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What Are The 3D Shapes Kids Need To Learn? Definitions, Examples And List Of 3D Shape Names And Properties For Primary School

As early as year 1 in primary school, children will need to recognise the most common 3D shapes such as cuboids, pyramids and squares and then gradually throughout their time at primary school they will start to understand the variety of different 3-dimensional shapes. Some of the terminologies around shape names and properties of shapes may well be unfamiliar to you, so here are a few definitions to get you started.

What is a 3D shape?

A 3D shape is a shape with three dimensions, such as width, height and depth. An example of a 3D shape is a prism or a sphere. 3D shapes are multidimensional and can be physically held.

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3D shapes example

Three-dimensional shapes are the solid shapes around us all the time – Nearly everything we see and interact with in our day to day lives is a 3D shape, from Lego bricks to sunflowers. However, in the primary curriculum, children only need to know the names and understand the properties of the most common 3D shapes, which are shown below.

Which 3D shapes will my child learn about?

In primary school, your child will learn about the following key geometric shapes: spheres, cones, prisms and pyramids.

What are the properties of 3D shapes?

The properties of 3D shapes are their faces, edges and vertices which all have specific meanings in the context of primary school maths lessons.

What is a face?

A face is a flat surface to a 3D object. For example a square based prism has 5 faces. A sphere has 1 curved surface but no face.

What is an edge?

An edge is where two line segments or faces meet. A cylinder has 2 edges.

What are vertices?

Vertices are where two lines or edges meet; in maths we refer to the corners of 3D shapes as vertices. The singular of vertices is actually vertex which can be a bit confusing. A cone has one vertex, and a cube has 4 vertices.

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Learning 3D shapes through Third Space Learning’s online interventions

List of 3D shapes and their properties

These are the names of the 3D shapes your child will need to know. The printable table below provides all the key information they need for primary school.

  • Sphere
  • Hemisphere
  • Cone
  • Tetrahedron, or triangular-based pyramid
  • Square-based pyramid
  • Cylinder
  • Prisms
  • Triangular prism
  • Cube
  • Cuboid
  • Pentagonal prism
  • Hexagonal prism
3D shapes

When will my child learn about 3D shapes in primary school?

Geometry is taught in every year group in KS1 and KS2. Here’s what the National Curriculum expects to be taught about 2D and 3D shapes, separated by year:

Year 1 pupils should be able to:

  • Recognise and name common 2-D and 3-D shapes, including: 2-D shapes [for example, rectangles (including squares), circles and triangles]; 3-D shapes [for example, cuboids (including cubes), pyramids and spheres].
  • Non-statutory guidance: Pupils handle common 2-D and 3-D shapes, naming these and related everyday objects fluently. They recognise these shapes in different orientations and sizes, and know that rectangles, triangles, cuboids and pyramids are not always similar to each other.

Year 2 pupils should be able to:

  • Identify and describe the properties of 2-D shapes, including the number of sides and line symmetry in a vertical line.
  • Identify and describe the properties of 3-D shapes, including the number of edges, vertices and faces.
  • Identify 2-D shapes on the surface of 3-D shapes, [for example, a circle on a cylinder and a triangle on a pyramid].
  • Compare and sort common 2-D and 3-D shapes and everyday objects.
  • Non-statutory guidance: Pupils handle and name a wide variety of common 2-D and 3-D shapes, including quadrilaterals and polygons, and cuboids, prisms and cones, and identify the properties of each shape (for example, number of sides, number of faces). Pupils identify, compare and sort shapes on the basis of their properties and use vocabulary precisely, such as sides, edges, vertices and faces.

Year 3 pupils should be able to:

  • Draw 2-D shapes and make 3-D shapes using modelling materials and recognise 3-D shapes in different orientations and describe them.
  • Non-statutory guidance: Pupils’ knowledge of the properties of shapes is extended at this stage to symmetrical and non-symmetrical polygons and polyhedra. Pupils extend their use of the properties of shapes. They should be able to describe the properties of 2-D and 3-D shapes using accurate language, including lengths of lines and acute and obtuse for angles greater or lesser than a right angle.

Year 4 pupils should be able to:

  • Identify lines of symmetry in 2-D shapes presented in different orientations.
  • Non-statutory guidance: Pupils continue to classify shapes using geometrical properties, extending to classifying different triangles (for example, isosceles, equilateral, scalene) and quadrilaterals (for example, parallelogram, rhombus, trapezium).

Year 5 pupils should be able to:

  • Identify 3-D shapes, including cubes and other cuboids, from 2-D representations and distinguish between regular and irregular polygons based on reasoning about equal sides and angles.

Year 6 pupils should be able to:

  • Draw 2-D shapes using given dimensions and angles and recognise, describe and build simple 3-D shapes, including making nets.

How do 3D shapes relate to other areas of maths?

When working with fractions, children will often have to shade a fraction of a shape. They will have to relate their understanding of perimeter, area and volume to 3D shapes.

Wondering about how to explain other key maths vocabulary to your children? Check out our Primary Maths Dictionary, or try these other terms related to 2D and 3D shapes:

3D shapes questions

1. How many vertices on a cube?

(Answer: 8)

2. How many squares make up the net of a cube?

(Answer: 6)

3. Complete the table.

3D shapes in a table

(Answer: Triangular based pyramid, 4 faces, 6 edges / Sphere, 0 faces, 0 edges / Triangular prism, 5 faces, 9 edges)

3D shapes worksheets

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Sophie Bartlett
Sophie Bartlett
Year 6 Teacher
Sophie is a grammar pedant, author and editor for Third Space as well as teaching in a small school in England.
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Downloadable resource

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