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December 13, 2012 Snowman Construction Company: Money and Math Merriment By Meghan Everette
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    I have a secret weapon in the days before winter break. My class completes an activity that is engaging and challenging, combining reading, writing, and math skills all at once, and they do it with holiday cheer. What could this wondrous lesson be? The Snowman Construction Company!

    The original lesson was published in The Mailbox, intermediate edition, in December/January 2003. A quick Internet search will give you many reprints and versions of the original, but my class kicks it up a notch with actual supplies for extra crafty fun.

    A seemingly simple task gets the students started: make a snowman that costs less than $25.00 and weighsStudent hard at work less than 50 pounds in order to help the mayor of a fictional, snowless town this holiday season. The original lesson calls for students to budget their materials and then draw the resulting snowman after making their plan. I tried doing this with my 3rd graders several years ago. I failed miserably. First of all, my students were drawing what they wanted their snowman to look like, not what they had actually purchased materials for. Second, some of my students were artistically challenged, to say the least, even if their math work was exceptional. Plus, I quickly found out that adding longer lists of numbers, multiplying when we purchased more than one of the same item, and converting ounces to pounds was well outside our skill set. I love the lesson and wanted to make it work for me.

    Take two. The next year I made students sketch the snowmen before making purchases. I created a system for them to bring me their work to check, and I’d help them add and convert their weights. I made another set of supply forms that didn’t include weight and a third set for students who could only add with even amounts. Then students were given copies of the supplies I had duplicated to cut out and use to create their final snowmen. This alleviated many management and drawing issues, but I still wasn’t quite there.

    Snowman Order Form Calculating snowball costs Snowman work

    Last year, I finally got it right! We had a parent night in the winter, and I took the project off the page by purchasing tiny buttons and making each supply from pipe cleaners or scrap felt. I reworked the order form, deleting the weights altogether. I’d love for my students to add and convert weights, but I also want them to be successful on their own, and we just aren’t quite ready for conversions at this point in the year. I laid out each supply with a label, and students could make their purchases after they had a correct order form. For parent night I laid out calculators so they could check their own work as well.Snowman materials

    Functional reading of charts is necessary for this project to work. Math is clearly used and can be adapted for different levels. How to bring in writing? Students have to write sales pitches explaining why the mayor should purchase their snowman. We tie in persuasive techniques and descriptive writing. I save the writing, orders, and snowmen for a snowy bulletin board display in January. I put the order forms and directions in a folder attached to the board for other students to pick up and try on their own. One year I even labeled each snowman, allowing passersby to vote on their favorite design.

    The days that lead up to break are hectic. There are programs, parties, final grades, and more. Having a lesson that brings together a variety of skills and can be adapted to various levels is essential. Students get excited about their snowmen and even the least artistic of the bunch can make a great display using the given materials. Imaginative kids have snowmen with spiky carrot hair while the writers in the class make the most of their language skills in the sales pitch. This is a holiday project sure to meet your needs or a fun way to get back in the swing of things in January. Not enough snowmen for you? Search for even more snowy goodness.

    Snowman sample Purchasing materials Snowman sample

    My Materials


    Cut 1", 2", 3", and 4" circles from white paper.


    Cut small, medium, and large triangles from orange paper.


    Cut small sticks and larger twigs from brown paper.


    Cut thin rectangles from various pieces of felt.


    Copy the given hats to have students color and cut out.

    Regular Buttons

    Purchase mini buttons from the craft store.

    Large Buttons

    Purchase small buttons from the craft or fabric store.


    Use black seed beads.


    Cut bristles from brown paper; attach to a brown pipe cleaner; cut in thirds.


    Cut metal part from gray paper; attach to thin craft sticks.


    My Procedure

    • Read the project outline and then demonstrate the purchasing process and final writing. It is helpful to have an example of a completed snowman.
    • Highlight key mistakes, such as purchasing one piece of coal instead of the five pieces needed to make a mouth.
    • Students sketch their snowmen ideas.
    • Students record their materials and weights, if you are using them, on their order form.
    • Students bring a complete order to you for checking (or assign student checkers and arm them with calculators).
    • Once the purchase order is approved, allow students to shop for their items.
    • Students assemble their snowmen and then write a persuasive paragraph highlighting why their snowmen should be purchased.

      Snowman Smiles

    Helpful Files

    My Order Form

    Materials Lists

    Snowman Accessories




    Holiday Help

    What do you do in those last days before break? How do you contain the excitement, tackle lessons, and still feel as though you taught at the end of the day? Share your ideas for keeping the circus under the tent!


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Susan Cheyney