Broken Squares Activity

This is the first year that I have done this activity with my kids.  I decided to do this because this year I am focusing on incorporating more 21st Century Skills into activities and assignments.  EdLeader21 has been a great resource for ideas.  To set the tone for the year I decided to do an activity called “Broken Squares.”  I had seen it at a 21st Century Learning & Teaching Workshop and done it with some fellow math teachers, but didn’t decide to do it the first day of school until 2 days before the first day of school!


As I monitor and talk to kids…

I learn who takes charge of an activity and who sits back
I learn who could be a distracting member of the group
I learn who is going to do the minimum and who is going to do more than I ask
I also learn who is going to follow directions

… and all of this is with the content (math) taken out of the equation.


Goal: Students will be placed in groups of 4-6 (5 is ideal) and sit in a circle either on the floor or around a table.  They will form 5 congruent (same size) squares out of the shapes they have been given.

Grouping: While 5 members is ideal, if you have groups (or a group) of  4 they can just distribute the remaining cards out equally.  If you have groups (or a group) of 6 the 6th member can enforce the rules for their group or the entire class.

Set Up: I printed each group’s cards on a different color and then cut out each shape and paper clipped all the A, B, C, D, E cards together.  The entire set went into an envelope that was labeled and had the directions on it.

Directions: Once students are grouped, explain:

In each of the envelopes you have been given there are 5 sets of cards which have been labeled A, B, C, D, and E.  Each person in your group will be given a stack.  When I tell you to begin, your group will form five squares of equal size.  The task will be done when each team member has a square in front of them.  The rules your group must follow are:
– no team member may speak
– no team member may ask or signal to another team member for a piece
– no team member may take a piece from another team member
– members may give their piece to other members


What we needed: a set of the “Broken Square” cards for each group of 5 (I printed each set of the cards on a different color of card stock so it would be easier to keep track of pieces), each set should be separated out by letter so that each student gets all of one letter to begin, instructions posted on the board or at the table is very helpful.

Broken Square Cards I printed these on different colored paper

Broken Squares Directions I printed these on 2 x 4 inch labels and put on an envelope

Broken Squares Questions I had students answer these questions after they discussed with their group how they did, and then add more after we discussed it as a class.

When I did it: 1st day of school as both an ice breaker activity as well as to set the tone for the type of activities we will do and my expectations for them

How it went: Really well.  I grouped my 1st block class by where they were already sitting and my next 2 blocks by ABC order.  All of the groups were able to complete the task, there was generally 1-2 groups that got it on their own in about 10 minutes, and 1-2 groups that needed some prompting on how to approach the problem when they got stuck.  The groups that struggled the most both lacked any leader whatsoever as well as a few members who were very passive and didn’t contribute.

How I used it: I hadn’t originally planned on using it as a first day activity!  I knew I wanted to do it at some point as a collaboration activity but thought it would be down the road. Then I started thinking about how many teachers on my team use the first day to just go over all of the information for their class and I thought my kids could use a break from that.  I also felt like it would set the tone for the type of work we will do, and how I value their ability to work with others to accomplish a task.  We had a great discussion in all classes.

How you can use it: First day(s) activity for your class or homeroom.  Group teamwork/bonding activity at the start of a new project or when you assign new groups/teams in your class.  Collaboration lesson for students who are struggling or learning how to collaborate and work with others.



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5 Responses to Broken Squares Activity

  1. kimmultitasker says:

    I am planning to do a different team building activity each day during the first week of school. I was in need of one more and your post is right on time. Thanks so much for sharing your resources and how it went in your classroom. I look forward to trying this with my 6th graders this week.

  2. Pingback: Amazing Icebreakers for Teachers | I Speak Math

  3. Pingback: First Day! | Math at Moraga Middle

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