Utilization Strategies

Lesson Plans

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by Cori Bricker
University of Idaho


GRADES 5 - 6


Scales are used in so many activities, from reading road atlases to building houses. They are also an important part of 5th and 6th grade measurement concepts. Since these grades are exploring fractions, introducing scale is an appropriate idea at this time. This unit uses the Math Talk video session to initiate inquiry about how ratios work. Students will work in small groups to solve the problems presented. The main project, mapping the classroom, will use these discussions to collaborate in creating a tangible demonstration of their understanding.

Time for completion will depend on the students' prior knowledge of scale and ratio, as well as the teacher's own calendar schedule for the year. Make sure to break after video segments or activities have been completed. Discuss or review any material covered from the previous days; short question and answer sessions would work well for refreshing students' memories before they begin the next part of the lesson.


Students should be able to:

  • read a scale symbol and interpret it

  • create a workable scale for situations in the video

  • use peers as resources for classroom project

  • explain the real layout of the classroom based on the scale representation

  • understand the relationship between three common metric measurements and their standard American counterparts


  • Math Talk Measurement Video
  • TV and VCR
  • Multi-link cubes
  • Road maps/atlases, 2 per group of 4-5
  • Rulers with both inches and metric marks (one per student)
  • Yardsticks (approximately 1 per 5 students for large spaces in Action Plan
  • Graph paper (regular tablet size and grid size - 1 inch squares)
  • Pencils/markers
  • construction paper
  • Large cardboard sheet for classroom map backing


Organization: groups of 4-5

Have students get a box of multi-link cubes for their table.

Pass out different notes to each table with instructions to build an object with real measurements e.g. "build a large warehouse: 1500 feet wide, 2000 feet long and 65 feet high."

Give students time to play with the cubes, discuss their ideas and construct a model. Ask the groups to share their instructions and their model with the class.

Write ideas related to scale on the board as they come up. Brainstorm for examples of scales and ratios.



To give students a specific responsibility while viewing, have them note the main problem in the three scenes and come up with an example of the same situation in real life.


START the video at the beginning of the episode with Maria and Buster hosting a radio show. PAUSE the video when the scale "one centimeter to two hundred miles" is brought up.

Discuss the basics of the metric system. Write equivalents of centimeters, meters and kilometers in inches, feet and miles on the board for the children to reference as they watch. Brainstorm for any simple French words the children may know, such as monsieur, oui, etc. Discuss their meanings briefly.

RESUME the video. PAUSE the video when Maria and Buster reappear with the end of the iceberg incident. Ask for any real life examples of this incident. Discuss the importance of accuracy in scales. Review the scale used in the iceberg incident and have a student draw the correct scale with units on the board.

RESUME the video. PAUSE the video when the segment with the two boys traveling appears. Pass out atlases or local road maps to each group. Ask for students to share the length of trips they've taken. Have them write down the distance on a sheet of paper and see if they can come up with a reasonable way to scale the trip to their paper size. Allow the children a few minutes to discuss their trips and the distances in relationship to their paper size. Ask the children to keep their ears open for video clues on answering their trip problem.

RESUME the video. PAUSE the video at the end of the explanation about miles per hour. Ask the children to share their trip scales. Did anyone hear clues in the video? What were they? Have children write or draw their scales up on the board so everyone can see. Have students answer questions about their scales - encourage children to challenge their peer's thinking if it doesn't make sense to them. Have students stack the atlases on their tables with their trip drawings. Ask for students to share about models and replicas of buildings. What do they look like? Where have they seen them?

RESUME the video. Let the video play through to the end. Distribute some example floor plans to each group. Allow the children to explore them for a minute or so. Ask each group to share what their floor plan looks like and what its scale means. Have one student record the information on the board. After all the groups have shared, use the information to determine whose house has the most/least square feet, has the largest/smallest bedroom, etc.

Web Sites for Further Application

The Virtual Tourist - a map-based interface to general information, tourist guides, and pictures for places all over the world

Interactive kids site from National Geographic featuring live forums, exhibits, photography and adventure games




  • If possible, bring some guest speakers into your classroom. A mapmaker or employee in a cartography business would be wonderful. A local architect or construction worker would also work well. Keep in mind that local high schools or universities may have students who would be experienced and knowledgeable about scale and ratio too. Create your own radio show with several hosts who answer questions from the class on the video.
  • Design a show set and headsets for each host. Have the students create exploratory scenes of scale and ratio using the materials they've created during the video or original ideas they've discussed with you

Bring out the cardboard sheet and the grid-size graph paper. Explain the project - that they will be mapping the classroom - and answer any initials questions. Have students divide up the room in whatever way they decide will work best. Perhaps each group of students could be responsible for measuring the placement of certain pieces of furniture or all the objects in a specific part of the classroom.

All work will be mounted on the cardboard sheet to create a large map of the classroom. Students may want to glue/tape the graph paper on the cardboard to begin with or they may want to draw their scale representations first and then paste them on. After the project is near completion, suggest color coding with markers or construction paper accents.

Ask the group some questions such as "Would a stranger be able to look at your map and know exactly where Amy's desk is?" or "Would the principal be able to plan a fire escape route based on this diagram of our classroom?" Questions like this direct the children to the practical purposes of a scale model and help them think about their representation from another perspective.


  • Have students write an essay about a trip they've taken, trade essays with a classmate, read each other's pieces and then summarize their friend's trip for the class.
  • Explore scales in music through keyboards, Orff instruments, drawn piano keys, CDs, etc. What do major and minor scales sound like? What do they look like?
  • Have students make a scale of their bedroom at home including cutouts of bedroom furniture from construction paper, magazines, etc. Have them label the room contents in another language such as Spanish or French.
  • Have students write to professional architects or historical buildings for scale models or drawings. Have them construct a building of their choice, built to scale, using common classroom materials such as file folders, etc.
  • Have students design a game board of a sport (like soccer), using the proper scale, write modified rules for play and then play the game with a small group or the class.

For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource at PBS Online! You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites! Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!

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