Exploring the Properties of Water

23 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will be able to connect the concepts of polarity and hydrogen bonding to the major properties of water.

Big Idea

Use this engaging inquiry lab to get your kids talking about the properties of water and how they relate to chemistry basics like polarity and hydrogen bonding!

Notes for the Teacher

Variations on this water lab are a part of almost every introductory biology course.  This particular set of activities was inspired by Dr. Lythcott of Stanford University, who led a recent professional development session focused on science inquiry and discussion techniques.  The shift that I saw was that by asking each group to focus on a single water activity/phenomenon, it allowed for a robust sharing out of observations and inferences.  It also allowed me as the teacher to assist the students in seeing the patterns and similarities between each group's findings.  

I worked with this protocol with my students and a group of science teachers in my area looking to make some shifts in practice to encourage more inquiry based science.  I've attached my professional development water inquiry ppt presentation for you.  In addition to outlining the lesson flow, it includes many notes and connections for teachers thinking with the NGSS in mind. I am excited to hear about your experiences working with this approach!

The Classroom Flow: Introducing Today's Theme

5 minutes

1.   Tell students that today we will be discussing the properties of water, a compound essential to life on earth and a big part of our overall discussion concerning climate change.  

2.  Ask each group to pick up the directions and materials they will need, go back to their lab tables, and get to work on their group activity.  I have included the directions for each of the seven water activities in one water lab station procedures master document.  In the classroom, I print them out one per page and put each in a plastic cover/sleeve.  There will be water spilled at each table, trust me on this! 

  • Note:  I keep this introduction really short.  I do not assign roles to students and I do not dictate which activity bin students take--they tend to simply pick the bin closest to them--they are all identical and the direction sheet is covering the contents.  
  • The goal is have some mystery to the day's events and allow students to immediately get on task, get organized as a group, and investigate an interesting question.  Exploration, fun, and surprise are all part of science and learning.  Enjoy what you see and hear your kids doing, I know I did!

The Classroom Flow: Time to Explore

20 minutes

1. To give you an idea of what your kids will be doing, check out photos of my students doing each of our activities.  As much as possible, I have found that assuming the role of an observer and listener over a director of the activity results in more engaged and meaningful conversations during and after the small group work.

Here is a short clip showing what will happen in the pepper demonstration. 

 2. As you see things winding down in each group, tell students that you want them to discuss the following three prompts:  

What did you do?  

What happened?

Why do you think it happened and how do you know? 

The Classroom Flow: Sharing Out

20 minutes

1.  Use the spokesperson protocol so that each group can share out their activity and their answers to the three prompts:  

What happened?

Why do you think it happened?

How do you know?

  • Note: I found that this took longer than I had originally intended (20 minutes instead of 10).  The reason for this shift is that students really wanted to show and see each other's demonstration/activity.  I was happily surprised to see just how intently students were watching and listening throughout this piece of the activity.


2.  As students spoke, I wrote down biology vocabulary I wanted to explore later in our unit: polarity, cohesion, adhesion, surface tension, air pressure, volume, hydrogen bonds

Following Through: Writing Prompt

5 minutes

1.  Now that the class has had an experience with the properties of water and has participated in conversations that connect that experience to content area terminology, its time to put it all together!

2.  Ask students to prepare a conclusion statement relating their group work with our class discussion about the properties of water.  I listed my water lab conclusion statement directions on the board in the classroom to review together.  In their conclusion statement, they should consider the following:

What did you learn about water from the class activities/discussions?

What similarities did you see between each activity in terms of how water behaved?

What do you know about the properties of water that can explain what you saw?

3.  Depending upon the writing level of your students, you can use this written conclusion as a summative assessment or you can have students bring in their work to share and edit together as a formative assessment.  I have included a sophomore student sample and a freshman student sample for you look through and compare to your expectations for your students.  

  • Note: I've included a potential conclusion rubric to use with your kids as you transition them from their first drafts explaining water phenomena into more scientific conclusion final drafts of their experiences, evidence, and their links to biological concepts.  I'm going to be working with this for the rest of the year to shape it into something really useful for me and my students and I'd love your feedback too.