What is Matter?

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SWBAT identify that all things are made of matter and will create their own definition of matter.

Big Idea

Students need to understand complex vocabulary in their own way. This lesson allows them to make sense of the word matter in their own terms.


5 minutes

Teacher Tip: This lesson is an introduction to matter. Some students have, or at least should have been exposed to the basics of matter in elementary school. This is not always the case, which is why I start the unit with the very basics.  If the children have been exposed, then this lesson serves as a way to extract prior knowledge from them and get them thinking about the topic again.  NGSS Standard, MS-PS1-1 involves the students creating models of matter.  This happens later within this unit, but each of the lessons leads up to the culminating act of creating models. 

To start this lesson, I ask the students to respond, independently and silently, to the following prompt in their student notes sheet

What do you know about solids, liquids, and gases? 

By answering this question, students will begin to think about matter by identifying examples they are familiar with.  Most students simply write examples of each for this prompt, i.e. rocks, milk, air. Even though a response like this does not discuss the properties of matter, it does allow the to categorize matter according to familiar examples. 


10 minutes

For the next section, I play an excerpt from a Bill Nye Phases of Matter. First, I read the guided questions on the student notes sheet and found below.  Then, I play the video from the beginning until the 1:34 mark.  

I play the video 2 times through for the students in order for them to catch the responses they need for the questions below. 


1. What has matter? 

2. What are the 3 forms of matter? 



5 minutes

Next, each small group receives a very short article about matter. After reading, they decide, as a group, what the definition of matter should be and write their thoughts and definitions on their notes sheet. I move around from table to table at this point making sure students are staying on task (reading the articles, underlining key information points, and attempting to define matter).  

The articles are on a very basic reading level as I teach a Special Education class. If you want to include a source that was more challenging, that would be fine.  It would just need to be something that explained what matter was and how everything is made of matter. 


15 minutes

The last part of this lesson is for students to engage in a bit of vocabulary strengthening.  By completing a Frayer Notes template, students review the information they've identified from this lesson and their prior knowledge. I explain the use of the Frayer model for vocabulary and concept development in my reflection.

Students should use their group's definition of matter and they can use their own information for the remaining 3 boxes.  If they work together, that's okay, but make sure they are adding their own personal insight.  They shouldn't be exact copies for everyone in the group.