Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Wanted Dead or Alive...How Big Is it?

Summer Zephyr
Bay District Schools


Students learn to approximate the measurement of a tree using unconventional methods.


Selects and uses appropriate instruments, technology, and techniques to measure quantities in order to achieve specified degrees of accuracy in a problem situation.


-Choose one of the following to use for measurement:
A. Two yards of plain white fabric made into two inch wide strips 6 ft long. (Cut twenty strips out of this for a classroom set. Students work in pairs.)
B. Twill tape 6 ft. long,
C. Strips made of continuous computer paper that are 6 ft. long
- 5-10 Biltmore sticks borrowed from the Forestry Dept. (Optional-Purchase your own.)
-Select an area to do the activity and mark the trees (requires at least 1 tree per student OR pair students)
-Rubric Assessing Hands-on Lab Activity (see associated file)
Student Activity Sheet (see associated file)
-Data Sheet (see associated file)


1. To make a diameter tape: Take a 6 foot strip of cloth about Ĺ inch wide and mark off 3.14 inch increments. Each of the increments on the cloth will equal one inch of diameter. Students make their own strips or use twill tape which is easier to use but more expensive.
2. Determine a wooded area where students will be able to participate in the activity.
3. Duplicate pages in the associated file.
4. Choose and mark trees for each group with colored ropes, strips of cloth, etc. You will need the approximate height and diameter of each tree so that students may compare their measurements in order to receive feedback.


If doing the unit, Wanted Dead or Alive, be sure to administer the Diagnostic prior to beginning this portion of the unit.

Ask students how they could measure something that was bigger or taller than they are. Allow time for ideas and discussion. Explain that timber companies often have to estimate the size of trees in order to determine their worth or merchantability. Tell students that for the next several days, they will be learning how to do this and then actually going out into the field to practice when they have learned.

1. Go over definition of merchantable, pulpwood, sawtimber, diameter, Biltmore stick, height, pace, Hyposometer, length, Gunther chain, volume. Definitions can be obtained from the unit file titled Vocabulary. Be sure to use this vocabulary throughout the course of the unit to ensure student mastery.

2. If necessary, review measuring using the online, interactive Student Web Lessons: Centimeter Slinkies, Measure This, or Measurement Scavenger Hunt. (See Weblinks) These can be use in a lab situation or with the whole class.

3. Teacher and students prepare the diameter tapes. Instructions are located in teacher preparations.

4. Hand out Student Directions Sheet, go over it, and then demonstrate how to use diameter tape and Biltmore stick to determine diameter of tree. You will need to go outside to do this. The Websites listed in the unit itself contain explicit information and instrucions on doing this. Allow time for students to examine the tools and question you as you model the technique.

5. Once students have shown they understand the concept using of the diameter tape and Biltmore stick, then they are ready to use their knowledge in a performance based activity. (According to the number of trees the teacher has located, either have students do the following activity individually or with partners.)

6. Go to the pre-determined wooded area and have students follow directions of Student Activity Sheet. Students conduct the activity three times on the same tree and fill in the Data Sheet. Measurements are recorded for analysis. Circulate and offer feedback and assistance to students as they work.

7. Once students have had an opportunity to learn how to use the diameter tape and Biltmore stick and practice this knowledge, then use rubric to assess student knowledge by having them present orally to class how to make a diameter tape or use a Biltmore stick to determine the diameter/height of a tree. The attached rubric should be used to assess students' oral presentations and the data they collected. Share the rubric with students prior to their presentations.


The FORMATIVE assessments below can take place after each step in the learning process or all at once at the end of the three days this lesson takes. It is up to the individual teacher; however, make sure that students have had plenty of time to be taught the information and review the information multiple times before the assessment.

Utilize the rubric (located in the Associated File) to assess student work.

1. Students explain to class orally how to make a diameter tape to measure the diameter of a tree. They should be able to correctly explain how to make and use the diameter tape to measure the diameter of a tree.

2. Students explain to class orally how to use a Biltmore stick to measure the diameter of a tree. Students should be able to correctly explain how to use a Biltmore stick to measure diameter.

3. Students measure diameter of the timber trees using Biltmore stick and diameter tape to determine type of product for which a tree may be used. Students record measurements on data sheet for analysis. Observe students as they are filling in the Data Sheet and fill in the parts of the rubric that can only be determined by observing students. (Did they estimate first, for example) The Data Sheet should be correctly filled in.

These formative assessments lead to a summative assessment at the completion of the unit, Wanted Dead or Alive.(see Weblinks)


a. The Beacon Unit Plan associated with this lesson can be viewed by clicking on the link located at the top of this page or by using the following URL: Once you select the unitís link, scroll to the bottom of the unit plan page to find the section, Associated Files. This section contains links to the Unit Plan Overview, Diagnostic and Summative Assessments, and other associated files (if any).

Web Links

This is an Interactive Student Web Lesson that can be used in a computer lab or as a whole class exercise. You will need to determine the level of math ability in your students before deciding if this is appropriate. Using this resource may extend the length of the unit.
Centimeter Slinkies

A Web supplement for this lesson.
Measure This

Web supplement for Wanted Dead or Alive...How Big Is it?
Measurement Scavenger Hunt

Web supplement for Wanted Dead or Alive...How Big Is it?
Tree Measurement

Obtain all needed information needed for the unit, including files, lessons, assessments, etc.
Wanted Dead or Alive

Return to the Beacon Lesson Plan Library.