The Shape of Cities: Exploring Geometry in the Real World

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 11, 2006

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


In this activity students will find real-world examples of a variety of geometric shapes. They will conduct research, record observations, and write descriptions. A classroom cityscape will be created, highlighting what students have learned.

National Standards

Standard 5. Level I. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of geometry
1. Understands basic properties of (e.g., number of sides, corners, square corners) and similarities and differences between simple geometric shapes
3. Understands that geometric shapes are useful for representing and describing real world situations
Standard 1. Level I. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
6. Uses writing and other methods (e.g., using letters or phonetically spelled words, telling, dictating, making lists) to describe familiar persons, places, objects, or experiences
8. Writes for different purposes (e.g., to entertain, inform, learn, communicate ideas) 
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level I. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
1. Makes contributions in class and group discussions (e.g., reports on ideas and personal knowledge about a topic, initiates conversations, connects ideas and experiences with those of others)
Visual Arts
Standard 2. Level II. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art
3. Uses visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques


Students will do the following:

  • identify a variety of geometric shapes
  • observe a variety of geometric shapes
  • conduct research
  • write a description
  • create a cityscape using blocks and manipulatives
  • create an oral presentation
  • create a drawing


  • "Find the Shape" handout


  • computer with Internet access
  • construction or drawing paper
  • crayons, markers, pencils
  • a variety of building blocks
  • a variety of manipulatives


Building Background
Shape Detectives 

The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to observe a variety of geometric shapes in everyday objects.

1. Tell your students that they are going to identify basic geometric shapes. Divide the class into small groups and give each group a copy of the "Find the Shape" handout. Tell the students that they are going to look for shapes in three different locations:

  • the classroom
  • the school
  • the school grounds

Teacher Note: If necessary, review each shape with your students before they begin working on this activity.

Steps for Learning
Build a City

The purpose of this activity is to have students create a cityscape using a variety of geometric shapes.

1. Ask the students to brainstorm ideas about what a person finds in a city. As a class, visit the following websites that show images of structures that can be found in cities around the world:

  • New York City

  • Hong Kong

  • Paris

2. Tell the students that they are going to work in small groups to build structures that a person would find in a city neighborhood using a variety of different geometric shapes. Provide the students with blocks and manipulatives to build their cities.

3. As a class, view the students' completed cities. Provide time for each group to explain to the entire class the geometric shapes that it used in creating their city structures.

4. Have each student draw a picture of the completed cityscape. Post students' art for others in the school and community to share.


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them assess their learning. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.

  • How many shapes did you use in your cityscape?
    • More than 10             
    • Between 5 and 10
    • Fewer than 5
  • How many shapes did you find in your classroom?
  • How many shapes did you find in the school?
  • How many shapes did you find outside the school?

-Rate how well your group worked together.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

-Rate your creativity.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Further Explorations with Shapes
Ask your students to observe shapes at home, and add them to their "Find the Shape" handout.
Activity Two: Digital Cityscapes 
Create a digital slide show of the students' cities and use it to help students learn about different geometric shapes.

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