Measuring Straws

In this lesson, children will use pre-cut straws and match them up with a corresponding length on a piece of paper.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand patterns, relations and functions
  • Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems and processes of measurement
  • Apply appropriate techniques, tools and formulas to determine measurement

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Sorting, classifying and ordering objects by size, number and other properties
  • Recognizing the attributes of length, volume, weight, area and time
  • Using tools to measure
  • Developing common referents for measures to make comparisons and estimates

Measuring Straws

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Straws of all different lengths (About seven straws per child. Use straws of different colors so that each child can have his/her own set of one color.)
  • Matching colored paper with the straw lengths drawn on them in descending order. (Purple straws will work with a purple mat, etc.)

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Explain to the children that today we are going to talk about shortest and tallest and heights in between.
  2. Ask the children to line up from tallest to shortest. They might need help with this activity—especially the children who are close in size.
  3. Once the children are lined up in descending order from tallest to shortest, ask the children to identify the tallest child in the line. Ask the children to identify the shortest child in the line. Ask the children to identify children closer to the taller end of the line. Ask the children to identify children closer to the shorter end of the line. Ask the children to try and identify who is in the middle.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Explain to the children that they will now do the same thing with straws. They will each receive seven straws, which they will put in order from tallest to shortest. There will be lines on the sheet to help them.
  2. When the children are done arranging their straws in descending order, ask the children the same types of questions that you asked when they were in line: Identify the tallest straw, the shortest straw, the straw in the middle of the tallest and shortest, a straw closer to the tallest straw and the straw closest to the shortest straw.

Additional Extensions

  • Do not draw lines on their work mats. Have the children put the straws in descending order (from tallest to smallest) without the pre-drawn lines. Then ask the children to put the straws in ascending order (from smallest to tallest).
  • Under the tallest line, the smallest line and the middle line, write the corresponding word with space below so that the children can also copy and write the word.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Tall, Taller, Tallest: Used to compare stature/height (e.g.,”Which straw is the tallest of all of the straws?”)
  • Short, Shorter, Shortest: Comparison words for length (e.g.,”Which straw is the shortest of all the straws?”)
  • Middle: Point dividing a line segment or group in half (e.g.,”Which straw is the middle of the shortest and tallest straw?”)
  • Height: The measurement from the top to the bottom of something (e.g., “Today, we will measure the height of these straws.”)
  • Measure: Use of standard units to find out size or quantity in regard to length, breadth, height, area, mass, weight, volume, capacity, temperature and time (e.g.,“Today we will measure a group of straws and determine which is the smallest straw and which is the largest straw.”)
  • Ascending order: Arranged from smallest to largest (e.g.,”First, we will arrange the straws in ascending order, from shortest to tallest.”)
  • Descending order: Arranged from largest to smallest (e.g.,“We will arrange the straws in descending order, from tallest to shortest.”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Not be able to successfully arrange straws other than shortest, tallest and middle
  • Just be becoming familiar with the concept of shortest and tallest
Child care providers may:
  • Have the children work with three straws instead of seven (their work mats should only have three lines that correspond to the different straw lengths)
  • Provide sets of two (one item being the tallest and the other item being the shortest) and have the children distinguish between the two items. Provide more items than the two straws: Items that you would measure by height, such as two spaghetti noodles or two blocks)
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Be adept at comparing the heights of objects
Child care providers may:
  • Give the children work mats without pre-drawn lines and have the children put the straws in ascending and descending order on the mats
  • Give the children unlike items to arrange in order from smallest to largest or vice versa

Suggested Books

  • The Dinosaur Who Lived in My Backyard by B. G. Hennessy (New York: Puffin, 1990)
  • Tallest, Shortest, Longest, Greenest, Brownest Animal in the Jungle! by Keith Faulkner (New York: Dutton Juvenile, 2002)

Music and Movement

  • Play an exercise game with the children. Ask the children to duplicate your motions as you make yourself into a short tree (squat down) and a tall tree (reach as high as possible). As you make the movements, say: “Short, tall.” Ask the children to join you.
  • Sing “Big and Small.”  

Outdoor Connections

Go on an outdoor exploration comparing like objects. Which tree is the tallest? Which bush is the smallest? If the children become adept at measuring like objects, mix up the objects and ask comparison questions, such as: “Is the tree taller than the bush? Which is smaller, the yellow car or the blue car?”

Web Resources

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