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New series — Maths in pictures: Measurement

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By Laura Wardclass teacher at Cove Junior School

Discover our exciting new maths series that uses images as a creative stimulus

maths in pictures: measuring

The aim of the following activities is to improve children’s measurement skills by placing problems in a real-life context, particularly by using real-life props and images to challenge and inspire. This includes choosing and using appropriate equipment, reading a range of scales accurately and measuring length, mass and capacity with increasing accuracy.

Begin the lesson by using one of the images on the Interactive resource ‘Maths in pictures’ available for all readers to start a discussion on measurement, before moving on to the following activities. After completing the activities, you could return to any points raised and discuss them further.


  1. Rattlesnakes
  2. Post Office parcels
  3. Wizard’s potions

1. Rattlesnakes (length)

  • Display a ruler, tape measure, metre stick and trundle wheel at the front of the classroom. Ask the children in what circumstances it would be appropriate to use each one.
  • Challenge the children to create their own rattlesnakes using different coloured pieces of wool. In pairs, they should choose the most appropriate piece of equipment to measure the ‘snakes’ accurately and then cut the wool to size. The following list contains the average lengths of various rattlesnakes and can be used as a guide.


Blacktail Rattlesnake: average length 0.91m

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake: average length 1.2m

Massasauga Rattlesnake: average length 0.7m

Pacific Rattlesnake: average length 1m

Pygmy Rattlesnake: average length 0.45m

  • Ask the children why they chose particular equipment and give them the opportunity to change their mind as they begin the practical task of making their rattlesnakes.

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Online extras!

All readers can access the Interactive resource ‘Maths in pictures’ – a PowerPoint® presentation of real-life images that encourage children to seek out measurements in everyday life – such as how long a snail measures!

2. Post Office parcels (mass)

  • Before this activity, prepare a number of packages of different sizes and, most importantly, of different mass. Explain to the children that these all need posting but you do not know how much to pay for them.
  • Display a table showing the postage prices. You can find a full list of postage prices at your local Post Office, or online at Challenge the children to measure the mass of each packet and label it with the cost for posting.
  • You could extend this activity by choosing which should be posted first or second class. The children could also measure the length, breadth and depth of each packet to see which category the Post Office would place it in: packet, large letter or parcel.

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3. Wizard’s potions (capacity)

  • Before the lesson, collect a range of different-sized and shaped containers and fill with water. Take a note of the capacity of each one. Next, turn the water into a wizard’s potions by adding a few drops of food colouring to each one. Label the containers ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’, and so on, and then place them around the classroom before the lesson.
  • Display a range of measuring beakers, jugs or cylinders in different sizes and scales at the front of the classroom. Ask the children to think when it would be appropriate to use each of these – for example, measuring medicine, the capacity of a cup, a drinks bottle or a bucket.
  • Tell the children that a wizard has lost all the name labels from his magic potions. He knows how much he has of each potion. Can the children find out which potion is which?
  • Display some names of potions (you can be as creative as you like here!) on the board and the amount that the wizard should have. The children should then choose a container and an appropriate piece of measuring equipment to find out which potion is which. Remind them that they may need to choose a different piece of equipment for each potion, depending on its capacity.

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Next month: Scale and ratio