Section 5 : States of matter

Theme: Dealing with challenging ideas in science

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:

  • used an activity to probe students’ understanding of the key ideas in this topic that they encountered in primary school;
  • organised your class into three groups to act out various scenarios which demonstrate understanding of how particles behave;
  • supported students in developing a teaching resource or revision tool in order to link together ideas about particles.


Being an effective science teacher involves being able to explain difficult ideas very clearly. There are a number of topics in science that are difficult to understand and difficult to explain. This is because the ideas are abstract and based on things that we cannot see. Students often have ideas that are ‘wrong’, particularly about the more abstract topics. Just explaining the ‘right’ idea might work in the short term, but often doesn’t last until the student has to take an exam. The ‘wrong’ ideas need to be identified and tackled before progress can be made. Often, simply explaining the ideas is not enough; you need to revisit them and consolidate understanding.

In this unit, the three activities build on each other and will enable you to help your students gradually develop their understanding. The first activity focuses on literacy and making sure that your students understand the key words. The second and third activities use different approaches to developing understanding. The purpose of the first activity is to find out and reinforce what they already know. The second activity extends their understanding so that they can explain processes such as dissolving, melting and evaporating in terms of how the particles behave. The third activity helps them to consolidate their learning by talking about the ideas and developing a concept map or a mind map.

Resource 6: Elements found in Africa

1. Probing understanding