5 Manipulatives For Introducing Volume And Surface Area Concepts

Last Updated on April 1, 2022 by Editorial Team

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Geometry – the moment you read this word, you visualize shapes, formulas, and terms like area, surface area, volume, etc. To discern these concepts on their face value solely may not be an effective way of learning for all. The playful approach where you do things to learn facts offers you a pretext to learn by deeper participation and self-correction. That is why doing activities using manipulatives or playing online games works awesome when you want to teach about volume and surface area to geometry students.

In this post, let’s talk about what role manipulatives play in teaching volume and surface area. Also, to help you have a handy list of the best manipulatives to try, we will walk you through the options available. These manipulatives require nil to minimal supervision and are best suited for classroom sessions as well as self-learners and homeschooled children.

Role of manipulatives in teaching volume and surface area

When young learners encounter the terms like formula, equation, properties, etc. they find it difficult to establish their relevance in the life to come. Naturally, they display an aversion to learning such concepts. Teachers need to trick them into learning by bringing a more tangible element in the process of concept-building. A great service is done by a multisensory approach that uses manipulatives (for learning by touch and vision) to blur the line between theoretical and practical learning. In addition:

  • Manipulatives help grasp practical meaning of geometrical terms like volume and surface area
  • These offer exploratory approach of learning the concepts
  • Playful appeal ignites intellectual curiosity
  • Collaborative learning becomes possible to achieve

Which manipulatives should I pick? While teaching kids the geometrical concepts, the challenge I faced was to ensure that kids shouldn’t get carried away by the gamification element. Also, the manipulatives had to be easier to handle and store and genuinely contribute to the concept-building. I found the following manipulatives the aptest options to try.

Best manipulatives to learn volume and surface area

1. Folding 3D GeoFigures

Folding 3d Geo figures

3D foldable geometry figures help leverage STEM Education’s positives to reinforce the understanding of surface area and volume. These 3D foldable figures are accompanied by plastic covers that explain tangibly what surface area means. A variety of shapes included in the collection allow the students to familiarize themselves with their distinct attributes.

This 3D shapes collection helps teach the concepts like surface area and volume in a practical manner. It is designed to complement the tactile and visual learning styles. The visual-spatial learners also relate to this manipulative comfortably.

Since the books don’t display the third dimension quite clearly, a lot misses the learners’ radars. This manipulative fills the missing information and provides clear visualization of 3D shapes. Thus, the measurable attributes like volume and surface area become easier to explain.

2. Linking Cubes

Linking cubes

Linking cubes can be visualized as the unitary parts of any shape. In the visual-spatial style of learning, the students tend to learn as a whole first and then move to break the figure into parts. While doing activities using linking cubes, the teachers can encourage the students to make the 3D models first. By the act of simple counting of linking cubes making up the surfaces of the model, the students can understand how the surface area is calculated.

They may also break the models into linking cubes to talk about concepts like space occupied or volume. Linking cubes offer learning by the way of doing. Students may also be given boxes of different shapes to stuff those with the cubes to give a more relatable explanation of concepts like volume and surface area. With a practical approach, these shape manipulatives help build geometrical concepts with a far-reaching impact.

3. 3D transparent shapes

3d transparent shapes

A collection of geometric solids in different colors helps employ visual and tactile teaching methods such as color-coding and manipulating. The students get in this collection the solids in two sizes. In this collection, the smaller ones measure exactly half of the bigger ones dimensions-wise. Thus, by doing activities like measuring sides, or filling these with pre-measured liquid, the students can understand how the volume changes with dimension.

The difference in the holding capacities of 3D half-spheres, triangles, cubes, and cuboids becomes quicker to grasp with this manipulative. Relational volume knowledge is essential for understanding the type of vessel one needs to fill a pre-defined quantity. With the help of a measuring flask, the students can play-act and understand what does the value of volume actually signifies. In addition, you can also teach the concept that liquids change their shape as per the shape of the container by using this manipulative.

4. Geosticks


Play method of teaching about the volumes and surface areas becomes possible to achieve with Geosticks. These sticks can help understand the measurement of figures. Introduce the concepts of length, breadth, and height once the kids are done with the model-making process. You can stuff linking cubes inside the models made to talk to kids about the concept of volume. Self-learners may find these sticks quite useful in learning about volume and surface area by making the models in different combinations.

Keeping children engaged, driven to learn, and stimulating their minds to think deeply about the measurements are some of the purposes this geometry manipulative can help achieve. How different structures vary in volume and surface area with the change in measurements can be learned to perfection by doing activities with these Geosticks.

5. Magnetic Building Blocks

Magnetic building blocks

How to introduce beginners to concepts of volume and surface area? If you have this question in mind, this magnetic tiles set offers a perfect solution. Designed on the pattern of STEM education, this manipulative helps demonstrate these concepts with ease and in an engaging manner.

Teachers can employ this manipulative to help kids learn these concepts by doing interesting activities. Using a ruler, ask the child to measure the sides. When they join various tiles, such as rectangular tiles to make a cube, or triangular pieces to make a pyramid, etc. they can calculate the surface area and volume by using the dimensions measured.

These magnetic tiles help the students apply the concepts of volume and surface area to bigger figures that have rectangles, triangles, etc. as integrating units. By making different models and calculating these figures, students can understand how these values change as per the shape. Also, they can learn concepts like balance, symmetry, etc., and appreciate their utility in solving real-life situations. This manipulative promotes active learning and enhances problem-solving skills to help students groom into visual thinkers.


Learning about surface area and volume need not be a pain. Playful methods of internalizing such concepts help dual way. First of all, these methods offer active learning. Secondly, the learners can also understand how to apply concepts in real-life situations. Manipulatives and virtual learning solutions offer the perfect tools that help achieve both outcomes effortlessly. All you need to do is explore, understand the working of manipulatives and pick the ones that complement your learning style. Results will surely be appreciable!

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