Junk Mail Maths Activity

Picture Detectives

This junk mail maths activity was developed because our mail box has been filling up with junk mail by the truck loads. (Okay ... maybe I exaggerate just a little but we do get a heap of junk mail!)

Rather than just throw the junk mail out, I figured there must be a way to recycle it for educational purposes which is how we came up with a new game ... Sorting Detectives.

The Objective of Sorting Detectives
... is for the Detectives to sort the pictures into categories or groups. Sorting is an essential mathematical skill.

(Note: If the boys have been given the role of 'detective' recently, they've been eager to hop in and have a go, hence the name of the game).

The key is for the children to come up with the categories themselves (e.g., food we eat, kitchen equipment, furniture, etc.).

This activity isn't based on right or wrong choices. The only requirement is that the child can explain why they are putting something in a particular group. For example ... 'because it has four wheels' ... 'because it is something we drink out of', etc.

Having said that, the reason one of our boys tried to give for putting something in a category was ... "because I did!" Hmmm ... not acceptable! Try again - this time with a more in-depth reason (and I don't mean ... "because I absolutely, positively did!").

Materials Required for Picture Detectives

Picture Detectives

  • A pile of pictures cut from junk mail. (The pictures need to be of a wide variety items/people, objects)
  • Glue
  • A large piece of paper.

To Play Sorting Detectives

The boys were given the following instructions:

  • Sort and paste these pictures into groups. The groups of objects must be related somehow. (E.g., things with 4 wheels, things that fly, food we eat, etc.)
  • Picture Detectives

  • You can decide which groups pictures go in but you must tell me ...
    • 1. what the object is?
      2. which group you are putting the object in?
      3. why you are putting the object in the group?

It was fascinating to hear why some things were put into some groups.

For example, things used in different parts of the house (e.g., television, computer, headphones) were all put into one category labelled "electronics".

Pictures of a roast chicken, live ducks and fish were put into another group because they were alive ... or at least once were.

I loved one group that included a tent, torch, bag of chips, fish, camping chair, fishing rod. They were labelled 'camping items'.

However, there was one group I couldn't work out ... some boxer shorts were grouped with a refrigerator.

Apparently the child in question had only glanced at the picture and thought the underwear was chocolate! Ah... that made sense (well the chocolate and the fridge combination, not why the underwear looked like chocolate).

Picture Detectives

The boys definitely enjoyed this junk mail maths activity and want to do it again ... although the oldest stuck with it for longer than the younger of the two.

We will do this maths activity again but next time will talk more about how one item can be put into different groups.

For example, an office chair with wheels could be grouped in "office equipment", "furniture" or "things with wheels".

I'd also like to extend this junk mail maths activity into a different sort of game for another session ... one in which children have to use language to provide clues and mark off objects with a bingo marker (sort of like eye-spy). But that's for another day.
Picture Detectives

This junk mail maths activity gave the boys the opportunity to exercise the following skills:

  • Maths - sorting and classifying
  • Problem-solving and reasoning - which group does something belong to and why
  • Decision making
  • Following directions
  • Language skills - explaining the reasons for choices made
  • Social skills - working together as a team on one project.

You may also like these activities:

Marshmallow Building
Marshmallow Building
Make a Floor Number Line
Make a Floor Number Line

Return to the Articles List for other children's learning activities or children's book reviews.

Leave a Reply