How Big is a Foot? Math Literacy Lesson

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I've always been a big fan of children's books that also include math concepts.  How Big is a Foot?  is fantastic for teaching students about measurement, especially for the beginning math student.  The importance of a standard unit of measurement, is entertained during this funny story, and provides an excellent opportunity for higher level thinking.  

I could go on and on about the wonderful storytelling of Rolf Myller, and how playful and fun this book is, and how your kids will beg you to read it over and over and over again.  But maybe you can just see for yourself?  

Ready to spice up your math  with some literacy?

First, hand out a sheet of notebook paper to each student.  Split the class into two groups, giving one group a pile of small clothespins; the other receives a pile of large clothespins.  Instruct each group to measure the length and width of the paper, using the clothespins.  Students can write these numbers down on their papers if you wish.  (*Other items for measurement can be used: small and large paper clips or short strips of uniform-length cardstock strips and longer strips of uniform-length cardstock strips, etc).  


When the groups are finished measuring. discuss the findings.  Ask why the two groups did not get the same answers for the length and width, even though they had the same size of notebook paper.

Gather students into a group once again.  Read How Big is a Foot? to your students.  If you wish, you may instead view the book being read on YouTube by a child narrator:

Allow for discussion throughout the book.  Pause after the apprentice is put in jail and unhappy and the author asks the question:


"WHY WAS THE BED TOO SMALL FOR THE QUEEN?"  Allow students to answer, and enjoy the "aha!" connection between the different sized feet and the different sized clothespins!  :o)

When the book is finished, pair up your students and allow them to choose who will be the King and who will be the Queen.  

The Queen lies down on an extended sheet of paper and, with a pencil, is outlined by the King.  Then, the Queen outlines the King's foot on a piece of cardboard, and cuts out the cardboard outline.

The students measure the width of the Queen's bed (short edge of the paper) and the Length of the Queens bed (long edge of paper) using the cardboard outline of the King's Foot by outlining the cardboard cut-out. The students also together color in the Queen outline with pajamas, adding a face, ears, hair, etc.  Don't forget the crown!  

When finished, display around the classroom.

As a closing activity, ask students to share the width and the length of each of their beds.  Are they the same?  Different?  Why?  Discuss the importance of a standard unit of measurement.  Allow students to either write a paragraph about why the Queen's bed was too small for her at first, and why a standard unit of measurement is important.  To differentiate for kids who need a little help with their writing, simply transcribe their answers on a sheet of paper, and have them draw a picture and write their names.  You can also use a tape recorder.  

Please let me know how you liked this book, and how your students responded to this activity!  

Want to see some other "How Big is a Foot?" Lessons?  Try this one and this one.  

For more ideas for how to make math and literacy work fantastically in your classroom,  check out this compelling article from Education World, interviewing one of my favorites: Marilyn Burns.