Home > #MTBoS, KS2, KS3, Maths, SSM, Teaching > Oblongs


Last week while we were waiting for a swimming lesson to start my daughter told me that one of her teachers had got “higgledy piggledy” about oblongs. I asked what she meant and she said that she’d accidentally called one a rectangle and had to correct herself and had informed the class that at her last school she’d had to call them rectangles but at this school had to call them oblongs and sometimes got higgledy piggledy about this. I asked my daughter why they couldn’t call them rectangles and she said that it was because squares can be rectangles too.

This set off a lengthy chain of thoughts in my head. Firstly, I was quite impressed by the fact a 5 year old could articulate all this about knowledge about shapes so well. Then I thought, does it really matter whether they call them oblongs or rectangles? Then I thought, wait a minute, why are we prohibiting the use of rectangle because it can also mean a square, but we are not prohibiting the use of oblong when it can also mean an ellipse? My chain of thought then jumped down a rabbit hole questioning whether we should actually be referring to regular or equilateral rectangular parallelograms and non – regular/equilateral parallelograms. Why are we allowing children to call a shape a triangle, when it is one possible type of triangle in a family of triangles, but not allowing them to call a shape a rectangle when it is only one possible rectangle in a family of rectangles. These thoughts stewed around in my head for a while and I thought I’d ask the twittersphere for their opinions on the matter.

These opinions fell into a couple of camps. The first cam thought that oblong was a nice enough word and they didn’t mind others using it but preferred not to themselves. The second camp felt that it was important to distinguish between an oblong and a square so important to use oblong not rectangle and the third camp thought that actually it was better to use rectangles due to the elliptical oblongs. I questioned some of the respondents from the second two groups a little further to see why they fell into these groups. Those in the second seemed unaware that the word oblong also meant ellipse and those in the third thought it was more important to excluded ellipses than squares. Stating that it was easy enough to explain away the special case that is the square.

I’ve spend rather a lot of time considering this, and am now not really sure what I think on the issue. I can’t see a problem with using a rectangle and explaining away the square as a special case. We call all triangles triangles and expand as and when required. No one bothers about calling a non-rectangular parallelogram a parallelogram, despite the fact that that could mean a rectangle. But again I’m not sure I’m massively strongly against the term oblong either. It could open up a good discussion about the term and how it could apply to ellipses, although this probably is a little too much for a year 1 classroom. I think I’m leaning towards rectangle as a preference though, as explaining away a special case is, for me, much more preferable than ignoring a whole class of oblongs.


If you have views on this, whichever way you lean, I’d love to hear them, either in the comments or via social media.

Categories: #MTBoS, KS2, KS3, Maths, SSM, Teaching Tags: , ,
  1. November 11, 2017 at 8:12 am

    I didn’t respond to the original request but am firmly in camp one!

    My greater worry is that too much of the focus is on labels and not on properties. This is very evident when older pupils (yrs 5 – 8) are presented with canted shapes and cannot identify them because they don’t quite look right. They should be confident that a square is a special rectangle just as a rectangle is a special parallelogram etc.

    • November 11, 2017 at 8:13 am

      Aye. I’m currently thinking we get too bogged down with labels.

      • November 13, 2017 at 11:19 am

        Is the problem the teacher knowledge rather than the pupils? The areas where I have the strongest subject knowledge I can make better decisions about the balance between labels, content, analysis, etc but where I’m not I would struggle. A case in point being this blog which got me thinking about how much I took for granted or relied on from other sources.

      • November 13, 2017 at 11:20 am

        I say this as a primary trained teacher not a secondary one who is a non-specialist teaching maths!!

      • November 13, 2017 at 11:26 am

        I certainly think teacher knowledge may be a part of the issue. Or policy maker knowledge I guess as it’s a school policy. I’d be interested to know what proportion of primaries insist on oblong. I always remember when I was primary age my grandad used to call them oblongs but my teachers told me to use rectangle.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Comments welcome......

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: