In or On the Cup: Where Is the Square?

Use a School Readiness Activity to provide early mathematical thinking experiences for preschool children that will prepare them to do well in the early grades.
Mathematics (5,032)

In or On the Cup: Where Is the Square?


  • To understand the concepts of in and on
  • To be able to correctly use the positional words of in or on
  • To reinforce the names of geometric shapes

Children's books (see Literature Suggestion).
For each child: 1 paper cup and a small paper circle, square, rectangle, triangle.

in on
circle square
rectangle     triangle

Literature Suggestion
Read There Was a Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsey and Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats. Help children notice the positions of the animals: in or on.

Reinforce the vocabulary for shapes by playing "Name the Shape." Place paper circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles into a cup. Put your hand over the top of the cup and give it a shake. Invite a child to reach into the cup, pull out one shape, and name it. The first child should then put the shape back into the cup, give the cup a shake, and ask another child to take and name a shape.


  • Tell children that they are going to play "In the Cup or On the Cup." Demonstrate the concepts of in and on using the paper shapes and the cup. Take the square, hold it up, put it in the cup, and say, "The square is in the cup." Ask children where the square is. (in the cup) Remove the square, flip the cup over, place the square on the cup and say, "The square is on the cup." Ask children where the square is. (on the cup)
  • Repeat the activity with all of the shapes.
  • When children are comfortable with the experience, have them take turns giving the directions.
  • Teacher Tip: Check to ensure that child is hearing the difference between the sounds.
Play the game using different containers such as boxes, pots and pans, and the classroom bookcase. You may also want to add three-dimensional shapes such as spheres and cubes to the mix of items.

Observation Assessment

  • Proficient - Child can easily identify whether items are in or on a container.
  • In Process - Child participates, but frequently looks for help or prompts when asked whether items are in or on a container.
  • Not Yet Ready - Child does not yet tell whether items are in or on a container.

Excerpted from

School Readiness Activity Cards
Pearson Early Childhood
Excerpted from School Readiness Activity Cards. The Preschool Activity Cards provide engaging and purposeful experiences that develop language, literacy, and math skills for preschool children.
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