Meaningful Ways To Teach Attributes

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Teaching attributes can be deceptively easy at first glance, but there are some tricks to making sure you get the most out of your attributes lesson.


What are attributes?

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.


Why is it important to attributes to children?

Learning how to classify objects based on their attributes is an important skill for early years teaching.


How do you teach attributes?

There are three stages to teaching attributes as defined by Pierre van Hiele (1986), visual, descriptive and analytic. You can use these as a guide for progressing students through the various stages in learning about attributes.


Visual Stage

In the visual stage, students learn to recognise shapes based on real-world objects such as these cotton reels and buttons. The reels are round, big and cylindrical. The green and pink buttons are round and small.


An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

Here students can sort everyday objects based on colour alone.

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

It's important to use as many hands-on concrete resources as you can, and progress to printable activities later so you can record student learning.

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

This video shows how you can use Boom Cards (see my blog post here if you're not sure what these are) to teach attributes to students learning from home or you can undertake this as a whole-class activity.


Descriptive Stage

The descriptive stage is where students can give verbal or written statements about the shape. For example, they can explain why they have sorted based on the number of sides.

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

or how large or small an item is...

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

As always, use lots of visual prompts and modelling before undertaking any activity like this.


Analytic Stage

The final stage encourages students to compare similar objects but to identify how they are the same or different in some way. A great idea is to place objects that are similar in many ways (such as the picture below which shows yellow fruit) but have some identifiable differences.


You will know a student is at the third stage when they can tell you these objects are similar because they are all fruits and they are all yellow, but one is different because they are lemons not bananas and oval-shaped whereas the bananas are long and curved.

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

Never tell a student there is 'only one correct answer' because there could be many correct answers but instead give the student the opportunity to provide an explanation and justification for their statement. This leads nicely into 'evidenced-based' writing in many subjects as they progress through their school years.

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

Here I have used a little eraser to let the student show which one they believe is different. You would follow that with a discussion about why this one is different from the other objects.


You can use any everyday objects for sorting such as these colourful erasers.

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

Alternatively, if you teaching remotely or students are learning from home, you can give students a print and cut method to allow them to demonstrate what they know.


An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size.

You can find the printables used in this blog post in the Attributes Pack here.


If you are a subscriber you can download a sample from this pack here.

If you're not a subscriber yet you can join here plus get $5 off your first purchase!

An attribute is a term used in maths teachings that refers to the properties of a shape or an object. For example, shape, colour or size. Free teacher download.



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