2.  Exploring properties of materials

As you get to know your class, it is really useful to talk to your pupils about their personal characteristics, things they can do, their likes and dislikes, and their strengths and weaknesses. A nice way to summarise this sharing talk is to ask them to draw a careful full-length self-portrait and to label their distinguishing features in one colour. They could use other colours to list and record their other different types of characteristics.

Now they will be ready to do the same thing when they consider the properties of different common substances (kinds of matter) they know from their environment. Activity 2 explores one way of doing this, using pictures.

In Case Study 2, a teacher introduces the idea of properties and the three states of matter (solids, liquids and gases) by starting with a single property –compressibility. Is this different to the way you usually introduce this topic? What other topics could you explore using this approach?

Case Study 2: Comparing compressibility

Halima works with Primary 4 pupils and plans to introduce them to the idea of the three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. But she doesn’t want to just tell them.

She carefully plans a lesson around the idea of compressibility. She shows them a small sponge, a ball of cotton wool, a soft square of cloth (like a yellow flannel duster) some water and a block of hard wood. With each in turn, Halima demonstrates how she can squeeze, force or press them down into the small hollow space of a clenched fist. All except the water and the block of wood.

She cannot easily change the size or shape of the wood, and although she can change the shape of the water, she can’t change its size.

She follows this up with a lesson where she uses syringes to demonstrate compressibility in liquids compared to solids (sand) and air (see Resource 2: Lesson plan).

Activity 2: Using icons to identify and classify substances

To do this activity with the whole class, you need to find a large poster of a room, showing a range of different substances (for example, a shop, a clinic or a kitchen).

For group work you will need a large picture for each group – use a different picture for each group. (Look for pictures in magazines and catalogues.) Using different pictures gives the pupils a very real reason for reporting back, because each group has different information to share.

With your pupils, choose three suitable icons to use in this lesson. You will need icons to represent a solid (perhaps a picture of a block or cube – brown or black), a liquid (perhaps a droplet – blue) and a gas (perhaps a cloud of dots – grey or pencil).

Pupils draw these icons on bits of scrap card or cut out the shapes and colour them if possible.

Then they use small bits of sticky tape to mark solids, liquids and gases on their pictures.

Encourage discussion and feedback from each group. How did they identify liquids? Gases? See Resource 3: Sample of pupil’s work.

1. Using games to explore materials

3. Organising investigations