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  • Writer's pictureKristy Johnson

3 Tips for Teaching Measurement Conversions

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

As an upper elementary teacher, do you have to teach your students how to do measurement conversions? This is a very hard topic for many students because there are so many different categories in the area of measurement - customary, metric, capacity, volume, length, weight, etc. Something that has worked well in my classroom is to start the measurement unit off by teaching the vocabulary and showing examples of different items (Milk jugs, scales, measuring spoons, ruler, measuring tape, etc) and asking the students to think about when they have seen these items or what they are used for. This gets a conversation going about all the different types of measurement and also why it is important to understand measurements and measurement conversions (cooking is one big example). This FREEBIE Foldable is also ALWAYS passed out for students to glue in their interactive notebooks and review measurement vocabulary.

Lesson Layout

After I introduce the vocabulary words and show students hands-on examples of measurement conversions, we typically then spend one day on each of the different measurement topics. Since we are in the United States, we always start with learning about customary measurements. So the idea of customary measurements is introduced and the three topics that fall under customary. Then, we spend a full day on length, a full day on weight, and a full day on capacity. After using this specific layout, I have 3 simple tips that I follow when teaching measurement conversions to students that I want to share:

Tip #1-Story Telling

To start out each day, I typically tell a story to make a real life connection to the topic for the day. This way students can make a connection to things that they're seeing all the time so it doesn't seem as scary of a unit.

For length: The example usually falls around football and the football field because for us that is the most popular sport so students are typically able to make a connection to it.

For weight: The example usually talks about something that the students see a lot so using the example of landscaping and using a truck to go pick up rocks to dump at our house. In addition, we talk about understanding how many rocks would be too heavy for the truck. Another example that I have used before is simply going to the doctor when we all get weighed at the beginning of our appointment, which is compared to the time before.

For capacity: The example used is always cooking. A lot of times I will bring in the different ingredients to bake a cake and we will talk about if I use too much of one thing or not enough of another what will happen to the recipe. It works well to have students understand the importance of measuring spoons and measuring cups and why understanding that is valuable as a life skill.

There are many books that you can read to students regarding measurement in addition to the ideas above to incorporate literacy in math as well. That has been a HUGE goal of mine this year and I’ve been giving all kinds of tips about how I have been doing this over on Instagram.

Tip #2-Use Visuals:

The hardest topic to teach about in my opinion is capacity because there are so many different conversions to teach and make students understand. Because of this, I find it very important to use visuals such as Mr. Gallon or the Big G in order to help students really picture those conversions. This way students also have a "cheat sheet” for when they are having to convert. Usually, we draw these visuals together, as I do it on the board so they can see it being built step by step, versus just giving them a copy of it. After teaching these visuals, we look at these measurement student anchor charts that students will cut and glue into their interactive notebooks, while I draw full sized anchor charts for the classroom walls for them to refer to.

Tip #3- Teach QUICK Ways to Convert

My final tip is to teach students the quickest ways to convert to make it easiest on them!

One easy tip that I show them is:

Small to big = divide

Big to small = multiply

For any advanced students, I teach them how to use equivalent fractions to answer measurement conversions. For example- to solve how many inches are in 3 feet … I know there are 12 inches per foot. So 1 ft/12 in = 3/x and then solve as equivalent fractions. There are more ideas and practice problems that we do in this Measurement Unit Bundle, which includes 6 weeks of lesson plans and resources!

Teaching about measurement can be a lot of fun! Teaching about measurement conversions is really important and is a lifelong skill that students will need to use. What are some ways that you teach about measurement conversions?

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