EL Support Lesson

Metric Conversions Conversations

Challenge students to convert measurements between their metric counterparts! Students will relate the measurements to real-world objects. Use this lesson as support for the Converting Metric Measurements in Word Problems lesson.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Converting Metric Measurement in Word Problems lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Converting Metric Measurement in Word Problems lesson plan.

Students will be able to convert between metric units.


Students will be able to discuss conversions between metric units using a graphic organizer and peer conversations.

(5 minutes)
  • Display the visuals for the vocabulary cards meter, centimeter, kilometer, and millimeter using a document camera with the words separated from the image and the definition hidden. There should be eight pieces all together. Additionally, you can have some real-life objects, such as a ruler, meter stick, or a metric clock.
  • Ask students to look at the picture from the vocabulary card and think about which word matches with the picture. Have students work on this with partners and allow them to come to the document camera to move the pieces around if necessary.
  • Conduct a whole-group discussion about the picture-word pairings. Gather background information about students' understanding of the terms, visuals, and matchings of the picture with the name.
  • After a few minutes of debate, correct misconceptions and provide the meanings of the key terms from the vocabulary cards.
  • Tell students that today they will convert between metric units for measuring length, like the few you defined.
(8 minutes)
  • Introduce and display the Metric Units Place Value Chart and ask students to say the terms aloud with you.
  • Circle the word "meter" in all of the terms and tell them this is the base unit for this place value chart. Explain it measures the length of objects and that the term can be substituted for other units of measurements, like grams and liters, but that they will not discuss those today.
  • Ask students to help you place the visuals for the vocabulary terms meter, centimeter, kilometer, and millimeter in the correct column. Ask students to see the pattern emerging for the visuals (e.g., "I notice when you move from centimeters to kilograms, the objects get longer.").
  • Distribute a Metric Units Place Value Chart and ask students to work in partners to draw a visual in the first column of the chart under the terms meter, centimeter, kilometer, and millimeter. Have them draw a picture of an object that would use that particular measurement (e.g., centimeter and length of a candy bar).
  • Have partners pair up with another partnership to form groups of four. Then have them share their ideas.
  • Choose volunteers to share their drawings with the class.
  • Explain to students you can use both meters and centimeters to measure the length of a guitar, for example, and while the digits will not change, the decimal point placement will change.
(12 minutes)
  • Display the Metric Units Place Value Chart worksheet. Read through the units of measurement listed at the top and tell students these units of measurement are for measuring length in the metric system.
  • Refer to the chart as you show that a guitar, which measures one meter, can also measure 100 centimeters. Place the number one in the meters column and then add zeros until you reach the centimeters column. Draw a decimal point in the centimeters column.
  • Explain to students that in the metric system, the name of the unit is placed after the number that has the decimal. So, if the number four from 34.56 is in the decimeter place, then the number is 24.56 decimeters. Display the Metric Units Place Value Chart worksheet again and place 24.56 decimeters on the chart for reference.
  • Reiterate that sometimes a zero needs to serve as a placeholder for place value columns that have no value. For example, when converting 34.5 kilometers to 34,500.0 meters, the added zeros allow for the larger measurement in meters.
  • Move the decimal place around on the Metric Units Place Value Chart using one number and then converting that number into different units (e.g., 334 meters, 3.34 hectometers, 334,000 millimeters). In the metric system you can move the decimal to every place value because each column has a unique name (e.g., centimeter).
  • Distribute the Metric Units Place Value Chart and have students copy your decimal movements and repeat the new unit name given the decimal placement.
  • Ask a student volunteer to practice changing the decimal, writing out the new number, and saying the new number with its unit measurement for the class.
  • Ask students to turn and talk to a partner and explain why you need to add zeros to some of the numbers ("We need to add zeros to the numbers because...").
(7 minutes)
  • Separate students to partnerships and post three conversions on the board with real-world context. For example:
    1. How many millimeters long is a 34.5 centimeter poster?
    2. How long is a 3.7 meter long sandbox in decimeters?
    3. What's the distance of the 1.45 kilometer walk from my house to the library measured in meters?
  • Distribute a new copy of the worksheet Metric Units Place Value Chart so students can place their measurements on the chart and determine the proper conversion. Read through the questions as necessary and make sure students understand the conversions shown by walking around and monitoring their progress.
  • Have students turn to their elbow partners and check each other's place value placements.
  • Review the answers with students as a whole class and correct misconceptions (e.g., "I converted ____ to ____. I placed ____ on the place value mat, and then moved the decimal to the ____ place value column.").


  • Allow students to use their home language (L1) or their new language (L2) in all discussions. Provide bilingual reference materials to assist in their vocabulary word acquisition.
  • Encourage them to use the vocabulary cards and terms in their conversations and writing. Allow them to draw pictures to support their understanding of the terms.
  • Pre-teach a lesson on the units in the Metric Units Place Value Chart if students are unfamiliar with the terms.
  • Ask students to place the vocabulary cards in order from longest to shortest and then place the visuals under the corresponding unit of measurement on the place value chart. Have them explain their placement, such as, "I would measure many football fields in kilometers, so I will place it under the unit kilometer."


  • Pair students with mixed ability groups so they can offer explanations and provide feedback to beginning ELs when appropriate.
  • Ask students to share their conversions first to allow beginning ELs to borrow or affirm their own language to use in their explanations.
  • Write down sentence frames students use in their conversations to serve as an example for other students.
  • Teach them the mnemonic device "King Henry Died Unusually Drinking Chocolate Milk" where "Unusually" represents generic units (e.g., meter, gram, liters, etc.) to draw the place value table on their own.
(5 minutes)
  • Have students complete another conversion on their second Metric Units Place Value Chart worksheet.
  • Tell students to share their conversion with their partner using the language frames from the board for assistance. Allow them to correct each other's answers given their own answer (e.g., "I think ____ is the right answer because...").
  • Listen to student conversations and take note of their language use. Write their ideas and language in the Formative Assessment: Peer Explanations Checklist worksheet to serve as a formative assessment of their ability to communicate their ideas to peers.
(3 minutes)
  • Write the following questions on the board and ask students to answer one of them:
    • "What is one thing you know about converting within metric units?" (e.g., "I know...")
    • "What is one thing you still wonder about converting within metric units?" (e.g., "I wonder...")
  • Choose students to share their answers with the class after they've shared with their elbow partner.

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