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Shapes and Poetry

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Students read the poem "Shapes" from A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein, and create their own illustration of the poem. In this lesson, students explore geometric figures and positional words.

Poem Summary  

A square is minding its own business when a triangle comes down and strikes the square in the back. A circle comes to the square's rescue.

Structuring the Investigation  

Read the poem, "Shapes", to the student. This poem can be found in the book, A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. As you read the poem, direct students to pay attention to the shapes mentioned in the poem. As necessary, re‑read the poem several times.  Discuss the poem and ask students to imagine what the scene looked like. 

pdficonShapes Art Activity Sheet 

Distribute copies of the Shapes Art Activity Sheet to each student and ask them to illustrate the poem.


832 square   832 triangle   832 circle

Alternatively, you may choose to distribute geometric shapes (square, rectangle, triangle, and circle) to each student. Direct them to arrange their shapes according to what they hear in the poem. Distributing pre-cut shapes may limit students' interpretations of each of the shapes and limit the opportunity for you to assess whether they recognize triangles, squares, rectangles, and circles in all sizes, and for triangles and rectangles, different shapes. If students have already arranged the geometric shapes, direct them to copy their arrangement on the page labeled My Illustration onto the activity sheet.

After completing the illustration, direct students to justify their illustrations and then to share them with each other. Encourage them to "argue" their case. (Remind the students that it is possible that a wide variety of illustrations will be drawn that are all entirely justifiable.)

Students should complete the remainder of the activity sheet. They will need access to the book, A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein, to answer questions 2, 3, and 4 on the activity sheet.


  • Hopkins, Martha. "Ideas: Mathematics and Children’s Literature." The Arithmetic Teacher. May, 1993. pp 512 - 520.
  • Silverstein, Shel, A Light in the Attic. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981.
  • Book: A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
  • Shapes Art Activity Sheet  OR
  • One cut-out figure of each geometric shape for each student: square, rectangle, triangle, and circle (optional)

Assessment Options 

  1. Do students draw the two-dimensional shapes, such as triangles, circles, rectangles, and squares, from different orientations or in different sizes?
  2. Are students able to describe the properties of each shape, including vertices, sides, or by attributes that define the shape.  Are they able to make arguments to justify naming one of their drawn figures as a particular shape?


  1. Supply students with several other shapes. Encourage them to write a poem or story using the shapes. As the stories are shared, ask other class members to illustrate the stories. The collection of stories and poems (along with the illustrations) can be compiled into a class book for future reference.
  2. Read the book The Greedy Triangle to students, again featuring the properties of the polygons in the story.  In the discussion ask students what happens to the triangle as it changes.  What are the benefits of being a triangle?  What are the disadvantages?  Why?

Questions for Students 

  1. Can you tell me what shape you have drawn?  How do you know it is a _______ ? 

    [Answers will vary.  Look for evidence that students can name the shapes and that they recognize that the shapes are two-dimensional and not three.]

  2. What happened to the wounded square when the triangle hit him?  Did it change his shape?  What does he look like now?  Is he still a square?

    [Answers will vary.  Look for evidence in students' words and drawings that if one of square's sides is pushed in, he may now have more sides.]

  3. What does a "passing rolling circle" look like?  Why was it easier for the circle to take the square to the hospital?

    [Look for evidence that students recognize that a circle rolls more easily because it has no vertices like the other shapes do.]

Teacher Reflection 

  • What geometrical properties of the triangle, square, and circle do students illustrate in their story?  Did students use these properties as tools for illustrating the poem? In what ways?
  • Do students draw or recognize triangles that are not "typical"?  eg. those that are not isosceles or equilateral.  How can I help those who do not recognize atypical orientations and sizes?
  • Do students recognize that the triangle's strike may change the square's shape?  If students change the shape of the square as a result of the triangle's act, do they realize that it may no longer be a square? What are the social implications for the violence in this poem?  How are students responding?



Estimating Volume by Counting on Frank

In this lesson, students read the book Counting on Frank. They use information in the book to make estimates involving volume. In particular, students explore the size of humpback whales.

How Big Is a Foot?

In this lesson, students read the book How Big Is a Foot?, by Rolf Myller. They then create non-standard units (using their own footprints) and use them to make "beds." As a result, students explore the need for a standard unit of measure.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Recognize geometric figures.
  • Draw and describe geometric figures.
  • Interpret positional words.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Identify, compare, and analyze attributes of two- and three-dimensional shapes and develop vocabulary to describe the attributes.
  • Describe location and movement using common language and geometric vocabulary.

Common Core State Standards – Mathematics

-Kindergarten, Geometry

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.G.A.2
    Correctly name shapes regardless of their orientations or overall size.

-Kindergarten, Geometry

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.G.A.3
    Identify shapes as two-dimensional (lying in a plane, ''flat'') or three-dimensional (''solid'').

-Kindergarten, Geometry

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.G.B.4
    Analyze and compare two- and three-dimensional shapes, in different sizes and orientations, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, parts (e.g., number of sides and vertices/''corners'') and other attributes (e.g., having sides of equal length).

Grade 1, Geometry

  • CCSS.Math.Content.1.G.A.1
    Distinguish between defining attributes (e.g., triangles are closed and three-sided) versus non-defining attributes (e.g., color, orientation, overall size) ; build and draw shapes to possess defining attributes.

Grade 2, Geometry

  • CCSS.Math.Content.2.G.A.1
    Recognize and draw shapes having specified attributes, such as a given number of angles or a given number of equal faces. Identify triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons, hexagons, and cubes.

Grade 5, Geometry

  • CCSS.Math.Content.5.G.B.4
    Classify two-dimensional figures in a hierarchy based on properties.