18 Estimation Activities That Take the Guesswork out of Teaching Math

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Estimation Activities Featured

Estimating can be a difficult concept for kids to understand and master. Many of them would rather just solve the problem or measure the item exactly—why bother estimating? But adults know that we estimate all the time in real life, and it’s a valuable skill to have. These estimation activities incorporate practical application, from forming an educated guess of how many items are in a jar to making sure the answer to a math problem is reasonable. They’re sure to make estimation more meaningful for your students.

1. Teach them the “ish” concept.

Even preschoolers can begin to understand estimation. Read the book Ish by Peter H. Reynolds, in which a boy learns to enjoy the process of drawing rather than always worrying about the end result. When he thinks his drawing of a vase doesn’t look right, his little sister says it looks “vase-ish,” or close enough to the real thing. Translate that concept to estimation activities like guessing the number of objects in jars.

Learn more: Mama.Papa.Bubba

2. Estimate a handful of snacks.

Estimation Activities 123Homeschool4Me

Have little ones take a handful of a small snack, like goldfish crackers. Without counting, ask them to guess how many are in their hand. Write down the number, then count to see the actual total. Snack on the results while you try another handful.

Learn more: 123 Homeschool 4 Me

3. Introduce estimation jars.

Estimation Activities Mrs Byrds Learning Tree

Fill any clear jar with any type of object (there are so many options!). You can use these for all sorts of estimation activities as students learn to make educated guesses about how many are inside. (Find more ways to use mason jars in the classroom here.)

Learn more: Mrs. Byrd’s Learning Tree

4. Build number sense with estimation activities.

Estimation Activities Play to Learn Preschool

Try using a series of estimation jars, with the correct amounts marked on several and one of the series left a “mystery” for kids to estimate. They use the numbers they know to determine where the mystery jar fits into the sequence and how many items it might reasonably contain.

Learn more: Play to Learn Preschool

5. Estimate how many it takes to fill a shape.

Estimation Activities Math Geek Mama

This is sort of the opposite of an estimation jar. Start with a blank gumball machine (free printable at the link below) and guess how many balls of each size it will take to fill it.

Learn more: Math Geek Mama

6. Use building blocks to estimate length.

We guesstimate the length of things all the time in real life. Give kids practice at this valuable skill by having them use blocks like Unifix cubes or LEGOs to estimate how long an object like a toy animal is. 

Learn more: The Measured Mom

7. Learn to estimate volume.

Estimation Activities Prekinders

Estimation isn’t always how many—sometimes it’s how much. Use one-cup measuring scoops to compare and estimate the amount of water (or sand) in clear jars.

Learn more: Prekinders

8. Provide clues for your estimation jars.

Estimation Activities Tammy Pinterest

Create a math puzzle by giving some clues about the number of items in the jar. It’s a good reminder that estimation activities aren’t just about random guessing.

Source: Tammy/Pinterest

9. Use string to estimate length …

Estimation Activities First Grader at Last

Give kids a ball of string and ask them how they’d estimate the length of a piece as tall as they are. Have them cut off the piece of string, then measure their actual height and compare. It will be interesting to see the methods they use and how close they come to getting it right.

Learn more: First Grader…at Last!

10. … or circumference.

Provide several lengths of string or ribbon and ask students to estimate which will fit around a circular object, like a pumpkin. It’s a tricky skill, but one with many real-life applications. ( Here are more pumpkin math ideas. )

Learn more: Prekinders

11. Learn to estimate in lengths of time.

Estimation Activities Math Worksheets 4 Kids

Estimation activities involving time have a lot of real-life application. How long does it take to do something? Is it measured in seconds, minutes, days? Visit the link below for free printable worksheets about estimating time. 

Learn more: Math Worksheets 4 Kids

12. Try more time estimation activities.

Estimation Activities Mrs Ts First Grade Class

Once you know how long it takes to do something, you can estimate how many times you can do it in a given timeframe. Give kids practice with a free printable (at the link below) that’s perfect for the 100th day of school

Learn more: Mrs. T’s First Grade Class

13. Apply estimation activities to math problems.

Estimation Activities Teacher Mood

Even when kids get the hang of estimating in “real life,” they may struggle to understand the purpose of the concept when applied to math problems on paper. This page from one teacher’s math journal makes the benefits of estimation clear: not only is it faster, but it helps us determine if our exact answer is reasonable. (Wouldn’t this make a great anchor chart?)

Learn more: Teacher Mood

14. Define estimation with an anchor chart.

Estimation Activities Keeping Up With Mrs Harris Pinterest

Speaking of anchor charts, this colorful chart reminds students that an estimation is more than just a guess, explaining when and why we estimate.

Source: Keeping Up With Mrs. Harris/Pinterest

15. Demonstrate estimation with an anchor chart.

Estimation Activities Pinterest-001

This simple anchor chart demonstrates how estimation works, starting with rounding. Once your students are grounded on rounding techniques, they can apply those skills to estimation activities.

Source: Patricia Monty/Pinterest

16. Have an estimation competition.

In this free printable game (available at the link below), students estimate the answers to math problems as they draw cards. They fill in the corresponding squares on the answer sheet, competing to be the first to get four in a row.

Learn more: Learning With Mrs. Kirk

17. Roll the dice for estimation practice.

Dice games make math practice a little more fun. Give each student a pair of dice and the free printable worksheet from the link below. Have them follow the directions to see who wins!

Learn more: From Classroom to Counselor

18. Play an online estimation game.

Estimation Activities The Problem Site

Online math games are a terrific interactive way to learn. In this game, students see a screen full of dots and are asked to estimate how many there are, or if there is more of one color than another. After a few seconds the dots disappear, so there’s no time to count, meaning kids will need to use their estimation skills.

Learn more: The Problem Site

What are your favorite estimation activities? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, we really do use math in real life! Prove it to your students with this amusing list of 26 ways math counts every day.

18 Estimation Activities That Take the Guesswork out of Teaching Math

Posted by Jill Staake

Jill Staake is a writer living in Tampa, Florida. She's spent most of her life teaching in traditional classrooms and beyond, from 8th grade English to butterfly encounters, and believes learning is a life-long process.

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