Concept Lesson -- An explanation in pictures

You may remember that I was planning on doing a surface area concept lesson for Valentine's Day.  This lesson was a precursor to my formal algorithm teaching of the skill and was designed to get the students thinking about what surface area actually means rather than just rote memorization of the rules.

WELL....I didn't do it on VDay.  Just too much to do.  BUT I did do it the day after, and I am back to report about it with SUCCESS!!!!!!

I started the lesson asking the students how they would go about covering a present that they received.  Many of them knew to wrap it (and a few would just put it in the bag of me ;) )  We talked about how, when you wrap a present, you want to cover the entire box so that the person getting the present can't tell what it is...that would ruin the surprise after all.
Here is the page I gave the students

Then I put the requirements for the concept lesson on the ELMO.  I asked one student to read it aloud while the others followed along.  Then, I asked them what the prompt was actually requiring us to do.  The students basically restated the prompt in several ways.  This allows ALL students a chance to access the prompt.  My English Learners especially benefit from this strategy.  The repetition of the prompt, and the careful dissection means that we will not be stuck on the WHAT of the prompt and they will focus on actually doing the math.

Then, I had them work individually for 5 minutes.  They planned out what they *thought* should be done to solve the problem.  After the 5 minutes were up, the students worked with their table partners to go about actually solving it.

There were many different plans of attack.  Some went straight to measuring the tissue box and working some sort of math problem.  Others, started cutting the paper right away.  Still others discussed a combined plan extensively.  As all of this was going on, I was walking around asking them, "Can you explain why you are doing what you are doing?", "Tell me about your plan." or "What do you think we will find out by doing ____?"

The more they worked, the more it became apparent to me who knew what they were doing, which students were on the right track, and who needed more scaffolding/attention. 
This group knew to trace the paper to the size of the tissue box, but didn't really understand the concept of the net helping them.  I asked them question, showed them the box, helped them along in their understanding, but never giving away the answers.  It is important to let them discover the concept themselves...even if that means a lot of guiding questions!
This group got the idea immediately.  They drew the net and were sure that is all they needed to do.  I guided them to the realization that they needed measurements and they proceeded to do *something*.  It was clear that this was a concept they hadn't quite mastered, so we worked together to get the various measurements on the net.
If you look carefully, you can see that the part that was erased was actually this group's attempt to find the PERIMETER of each section of the net.  While they knew that the surface area needed to be found from each of the 6 pieces, when it actually came down to it, they found the perimeter.  We worked together to understand that it was area.  

All of the examples above give me a good idea of where my class is and what they understand in math.  It is very eye opening as a teacher and helps me to tailor my instruction a bit more.

The lesson took about 40 minutes.  After most students seemed to grasp what we were doing, I closed the lesson with some "anonymous sharing."  I took a few of the sheets from the students as they were working (we didn't put names on them to begin with just for this purpose) and put them on the ELMO.  I asked the kids to explain what the students were thinking, to see if they could tell from the evidence on the paper what steps were taken and what the author thought needed to be done to solve the problem.  This really allows the students to see that there are more than one strategy when solving math problems.  It also helps to cement in the concept.
This group, after all the manipulatives were done, found that they really knew what was going on.  So their explanation was a bit more in-depth than some of the other groups.  This was one I definitely used during the anonymous sharing as it had some basic explanation for the kids to grasp onto. 

The next day, when I did my formal algorithm lesson, the kids just got it!  They understood that we were just looking for the area of the 6 sides of the rectangular prism and adding them together.  It all clicked, I know, because they had this concrete exploration ahead of time.  And today, on the test, 90% of the students got the surface area question right!

This idea of concept lesson doesn't have to be for surface area.  It can really be for any big idea you are teaching in class.  I will say that they are frustrating to teach, but the end result is amazing.  I highly recommend trying one in your class.  I guarantee you will be happy with the outcome.  :)

This originally was a Valentine's Day lesson, BUT you don't have to do it then.  I have added a second concept lesson that is for a "party" (so you can use it anytime, but still keep the same idea of covering a present)  Just click the picture of the printable above and it will be attached!

If you are looking for more measurement themed ideas and freebies, here is a link to some great ones, spanning all grade levels.  Enjoy!


  1. Awesome lesson! Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. What a great lesson Steph!!!!! I love how hands on and engaged your students were!

    ❤ Mor Zrihen from...
    A Teacher's Treasure
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  3. What a great lesson. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. I love the task-centered learning that is taking place in your classroom. Your depth of knowledge of the curriculum lends itself to lessons which are backed by research(Yakel, Cobb, & Wood, just to name a few) and engagement that allows for conceptual understanding. I wish my kids can have you as a teacher!
    I have been a big fan of your blog for a while and look forward to your creative ideas~!

  5. What do you mean by "the concept of the net" helping them? I got lost there. This will help some of my kids.

    1. The idea that creating a net for the box as the way to wrap it will help them get the surface area of the box.

  6. I did this lesson today with both of my math classes, and was pleasantly suprised by their "Aha" moments :0) I was a bit aprehensive about doing the lesson b/c of the kids and their personalities, but it was wonderful to watch the magic happening as they transitioned from creating a net to grasping an understanding for the Surface Area formula. I was so caught off guard by my first group and the learning that took place that I told my Asst. Principal to pop in while I did same activity with my 2nd group of kids....he enjoyed watching the magic happen as well :-) Thanks for sharing a great activity!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! You literally made my day right now :) I love hearing stories of success with concept lessons!

  7. LOVE the lesson. Quick Question.

    Did you use this lesson to introduce Surface Area?? we are starting surface area this coming week and want to use this lesson appropriately. My class just finished learning about net as well! :)

  8. Catherine from AustraliaSeptember 1, 2014 at 11:51 PM

    I used this for a lesson today - thank you so much! It was great as I have students who are very capable with straight skills but this really pushed them to use their problem solving skills and to think outside the box. It was great as some of my top kids were very challenged by this and it also brought up misconceptions from some of my other top kids.

    I didn't give them a tissue box (as didn't have any of the right size or enough even if I did) but walked around and used it to prompt kids. It's hard work for the teacher to not just give them obvious clues or answers but to think of the right guiding questions!

    Thank you - we will continue this lesson tomorrow but it is fantastic so far!

  9. Catherine from AustraliaSeptember 1, 2014 at 11:52 PM

    I walked around with a tissue box to prompt them, just not one of the same dimensions!


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