EL Support Lesson

Exploring Capacity

Use this lesson to introduce the concepts of capacity and volume with young learners. This hands on lesson can be used as a scaffolded pre-lesson to Capacity Comparison.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Capacity Comparison lesson plan.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Capacity Comparison lesson plan.
  • Students will be able to directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common.
  • Students will be able to recognize that different shapes have different attributes.

Students will be able to compare the capacity of containers that have similar and different attributes with more complex phrases using sentence frames and partnerships for support.

(5 minutes)
  • Gather the students together in a comfortable area and ask them to sit in a circle on the ground.
  • Bring out the tin can, coffee mug, cylinder pencil holder, and rectangular tupperware container. Position the objects in the middle of the circle so all students can see them.
  • Put students in partnerships with elbow partners and tell the students that they must decide together how to group the objects in the middle of the circle so that three of the items fit within a category they have created and one does not. Both partners should be prepared to explain to a different group how they agreed on a category and justify which item did not fit.
  • Pass out a blank sheet of paper to each partnership and coloring materials. Give students a few minutes to sketch their ideas. Allow a few partnerships to share out their reasoning.
(10 minutes)
  • Keep students in partnerships and instruct students to return to their seats. Pass out a copy of the Vocabulary Cards to each partnership.
  • Project the Vocabulary Cards on the whiteboard and display the cylinder vocabulary word. Read the definition on the vocabulary card and explain to the students that the tin can, coffee mug, and pencil holder are all cylinders. Ask students to turn and talk with their partner, thinking of another object in the classroom that could be categorized as a cylinder.
  • Show the students the attributes vocabulary card. Read the student-friendly definition aloud, and refer to the corresponding visual. Ask the students to discuss some of the attributes of the tin can, coffee mug, and pencil holder. Next, ask students to discuss the attributes of the rectangular tupperware container. Provide students with sentence frames to support them as they discuss their answers, for example:
    • The color of the ____ (object) is ____ (silver, clear, red, etc).
    • The size of the ____ (object) is ____ (big, small, round, short, wide, etc).
    • The shape of the ____ (object) is ____ (rectangular, circular, square, triangular, etc).
  • Ask students to think about which vocabulary card shows a 3-D shape that describes the tupperware container. Allow students to discuss their ideas with their partners and share out their answers. Confirm that the tupperware container can be thought of as a rectangular prism.
  • Read through the rest of the vocabulary cards, referring to the visuals to support student understanding. Allow a partnership to find an example of a cube in the classroom.
  • Explain to the students that today they will be learning about capacity and comparing the capacity of two three-dimensional shapes that share similar/different attributes.
(5 minutes)
  • Break students into partnerships. Place one small bucket of rice and scoop on each partnership's desk.
  • Pass out the two sheets of paper and tape to each partnership. Show the students how to create a tall tube shape cylinder by taping the two long edges together. Next, show the students how to make a short cylinder from the other sheet of paper by taping the short edges together.
  • Have students get out their math journals and say, "I want you to predict, or make a logical decision based on what you know, about which one of these cylinders will have a greater capacity. I also want you to think about your reasoning behind that decision."
  • Write the following sentence frame on the whiteboard:
    • I predict that the ____ (tall/short) cylinder will have the greatest capacity because____.
  • Ask students to think-pair-share the meaning of capacity, referring to their vocabulary card for support.
  • Instruct students to record their predictions in their math journals and compare their predictions with their partners.
(10 minutes)
  • Allow students to test their predictions by placing the tall cylinder inside the short cylinder. Instruct students to fill up the tall cylinder with rice and record how many scoops of rice they needed to fill the entire tall cylinder.
  • Guide students to carefully remove the tall cylinder so the rice falls into the short cylinder. Ask the students to observe the results and pose the following questions:
    • Did the rice from the tall cylinder fill up the entire short cylinder? How do you know?
    • Did the rice from the tall cylinder exceed the capacity of the short cylinder? How do you know?
    • Did you need more rice to fill up the entirety of the short cylinder? How do you know?
  • Guide students as they discuss their answers and allow a few partnerships to share their ideas with the rest of the class.


  • Provide students with a word bank of attributes to describe the shapes that includes colors, shapes, and size.
  • Provide sentence frames to support students in answering the questions during group work. Record the sentence frames in their math journals.
  • Allow students to work in a small group with students who speak the same home language (L1) during group work, if possible.


  • Encourage students to discuss the attributes without using the sentence frames for support.
  • Instruct students to answer the discussion questions in their math journals, using complete sentences.
  • Allow students to try the experiment filling up each cylinder using a different method, as opposed to placing the tall cylinder inside the short cylinder. Encourage students to share their findings with the rest of the classroom.
  • Rotate around the classroom as students are experimenting with their cylinders and jot down any observations you see about collaboration and record important language used (words, phrases, sentences). Use the observations to guide you as you plan future lessons on capacity, volume, and the attributes of 3-D shapes.
(3 minutes)
  • Write the following discussion questions on the whiteboard, and allow students to share out their ideas:
    • How do shape attributes connect with the capacity of objects from today's lesson?
    • How did each cylinder's attributes (tall, short, etc.) affect their capacity?
  • Encourage students to think about why capacity matters. Provide a relevant real-world example (e.g. When I need to water my tiny orchid, should I choose a long thin cylinder or a very short and fat cylinder?)

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