Resource 1: Using feely bags

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

Feely bags or boxes, which can easily be made by you or your pupils (see below) can be used across the curriculum to help develop your pupils’ observations and language skills. In mathematics, it is good way to help pupils explore the properties of shapes and objects. In science, you might explore the textures of materials. Using a feely bag or box is a great motivator for pupils as the involvement in the game, the need to listen carefully and the desire to guess the right answer excites and interests them.

Suggestions for objects for shapes activities

You may use a selection of cubes (dice, blocks), rectangular prisms (boxes, wooden blocks), triangular prisms (wooden wedges, fancy chocolate boxes), spheres (balls), pyramids (wooden or plastic), cylinders (toilet rolls, pens, dowel sticks), cones (party hats, ice cream cones). You may also like to include one or two irregular or semi-irregular objects (stones, shells, leaves) to provoke discussion. All of these could be collected locally to help to link mathematics to the local environment.

Making a feely bag

For this you could use a paper bag that you cannot see through or you could sew a bag out of fabric about 30 cm by 30 cm with an opening at one end. The top of the bag needs to be able to be closed and opened to put in the objects and to allow the pupil to put in their hand to feel the object but ensure that no one else sees what is in the bag. You could use an elastic band or a drawstring to keep the top closed.

Making a feely box

Any medium-sized cardboard box will do for a feely box. You have to cut a hand-sized opening in one side of the box. This is so that a pupil can put a hand into the box and pick up something to feel. Some people cut two holes so that a pupil can put two hands into the box to feel for something. You need to keep the opening away from the rest of the class so they cannot see what is in the box.

How to play the game

The idea of the game is to hide some interesting, different things (which are familiar to your pupils) in the feely bag/box. You could use regular shaped bowls or pots, tools, or even tins of food.

  • A pupil comes to the front and feels for something in the feely bag/box. He/she doesn’t take the object out or show it to the other pupils.
  • Instead, the pupil then thinks very carefully of ways to describe the thing, without mentioning its name. He/she uses the sense of touch to list and describe observations. At the same time, the pupil has to be quite scientific/mathematical. He/she has to consider the properties the object is made of. He/she also has to think carefully about the shape, size and form of the item.
  • Each time the pupil makes an observation, another pupil in the class is given a chance to try to work out what the object is.
  • While this is happening, the teacher can act as a scribe (or secretary) and record the observations and the inferences on the board, or on a large sheet of paper. They list the main points only.
  • This carries on until someone actually works out what the item is. Then the item can be pulled out of the box and is shown to the rest of the class.
  • It is important that a little time is spent discussing the accuracy of the observations – mathematical language skills, the effectiveness of the descriptions, communication skills and the quality of the inferences.

3. Using a game to practice mathematical words

Resource 2: A mathematical dictionary