Teachers use math manipulatives in preschool through middle school grades to explain math concepts and give students a hands-on experience to understand how math works. Teachers use attribute blocks to sort by color, shape, thickness and size. Students may use actual shaped blocks, virtual blocks on interactive whiteboards and computers or representative shapes on worksheets and tests.

Attribute Block Characteristics

Attribute blocks sets include red, yellow and blue circles, hexagons, rectangles, squares and triangles. Each set include different sizes and thicknesses of the blocks so students may differentiate by thick or thin and large or small. A standard set contains 30 to 60 blocks, but students may also use pattern block templates for drawing two different sizes of each shape for homework and classwork assignments. Hard plastic sets provide more durable sets, but foam sets offer quieter use for whole-class activities.

Preschool and Kindergarten Use

Preschool and kindergarten teachers use attribute blocks to begin identifying colors and shapes. For example, the teacher asks a student to show her a red triangle or a blue square. Once students exhibit mastery of the colors and shapes, the teacher asks the student to choose the large, thick, blue hexagon or the thin, small, yellow rectangle. Kindergarten and preschool students match attribute blocks such as all large rectangles or all blue shapes. Students may identify which pattern block in a set is missing.

Primary Grade Use

In addition to the skills used by primary and kindergarten students, teachers may demonstrate sorting and comparisons in the primary grades. For example, the teacher pours out a group of random pattern blocks and asks students to sort by size, shape or color. He might hold up a large blue rectangle and a small green square and ask a student to explain how the two shapes are alike and different. The teacher gives special attention to terms such as similar, alike, larger, smaller, thicker and thinner.

Upper Elementary and Middle School

Teachers in upper grades may employ attribute blocks to help students exercise critical thinking skills. For example, place four different blocks in a recurring pattern and ask the student to determine the next block in the sequence. Alternatively, in a story problem, the teacher might describe a geometric key that opens a green door, and the student must determine which pattern block is the key. For example, "To enter the blue room, locate a four-sided, small wafer the same color as the door" would lead him to choose a small, thin, green rectangle.

Students use the blocks to illustrate fractions, such as two thin small triangles equal one thick small triangle.