they do not complete the structure correctly is a great way to get them thinking on what words they could have used to better describe the structure. Not only did this lesson have vocabulary challenges, it also had geometry challenges that the students didn't even realize they were doing which is a great teaching moment.

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  • Private message to Miranda Garcia

This strategy helped to build the students vocabulary by increasing the use of prepositions in order to describe their building structure. 

As the students are the lead builder they have to use descriptive languge in order for the other students to replicte the structure correctly. The builders that are following are working on their receptive languge as well as asking questions. 

Ms. Krogmann takes advntage of a teachable moment by teaching the students to describe the position of the rectangular block. She agrees with the student it is on the square block but adds that is is also touching the floor, so it is laying diagonal.

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  • Private message to Cade Patterson

This is a great way to get to widen their vocabulary. As she is building the students are able to question what direction or orientation the blocks lay. It is also a great activity to not only work on the student’s vocabulary as they are describing what they are making to their classmates. This works on communication skills and makes the students think about what they are describing. This is a great activity and would be fun to use!

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  • Private message to Carolina Sovilay

I am always looking for activities that build vocabulary, and this is a good activity for students to be able to describe and ask questions.  There is a very similar product called Mental Blox that I have, and I used this to teach math geometry three-dimensional solid vocabulary.  It includes picture cards and 3D solids, which I used in small group with three-four students because it is one set.  

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  • Private message to Mary Brewer

I really like this activitiy and I am wondering if I could do this whole class (with 20 students) with smaller objects. I like that the students use specific vocabulary and can look at neighbors to decide is each of them is doing the "right" thing. It a good way to do some assessment, namely finding out how students are thinking, how they use their words, if they can support their statements.

Recommended (1)


  • Build & Describe Transcript

    Teacher: I'm going to build a structure, and then I'm going to explain to you how to

    Build & Describe Transcript

    Teacher: I'm going to build a structure, and then I'm going to explain to you how to build exactly what I have. I'm gonna see if you can match. Think you can do it? Okay, let me build.

    One way that I engage children in the work around spatial relations and mathematical thinking is an activity called Build and Describe.

    Students: ... but don't trick us.

    Teacher: Oh, I'm gonna try to trick you.

    In this type of activity, children use blocks and one person is the lead builder, and their blocks are not visible to the rest of the group, they're hidden.

    The first block that I used is the one with the square face.

    After they're done building, their job is to describe exactly what the structure looks like.

    I left a little bit of room and then used the rectangular block, so I made a line of blocks.

    From there, the rest of the children are to try to build or replicate the same structure as the lead builder.

    First I have the square block.

    Students: Standing up or laying down?

    Teacher: Ooh, Victoria, good question. What did you say?

    What that leads to is the children who are building, asking that lead builder clarifying questions, such as how the blocks are oriented to each other, are they standing up or they laying down. They're clarifying very specific details that they can match their structure to the lead builder.

    Okay, let's look at that. Can you turn it all around?

    Ultimately the lead builder will reveal their structure and they'll talk about what more specific vocabulary could we have used to make sure that the rest of the builders matched the lead builder.

    Where else is the rectangular block?

    Students: Next to the square.

    Teacher: Is it next to the square? Look at his.

    Students: It's on the back of it. It's in the back of the square.

    Teacher: It sure is. It is behind or in the back of the square block.

    Students: The little square is laid on the bottom.

    Teacher: Okay.

    Today I noticed the children were placing blocks diagonally and they don't have that language.

    Students: It's sitting on it, but with the end on it.

    Teacher: That was a perfect teachable moment when the lead builder revealed their structure and I could intentionally insert that vocabulary.

    That was hard to describe how this block was laying, wasn't it? Because it was not all the way on top of the square block, but it was also touching the ground. It's kind of diagonal. You see it's not ...

    That happens all the time and it will continue becoming more complex as they're comfortable with this type of activity.

    Students: The rectangle is on top of the cylinder.

    Teacher: I try to incorporate myself into those groups because I want them to see me as a learner too.

    Students: Standing up ... I mean laying down.

    Teacher: But I need to be very thoughtful about when I make a move because they're always looking to me. What I'm doing is supposed to be correct. Often times I'll sit back and let the children start acting or moving objects before I start acting upon those objects.

    Oh my goodness, I guess we should have ...

    Students: [inaudible 00:03:25]

    Teacher: We should have asked some questions about our cylinder block that was standing up straight or laying on its side. Wow, that was hard work.


Allyson Krogmann Jordan


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