EL Support Lesson

Exploring Nonstandard Units of Length

Encourage your students to develop their own approach to measuring length with nonstandard units of length. Use this engaging lesson as a stand-alone lesson or alongside Measuring Feet...in Feet!
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Measuring Feet…in Feet! lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Measuring Feet…in Feet! lesson plan.

Students will be able to measure using nonstandard units of length.


Students will be able to describe the height of a peer with grade-level academic vocabulary, using nonstandard units of length and sentence frames for support.

(4 minutes)
  • Explain to the students that one of your family members has offered to purchase new number lines for student desks. Tell the students that the number lines come in many different lengths and your family member wants to know the length of the desks so they can purchase a number line that will fit the length of the desk, from end to end, and not be too big or too small for the desk. Point from the end to end of the desk to help students understand the meaning of length.
  • Ask students to think-pair-share how you could figure out the length of the desk and provide a sentence frame to support student discussion. An example sentence frame would be:
    • You can use ____ to figure out the length of the desk.
  • Allow a few students to share out their ideas with the rest of the class. Use prompting questions like:
    • How do we usually measure things?
    • Are there different ways to measure things?
    • Are there different tools we can use to measure things?
    • Why is it important to measure something before we make a purchase?
  • Share an example of a time when a family member or friend purchased something that was too big or too small. Ask students if they can think of any examples of a time when a family member purchased something that was too big or too small. Students may share examples such as furniture that doesn't fit throught the door of their house, clothing that was too big or too small, etc. Have students share their answer with an elbow partner.
  • Explain to the students that today you wil be measuring using nonstandard units of length. Tell the students that this means you'll be using objects to measure things instead of rulers or a tape measure!
(10 minutes)
  • Put students in partnerships and ask them to get out their math journals. Pass out the Vocabulary Cards worksheet to each student and read through the student-friendly definitions. Refer to the visuals to support student understanding. Encourage students to explain the meaning of the vocabulary cards in their own words. Next, bring out the book and set it on the table in front of you. Get out two different nonstandard units of measurement such as paper clips, blocks, or straws.
  • Explain to the students that you want to figure out the length of the book because you are designing a special book cover for the book using construction paper. Say, "I'm going to use paper clips and blocks to measure this book." Model measuring the book using the different nonstandard units. Overlap some of the units and make sure the units don't follow a straight line. Count the number of units and write the number on the board.
  • Explain that the measurement of the book is ____ (insert number) ____ (insert both nonstandard units). Next, say, "I want you and your partner to think about the way I measured the book. Do you agree or disagree with my answer? Why? Discuss your answer with your partner and draw a picture, write words, or write sentences to justify and explain your thinking. You can also think of a different solution if you disagree with my strategy. Are there any other ways I could measure the book that would give me a better, more accurate answer?"
  • Give students five minutes to think about why they agree or disagree. Provide students with sentence stems and frames to support their discussion. Encourage students to record these in their math journals along with their pictures and words.
(10 minutes)
  • Gather students to sit in a circle. Call on a student from each partnership to share out their ideas. Use prompting questions to dig deep into students' thinking, such as:
    • How did you decide whether you agreed or disagreed?
    • Did you and your partner agree or did you both come up with different ideas?
    • Do you agree or disagree with this partnerships' solution? Why or why not?
  • Allow students time to rework their solutions based on the discussion and feedback.
  • Elaborate that when you measure something, you must use the same unit of length. If you don't, the measurement will not be accurate. Discuss common mistakes like overlapping the units, having gaps in the units, and not following a straight line. Discuss why these mistakes cause an inaccurate measurement. Prompt students to share their ideas with an elbow partner and then with the rest of the class.
(10 minutes)
  • Write the following sentence frame on the board, read it aloud, and ask students to copy it down in their math journals prior to beginning the activity:
    • ____ is ____ (insert number of nonstandard units, e.g. 50 paperclips or 30 straws) long.
    • I am ____ (insert number of nonstandard units, e.g. 50 paperclips or 30 straws) long.
  • Explain to the students that now they will take turns measuring each other, using a chosen nonstandard unit of measurement. Give students baggies to place their nonstandard units in. Make sure the classroom has wide open spaces that will allow a dozen or more students to lay down on the floor at the same time, or move the classroom to the gymnasium (if possible).
  • Ask students to think-pair-share one or two of the mistakes you made during the previous activity. This will help them remember how to measure their partner, getting a more accurate measurement. Provide sentence stems and frames to support students as they share out their ideas.
  • Give students time to complete their measurements and record their answers in their math journals.


  • Display a picture of a number line to support student understanding of the example.
  • Provide students with a ruler, tape measure, meter stick, or rope and allow them to refer to the examples to answer the question.
  • Have students work with a peer who speaks the same home language (L1), if possible. If not possible, pair students with a sympathetic non-EL peer during explicit teaching, guided practice, and group work.
  • Provide students with acess to bilingual dictionaries and/or online bilingual dictionaries with visual supports throughout the lesson.


  • Encourage students to respond to the prompting questions without using sentence stems or frames for support.
  • Have students rephrase their partner's explanation in their own words.
  • Encourage students to write down sentences to justify whether or not they agree or disagree with the way you measured the book. Have the students read their sentences aloud to their partner to check for accuracy and understanding.
  • Encourage students to volunteer during the closing activity so they can explain their thought processes orally.
  • Rotate around the classroom as students are measuring each other. Take photographs of the students and jot down sentences, ideas, and speaking and listening goals that are being met or need more practice.
  • Listen to students during the closing activity. Ask yourself: Are students able to explain the strategy they used to measure their partner? Are there any lingering misconceptions about how to measure something? Do students have the words they need to justify their answers?
(6 minutes)
  • Download the photographs on your computer and project them on the whiteboard.
  • Ask a few student volunteers to come up to the whiteboard to explain how they measured their partner. Provide the following paragraph frame to support students in detailing the process for others to understand:
    • First, ____. Next, ____. Then, ____. Finally, ____.
  • Review the importance of accurately measuring objects in student-friendly terms.

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