Trig Ratios – #made4math


Through the years, I’ve seen students struggling trying to remember which Trig Ratio is which.  I have a colleague who draws a big bucket with a toe dipped into the water.  She says she tells the students “Soak-a-Toe” to help them recall SOH-CAH-TOA.  Another has described the “Native American”  SOH-CAH-TOA tribe as the one who constructs their teepees using Right Triangles.  The most entertaining though is the rap from WCHS Math Department “Gettin’ Triggy Wit It” on youtube.

I wanted to use an inquiry activity to help them develop the definitions of the Trig Ratios.  Basically, they constructed 4 similar triangles, found the side measures, then recorded ratios of specific side lengths.  Next, I had them measure the acute angles, then we used the calculator to evaluate the sin, cos and tan for each angle measure.  Students were asked to compare each value to the ratios they had recorded in the table and determine which ratio was closest to their value.  Here’s the file Similar Triangles Trig Ratios.  Anyway, its not a perfect lesson, but a starting point.  If you use it, please comment to let me know how you modified it to make it a better learning experience for students.

In the past, students sometimes struggle trying to decide which ratio they need to use when solving a problem. I put together an activity adapted from a strategy called  Mix-Pair-Freeze I’ve used from my KaganCooperative Learning and Geometry book.  This book offers numerous, quality activities for engaging your students.

You can make copies of this file, Trig Ratio Cards File, then cut cards apart to use.

Trig Ratio Cards

Each student gets a card.  They figure out which Trig Ratio is illustrated on their card (& why).  They mix around the room (with some fun music would make it better), then pair up with someone.  Each person tells which Trig Ratio and why (can be peer assessment, if one is mistaken).  They swap cards, mix and pair with another classmate.  This continues for several minutes, allowing students to pair with several different people.

When I call “Freeze!” Students are to go to a corner of the room which is designated Sin, Cos or Tan.  Within the group in each corner, students double check one-another’s card to determine if they are at the right location.  Again, peer assessment, if someone is wrong, they coach to explain why, then help them determine where they belong.

Students swap cards, mix-pair-freeze again.

I like this activity for several reasons:

  • 1. Students are out of their seats and active.
  • 2.  Students are talking about math.
  • 3.  It allows them to both self-peer assess in a low-stress situation.
  • 4.  I can listen to their descriptions and address any misconceptions as a whole-class as a follow-up.


To clarify, the intent of this activity is for students to determine what information they are given in relation to a given angle, then decide which ratio it illustrates. It is meant to help students who struggle deciphering what information is given.


2 responses »

  1. I am going to try this tomorrow–sounds like we are in the same place! My students do not know their special right triangles OR their pythagorean triples, so its taking me much longer than I thought and I need more practice activities.

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