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Grandma's Button Box

Data Analysis and Probability
Grace M. Burton
Location: unknown

In this lesson, students have opportunities to identify properties and to sort, classify, organize, and display data. They solve problems and make, explain, and defend conjectures. They extend their knowledge by making generalizations and consolidating their thinking.

Gather students so they can see the book and hear you read aloud the story The Button Box by Margarette Reid. The child in this story examines the different buttons in grandma’s button box. As you read the story, ask questions that focus the students’ attention on the properties, similarities and differences, and multiple ways to sort the buttons. (See the Questions for Students.)

2732 buttons

After reading the story, discuss the properties, similarities and differences, and multiple ways to sort the buttons in grandma’s button box. List properties that students identify on a chart and post for future reference. Give students the Grandma’s Button Box Activity Sheet for recording the various properties.

pdficon Grandma's Button Box Activity Sheet

You will use this to document students prior knowledge so that you will know how to plan instruction and to monitor each student’s progress.

For the next part of the lesson, arrange the students in a circle. Introduce the game "Button, Button, Describe the Button" by explaining how the game is played:

  • A button will be passed around the circle until the leader or teacher says stop.
  • The student holding the button gives one descriptive feature (property) that has not been contributed previously (ex. for the button below: green, circular, has two holes, has ridges, small, flat, etc.).
  • Play continues until students develop fluency in describing the button.
  • If a student is unable to identify a new feature, then that student may ask another student for help.
2732 button1

Assessment Options

  1. At this stage of the unit it is important to know the properties students attend to, whether students can sort using only one or more than one property, and if students can sort the same set of objects in multiple ways. You might collect data and document information about the following:
    • Are students able to accurately name the properties of the buttons?
    • Which properties do most of the students attend to?
    • Are students able to use more than one property to sort the buttons?
  2. Use the students’ completed Buttons in Grandma’s Button Box Activity Sheet to help determine their level of performance.
  3. It is important to determine students’ understanding and appropriate use of the vocabulary of sorting. Use the Key Ideas and Words Recording Sheet or some other tool that matches the curriculum designed for use in your setting to guide your assessment of the strengths and needs of your students. Using the guiding questions will help you determine the each student’s level of understanding. Documenting information gained from interviews conducted during the student’s participation will enable you to plan next steps—whether they are extensions or re-teaching activities.
    pdficonKey Ideas and Words Recording Sheet 


  1. Substituting a different button can change the "Button, Button, Describe the Button" game.
  2. Another variation is to pass two buttons and have the student holding the buttons describe one. The remainder of the class could then guess which button is being described. This requires more critical thinking and mental comparison of properties. It also focuses on visual memory skills.
  3. Move on to the next lesson, Alike and Different.

Questions for Students 

1. Can you describe the buttons in this story?

[Students may use the following categories to describe the buttons: color, shape, type, size.]

2. How are the buttons alike?

[Student responses may vary.]

3. How are the buttons different?

[Student responses may vary.]

4. How could you sort the buttons?

[By color, shape, type, and size.]

5. Could you sort the buttons in a different way?

[Student responses will depend upon their sorting experiences.]

6. What problems might you have when sorting objects?

[Students might respond by saying deciding how to sort, objects which can fall under different headings, etc.]

For the "Button, Button, Describe the Button" Game:

7. How many ways could you describe color?

[Answers might include green, not green; light or dark, blue green, and yellow green.]

8. What are ways to describe the shape of the button?

[Answers might include round and not round, “x” number of sides, triangle or not a triangle, and polygon.]

9. In how many different ways can you describe its size?

[Possible answers include big or not big, smaller than, larger than, the same size as, and so forth.]

Teacher Reflection 

  • Is there another piece of literature that would be useful for teaching sorting?
  • Which similarities did students notice?
  • Which differences did students notice?
  • What other learning experience would help students identify similarities? Differences?


Data Analysis and Probability

Properties Everywhere

This lesson captures students’ interest, provides a review of the primary unit objectives, and assesses students’ prior knowledge. This experience focuses students’ attention on the attributes of objects and rules for sorting them while building vocabulary for describing attributes and for classifying objects.
AlikeAndDifferent ICON
Data Analysis and Probability

Alike and Different

This lesson focuses on the observation of properties and the classification of objects to build ideas about variables. Students compare objects to identify similarities and differences. In addition, students are introduced to Venn Diagrams.
2742 icon
Data Analysis and Probability

Naming Rows and Columns

In this lesson, the teacher models how to organize data and use the vocabulary associated with collecting, organizing, and displaying data. Students learn the difference between rows and columns, how to label and select a title for graphs, and what comparative terms to use to describe relationships between and among the various sets of buttons.
ShowAndTell ICON
Data Analysis and Probability

Show and Tell

This lesson allows students to describe their graphs using appropriate vocabulary and to develop skills in posing and responding to questions about their graphs. Students also demonstrate an understanding of how to organize and interpret data. In addition, this lesson helps students move from the concrete through pictorial to abstract representations of displays of data, namely a graph.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Sort items by color, size, type, and shape.
  • Use the vocabulary of sorting.
  • Classify organize, and display data.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Pose questions and gather data about themselves and their surroundings.
  • Sort and classify objects according to their attributes and organize data about the objects.
  • Represent data using concrete objects, pictures, and graphs.