Shapes at Work


  • blocks, tangrams, or other traceable shapes
Shapes at Work Photo Credit: Clipart.com


To look for shapes in both the natural and designed world; to investigate the ways in which shapes can be used; to design and build structures using appropriate shapes. 


In this lesson, students will explore various shapes and record findings in their science journals. They will record shapes that they find around them, identifying those that can be used to solve practical problems and build larger structures.

As stated in Benchmarks, it would be helpful to display class findings on a bulletin board entitled “Shapes We Have Used (or Made)”. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p.27).


Distribute a classroom block, tangram, or other traceable shape pattern to each student. 

Have students:

  1. Trace the shape in their journal. 
  2. Draw and label three examples of places where one might find this shape.
  3. Create a sketch of an original object that includes this shape. 
  4. Share and post their sketches. 


Take students on an outdoor shape hunt.  (PBS Online’s Community Geometry offers suggestions on where students can look for shapes in the buildings and objects around them.) 

Ask students:

  • What shapes do you expect to see?
  • Where do you expect to find them?
  • Which shapes do you think you will find most often in nature? Why?
  • Which shapes do you think you will find most often in things designed by people? Why?

Depending on the age of students, you may wish to adapt this activity by assigning small groups of students to look for examples of one specific shape.  Or, you might distribute a worksheet with pictures of several shapes for students to find, with a blank space for drawing and/or writing.  Have students record the shapes they see using words and pictures. 

Have students answer the following questions in their journal:

  • Which shapes did you find? 
  • Which of these shapes are found in nature?
  • Which of these shapes are made by people?
  • Were there any shapes that you expected to see and did not?  Why might that be?

Say to students: Sometimes shapes can be used to do something, or solve a specific problem.  Were any of the shapes you found used to do something?  Were they used to solve a problem?

Using the same block or shape pattern from the previous activity, ask students to test and record their findings for the following:

  • How many uses can you find for your shape?
  • Can it be used to move something?
  • Can it be used to lift something?
  • Is it stackable?
  • What can be constructed using this shape?

For a look at the uses of shapes involved in simple machines, go to Simple Machines from the Franklin Institute or The Elements of Machines from the Boston Museum of Science.  Have students find an example of a shape being used to perform a task on each website.  Have them find an example of how that same shape might be used to perform a similar task in the classroom or at home.

Ask students:

  • Which shapes can be used to perform a task? Which shapes did you find used as parts of a simple machine?
  • Which are found in nature?

Allow students to share their findings from the website and from their classroom exploration.

Go to Bird’s Eye View on the PlaneMath website. Here, students will take a simulated flight above a fictional city in order to identify the shapes that they see in the buildings below them. 

Ask students:

  • What shapes did you see used in construction? 
  • Were there some shapes that you didn’t see in the buildings?  Why might that be?
  • Which shapes are better for use in construction? Why?
  • What do these shapes have in common?

For further investigation of the shapes used in design and construction, go to Structures on all Sides from the Franklin Institute. 

Allow students ample time to work in small groups to explore, design, build, and experiment with a variety of shapes, using blocks, tangrams, Legos, or other suitable materials.  Discuss observations and findings as a class.


Have students revisit their original sketch from the Motivation activity.  Using what they've learned about the uses of shapes, have them add to the sketch so that the object in the drawing can be used to perform a task and/or solve a practical problem. 

Have students write responses to the following questions in their science journal:

  • What can your object do?
  • Which shapes did you use? Why?
  • What role does each of these shapes play in your design?

If time allows, students could build the objects they’ve sketched.


For a project related to construction with shapes, go to Budding Builders.  In this WebQuest, students explore the shapes that are used in structures around them before attempting a building project of their own. The site includes instructions for building structures using folded newspaper to create a variety of shapes.  For detailed instructions on how to carry out out and evaluate this project, visit the teacher link.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks