Teaching Tips Capacity

The concept of capacity refers to the amount of space taken up by an object or substance. Capacity, also known as volume, can be explored in a variety of ways, depending upon the age and abilities of the students. To facilitate learning about capacity, students must understand how to use measuring tools and have basic number sense. 

Building blocks

Most children enjoy playing with blocks. Teachers and parents can promote the concept of capacity by encouraging children to create a square of 4 blocks and then asking them how many blocks they used. After answering the correct number of blocks, the children are then asked to create another layer of blocks on top of the first set. How many are there now? Children can draw and write their responses until their tower becomes unstable and crashes to the floor.

Measurement Man

This simple project provides an excellent visual and kinesthetic way to incorporate the concept of capacity into the curriculum. Provide each student with 4 equally sized, different colored sheets of paper. One sheet remains whole and is labeled with the word gallon. The second sheet is cut into equal fourths and each piece labeled quart. The third sheet is cut into 8 equal pieces, which are labeled pints. The fourth sheet is cut into sixteenths and labeled cups. The gallon sheet is used as the body, the quarts create jointed legs, pints become jointed arms and the cups can be used to create hands, feet and the head. Children enjoy creating their Measurement Man and they develop a spacial understanding of capacity as part of the process.

A measure of success

Parents and teachers can build on the Measurement Man experience by challenging children to prove what the papers demonstrated. Start with cup, pint, quart and gallon measuring containers. Have the children start with the one cup measure to fill the other containers with water or sand. The hands on nature of this lesson instills a significant understanding of capacity.

Capacity v. weight

Nearly every child has asked, in one form or another, “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?” This experiment will help students understand the difference between weight and capacity. You will need a variety of items with different densities, measuring containers and a scale. Intuitively, people who understand capacity and weight will know that a one cup measure of potato chips will weigh far less than the same measure of rocks. Challenging students to explore the different weights of identical capacities will provide them with that insight. This is an excellent small group activity, followed by a class discussion of the students’ findings. 

Take it to the kitchen

Using the correct measurement of ingredients makes the difference between a successful recipe and one that is a dismal failure. If a kitchen is accessible, children can be challenged to alter the capacity of a single ingredient and then compare the results of their cooking experiment. A cooking lesson can also be used to teach students how to maintain the same ratio of ingredients, while altering the number of servings. For example, a recipe that calls for 2 eggs can be halved when only one egg is available.

Which is bigger?

This capacity activity is an eye-opener for students of all ages. Start by challenging students to predict if it matters which way the paper is oriented when creating a tube. Most children (and adults) will state that the capacity will not change if the tube is rolled horizontally or vertically. Have students make their own tubes and fill them with rice. The results will astound everyone. Working with older students, teachers can incorporate the concept of pi and the equations used to determine capacity.

Teaching capacity is nearly always more successful when it involves hands on experiences and experiments.