Exploring 2D Shapes

Stage: Early years Challenge Level: Challenge Level:1


Children enjoy playing with long strings and ribbons and making and describing shapes. Adults could provide long loops of string or elastic to stimulate conversations about 2D shapes.

The activity

Provide loops made from lengths of string or elastic at least 3m long. These can be put on the ground or held in the air by several children for the task. Invite the children to work in groups of three or four. Ask the children to make shapes with their loops. Ask them to talk about what they see.

Mathematical Opportunities/curriculum links

Describing and comparing 2D shapes.
Understanding the characteristics of 2D shapes.

The big ideas and their progression

Properties of shape

Using mathematical language about shapes to describe, compare and contrast them, looking for what is the same and what is different.

Examples: Straight, wiggly, curved, roundy, pointy, bigger, smaller, longer, shorter, corner, like...

The children may begin by talking about attributes of the shapes they make by using informal descriptions such as wiggly, bendy, straight, pointy and move on to more formal language about curves, sides and corners.

Recognising and labeling common shapes:

Examples: triangle, rectangle, square, corner, side,

The children might recognize similarities with shapes they know from their own environment such as like a roof and then begin to use vocabulary such as triangle to describe their shapes.

Describing position

Examples: on, inside, outside, under

Comparing sizes

Using mathematical language about measure to describe what is the same and what is different about them. Describe similarities and differences between them.

The children may consider characteristics of sizes of the shapes made and start to explore ways of measuring them. Groups of children may start to ask questions about how many children they can fit inside their string shape or vary the number of children holding the string so that they can create polygons with different numbers of ‘corners’ or vertices.


Encouraging mathematical thinking and talking:

Suggestion to put these in speech bubbles.


Have you seen a shape like this before? Where?

Doing and undoing


Exploring, comparing and describing

See what you can make.
Tell me about what you have made.

What does it remind you of?

Look at theirs – can you make one like that?

What can we see?

How is it the same as/ different from …?


All the questions presented here can be followed up with questions asking children to say how they know something and why something is the case

Conjecturing - what if?

You could use both hands.

I like your shape – I wonder how you could change it?
I wonder what you could do next?

Would you like to change your shape? How?

How else could you work together with some others with more string?

Does your shape have corners/ sides? How many? What do you notice?
Can you fit any children into your shape? How many? Change your shape. Now can you fit more in? or less?
What is the biggest thing you could put your string round?

How could you put string round something bigger? Smaller?

How could you make a shape with a different number of corners?

Mark making

Trace the shape that you have made with chalk on the playgound or with felt pens on a large peice of paper.

Make a small drawing of the shape you have made

Pattern sniffing

Would you like to make another shape?

Join with some others to make one shape inside/ outside/ alongside / under one another.


Let’s look at what happens when we hold it on the ground.

What are the resources?

Loops of string or elastic

Chalk for marking shapes on playground or big sheets of paper and marker pens

Camera or video camera for recording results


Additional resources

Create interactivity with these properties http://www.mathsisfun.com/geometry/quadrilaterals-interactive.html

Providing more opportunities

This is presented here as a teacher led activity. It might also be possible to model the activity and then let children play freely with the string or elastic but they would need careful supervision to avoid the health and safety issues associated with the resources.

Other activities that complement this one could be:
Printing with potato or sponge shapes.
Shape searches in series of photos or in books and drawings.
I spy shapes games.
Using educational games that involve shape sorting or matching.
Building pictures from precut shapes or cutting shapes from coloured paper or magazines.

Drawing shapes in the sand tray, with paints, through cornflour gloop, with a finger.

Riding wheeled toys through puddles and looking at the tracks.

Painting on the ground or wall with big wallpaper brushes and water

Using natural materials to make shapes: leaves, twigs, daisy chains.

Story, rhyme and song links

My Mum and Dad Make Me Laugh by Nick Sherratt

Washing line by Jez Alborough

Aliens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman

Opposites books such as Kipper's Book of Opposites by Nick Butterworth or Opposites by Eric Carle. Robert Crowther's Opposites is a pop up book.