March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Patterns in the Primary Grades: Plastic Lids Activity

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Valerie Joyner

Primary grade teachers have always understood the importance of patterns in early childhood education. Patterns are used in reading, math, and written language. They are also used with students to assist in their development of understanding and applying science. According to the NGSS, “Patterns in the natural and human world can be observed, used to describe phenomena, and used as evidence”. The importance in patterns in early childhood science education cannot be understated!

The study of patterns in K-2 provides students with myriad opportunities to identify patterns and properties using examples like weather, plant and animal parts, inherited traits, daylight, the stars, moon, and sun. Take a look at the NGSS Performance Expectations and Crosscutting Concepts for your grade level, and you will see that the Crosscutting Concepts of Patterns occurs several times throughout the year in connection with several different Disciplinary Core Ideas.

A great way to start off any study of patterns and properties is to allow students to collect, sort, and identify patterns in their everyday world. One of the easiest collections to make is an assortment of plastic lids, like the ones that come from shampoo, milk bottles, toothpaste, and yogurt cups. The possibilities are endless, and they are free!

Activity: Properties and Patterns

Making the Collection:

  1. Ask families to collect a variety of plastic lids and send them to school with their child. Encourage them to think big and small, colorful and dull, flip-top or screw-on, the greater the variety the better. It is fine to have duplicates. It is best to have at least 200 lids.
  2. Allow the collection to grow in the classroom for a few weeks. As the plastic lids come into the classroom allow students to observe them.

Getting Ready:

  1. Put 15-20 plastic lids in a zip lock bag or tub – one bag/tub for each pair of students
  2. Paper folded into halves or quarters for recording sorts – one for each student
  3. Pencils or crayons to record sorts

Getting Started:

Day #1

  1. With the entire class, discuss the word “Collections” with students. Ask them to identify collections they have or have seen at home, school, or elsewhere.
  2. Next ask students how people organize items in a collection. This is a good time to introduce the word “Properties” using examples like shells sorted by size, shape, or color; clothes sorted by type; books sorted by author or genre; numbers sorted by odd/even, etc. Explain that people use properties to sort and/or describe patterns.
  3. Explain to the students that they will be observing their classroom collection of plastic lids. Demonstrate by sorting several plastic lids by color. Then, ask the students to identify and describe how you sorted the lids. Record the sort.
  4. Next ask one student to sort your lids in another way. Then ask students to identify the new way the lids were sorted.
  5. Explain that each pair of students will be sorting a bag of plastic lids at least 2-4 different ways, and they may not repeat the same sort. As they complete a sort they must record their sort on paper by drawing or writing each of the ways they sorted the lids.
  6. Distribute materials and allow student to begin working.
  7. As the students are working walk around the room asking questions and guiding inquiry. Be sure the students are recording their sorts as they go along.
  8. Allow enough time for students to complete their sorts and record. Then ask each pair of student to show one way they sorted and describe the properties they used to sort. As students are sharing point out and record all of the different properties that were used to sort.
  9. Collect the lids and bags to allow the students to continue their discussions. Ask questions like: Why is it important to sort? What types of patterns did we notice? What other ways might we sort in the future?
  10. Save students records for Day #2.

Day #2

  1. Post the record of prior ways the students sorted.
  2. Repeat the activity and have students sort in new ways. They may refer to their records from Day #1. It gets harder and harder as they continue to look for new patterns and properties. I have seen students sort by bumpy and flat edges, the sounds that are made when lids are tapped or clicked, even by rooms where the lids are used. There are limitless possibilities.
  3. Again, debrief with the entire class sharing and asking for different ways the lids were sorted. Depending on your grade level, you might ask about patterns in weather, seasons, plant and animal traits, the sky, sound, etc. Ask students to identify different patterns in their world, including but not limited to science.

Patterns are critical to the understanding and application of science as a discipline and in our everyday world. As primary grade teachers it is our job to see that science is taught every day. Crosscutting Concepts like Patterns, Science and Engineering Practices like developing models, and Disciplinary Core Ideas like inheritance and variation of traits are taught every school day and every school year!

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

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