A Hands-On Way to Teach Volume by Cooking in the Classroom

By Tracey Bleakley

This simple lesson will help you teach the concept of volume to your students using simple materials that you can find in the kitchen. Plus your students will love the yummy snacks at the end of each lesson!

When it comes to teaching volume, cubic centimeters and cubic inches can be difficult concepts to grasp. Associating these concepts with something concrete and tangible, such as measuring cups and boxes, will enable students to better visualize and understand these units of measurement.

Part One: Cubic Centimeters


  • 2 cup measuring cup
  • Tape measure
  • Graduated cylinder that will hold 2 cups (approx 500 ml)
  • Water
  • One box of instant pudding for each group of children
  • 2 cups of skim milk for each group


Make note of any food allergies students may have. If cow’s milk allergies are a concern, then use soy milk instead. Floor and furniture protection may be necessary or you can take the lesson outdoors.


To start the lesson, review with the students how to calculate the area of a circle. Introduce them to the concept of how to calculate the volume of a cylinder. The formula for the area of a circle is (pi * radius squared). The volume of a cylinder is calculated as (pi * radius squared * height), or the area of the cylinder’s base multiplied by the cylinder’s height. Younger children will require an explanation of radius and pi; you can give them the calculations for the base of the cylinder if necessary.

Allow the students to compare the measuring cup to the graduated cylinder. Ask them to notice if there are any differences. Have each student measure and calculate the volume for each measuring cup. Fill the measuring cup with water to the rim of the cup. This will give the students a good visual as to what the measurement looks like. Note the location of the 2 cup mark on the measuring cup. Compare the level of water in the measuring cup to the 2 cup mark. Is there a difference? Next pour the water from the measuring cup into the graduated cylinder. Observe the results and have the students write a constructed response detailing what they have observed and what conclusions they can draw from the demonstration.

The second part of this lesson is fun. Measure out the equivalent of 2 cups of milk in the graduated cylinder. Mix the pudding according to directions. It will be soft set in about 5 minutes. Put into small paper cups or you can put it into ice cream cones.

Part One Discussion Topics

Is the volume of the 2 cup measuring cup equal to 2 cups? Why or why not.

How does a graduated cylinder differ from a measuring cup? Is one more accurate than the other? Why?

Why is volume measured in cubic units?

Part Two: Cubic Inches

Use this activity to help your students understand that volume pertains to measurements other than liquid.


  • Cardboard box

  • Several boxes of pasta (Consider purchasing a case of pasta at a warehouse club and use the outer box and the individual pasta boxes for this demonstration. The pasta boxes will need to fit into the cardboard box.)

  • Measuring tape or ruler


Explain to the students that when we measure volume, it is the measurement of space inside a container. Volume is a 3 dimensional measurement as compared to inches and feet which are a 1 dimensional, linear measurement. That is why the measurement for volume is always written as cubed units. Review or introduce the concept of volume. Volume of a rectangular solid like the cardboard box is (length * width * height).

The students should measure the cardboard box and calculate the volume. Next have them measure one of the pasta boxes. Calculate the volume of the pasta box. Compare the volume of the cardboard box to the volume of the pasta box. Ask the students to estimate how many pasta boxes will fit into the cardboard box. Next, have them calculate how many should fit. Finally, have them fill the cardboard box with the pasta boxes and compare this to the calculations. If your classroom situation allows for cooking, then the class can make pasta for lunch.

Part Two Discussion Topics

How is calculating volume used in real life situations?

Did your calculations match with what the demonstration showed?

Why is learning how to calculate volume important?

Teaching volume to children will be a snap when you incorporate everyday activities, like cooking, into your lesson plans. Encourage parents to reinforce the concept by providing some fun ideas for math activities in the kitchen to help children understand volume.

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