1. Using games to explore materials

What earthly substance are we most in contact with? Soil; plants; water; wood; concrete; cloth...?

Did you think of nitrogen? We live our lives immersed (totally surrounded) in the gas nitrogen (80% of the air).

We start this section by looking at the ‘big picture’ of the matter and materials that make up our world. Case Study 1 and Activity 1 describe games in which pupils name, describe, sort and group matter and materials. These fun activities will help you establish what the pupils already know, a key part of good teaching in any topic.

Case Study 1: The scavenger hunt game

Running a teacher development workshop in northern Nigeria, the presenter, Ismaila, thought it was time for useful fun. He suggested a scavenger hunt game.

To play this game, you divide pupils into groups of four or more. Each group gets the same list of items. They have to find them quickly and resourcefully and bring them back or use a camera to record that they have found the item. (See Key Resource: Using new technologies [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   for more help.) The first group to be able to prove they have scavenged (collected) all items is the winner. See Resource 1: The scavenger hunt game for a sample of the list Ismaila used and the examples of how some of the groups met the challenge of finding some of the trickier items.

The game proved to be an exciting challenge that made the teachers think more carefully about what is around us and where it comes from. They saw the value of the task and enjoyed the next challenge of modifying and adapting the list for their own pupils. They all agreed to give the game a try in their own classrooms and reflect on its effectiveness in time for the next workshop.

Activity 1: Finding, naming and talking about kinds of matter

This activity is based on the game ‘musical statues’.

  • Divide your class into groups of 10–12 pupils.
  • Play music. The first group dances in a space in the centre of the classroom. Everyone else is the audience.
  • Stop the music.
  • The dancers freeze (anyone who moves is out and sits down).
  • The teacher calls out the name of some sort of matter, e.g. ‘metal!’

The dancers unfreeze and rush to put a finger on something metal.

Anyone who touches a type of metal already touched is OUT!

The last one to find a metal of their own is OUT!

The ‘touchers’ take turns to tell something interesting about what they are touching.

If they can’t tell, or it is a repetition, they are OUT!

Pupils from the audience can ask questions about the thing touched.

If the ‘toucher’ can’t answer satisfactorily, they are OUT!

The survivors get another turn later.

  • The next group comes to the centre, dances, freezes, rushes to touch a new substance (liquid, paper, wood, etc.) and try to survive the telling and the questioning.

Did this game allow you to assess and, at the same time, grow the pupils’ awareness of their material world?  

Section 1: Investigating and classifying materials

2. Exploring properties of materials