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Grade 1: Measuring With Nonstandard Units


Students will be able to:

  • Measure the length and width  of objects using nonstandard units (e.g., paper clips); and
  • Use nonstandard measurements to compare the length of various objects.

Time Required: 40 minutes


  • 15–20 one-inch paper clips for each pair of students (or other classroom items of consistent length of which there is a large classroom supply, such as snap cubes, place value rods, etc.)
  • One unsharpened and one sharpened pencil
  • Worksheet 1.1: “Pickle Party!”


  1. Show the class an unsharpened pencil (or other common classroom item of your choice). Ask how long the pencil is. Assuming a student suggests using a ruler or measuring tape, ask if there is a way to measure the pencil if a ruler isn’t available.
  2. Show the class a paper clip and ask if it could be used to measure the pencil. Discuss with the class, and then model how to place the clips end-to-end to measure the pencil. Be sure to point out that the starting edge of the paper clip must be lined up with one end of the pencil. If necessary, measure another classroom item using the paper clips.
  3. Hold up the sharpened pencil and the unsharpened pencil. Ask if there is a way to tell how much longer the unsharpened pencil is than the sharpened one. Model the process by measuring the sharpened pencil and comparing its length (in paper clips) to the length of the unsharpened pencil. If a measurement isn’t exactly a whole paper clip, note the measurement to be, for example, between three and four paper clips but closer to four paper clips.
  4. Group class into pairs. Distribute paper clips and the “Pickle Party!” worksheet to students. Circulate while students are completing worksheet in pairs.
  5. Review answers with class. 

Mini-Poster: This colorful mini-poster provides a visual representation of the concepts addressed in all three lessons, and can be used by the teacher to illustrate points during each lesson for each grade level. After the lesson, the poster provides students with a visual reminder of the key measurement concepts taught.

Family Page: Distribute the family page for a fun take-home activity that also reinforces measurements skills at home.

Extension: Challenge students to come up with their own zany food-and-animal hybrid. Encourage them to sketch and measure their creation, and to also describe it. Click here to view a description of the fun Foodimal characters featured in these materials.

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