What's the Matter with Wood and Paper?

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SWBAT determine the properties of wood and paper by using their senses and getting each wet.

Big Idea

It is important to help kids understand that while many objects come from the same source, such as a tree, each object may have its own properties.


10 minutes

To begin this lesson, I have the kids sit on the floor by calling them one table team at a time. I ask them to sit like scientists. This means they are crisscross apple sauce, hands in their lap, mouths closed, ears, eyes and brains ready to learn.  I do it this way to change their mindscape. It calms their bodies and gets them to actively attend. 

I ask them to think about trees, which was our last science unit. I ask them what kind of things come from trees and they verbally share out as I call on random individuals. Once we have exhausted out ideas, I focus them in on wood and paper. I do it this way to help them make connections and to elicit prior knowledge to get them focused on today's learning. 

I tell them that today we will begin our unit on wood and paper. 


5 minutes

For this section, we remain seated on the floor. I want the kids to get a firm understanding of what "property" means. I begin by giving them a basic, personal understanding. I have them repeat the word after me. I ask the kids if they know what property means. Most of them say no, one says his grandma and grandpa own some property. That's all I needed to lead into this quick discussion.

I ask the kids what would happen if I tried to take one of my student's shirts. They tell me that I would get in trouble. I ask them why and they tell me because it's not mine; it's his property. Bingo! That's what I was looking for. I then ask, "What does that mean?" They tell me that it means he owns it. So I tell them that in science property means "a characteristic or trait of something." They understand this somewhat because we've been studying character traits in reading.

I write two words on chart paper: wood, paper

I tell them that today we are going to discover some of the properties of wood and paper. I explain that to do this, we will be looking at some wood and paper and putting drops of water on each. 

I go over the materials, procedures, expectations and rules for the activity:


1 bowl of water per table

2 droppers per table

wood pieces

paper towels


teams of two will share droppers

use 5 single drops of water for each item

be very careful getting water from the bowl

wet the objects only after given instructions


think like scientists

discover properties of wood and paper

communicate with others about what you learn


work quietly and neatly

keep water in dropper or bowl

share materials

use time wisely

respect others while working


10 minutes

To begin the exploration, I ask the table leaders of the day to go to their tables and put everything on the floor. Once they have done that I call one table team at a time to go sit at the tables with their hands in their lap and wait for instructions. 

I then place a bowl of water in the center of each table along with 2 droppers. BEFORE giving them wood or paper to examine, I demonstrate how to use a dropper properly. I do it before I give the kids the wood and paper samples because once they have those, it is much harder to get their attention.

I tell the kids that we are going to do the exploration as a group one step at a time. I choose a student to pass out the wood pieces. One of my students asks, "Is everyone going to get their own piece of wood?" This is excellent, because it shows me that the kids are buying into the learning and excited about what we're about to learn.

Once all the kids have the pieces of wood, I ask them to feel and smell it. I choose volunteers to share words that describe the wood as I record it on the chart paper. I also solicit information using guiding questions:

  • Can you change the shape of the wood with your hands?
  • What does the wood look like?
  • Does the wood have a smell?
  • What does it feel like when you run your fingers over it?

I do this to get them to think deeper than it's tan and hard. 

I then instruct the kids to put the wood block on the table and put five drops of water on it. I ask them to share what they observe with the people at their table. I then call on volunteers to share what the table observed as I write it on the chart paper.

For the next round, I have a helper give every student a paper towel. I again ask the kids if they can change it's shape with just their hands. I call on students to share what they notice about the paper. Once I have listed their observations on the chart paper, I have them place 5 drops of water on the paper and discuss with their table teams how the paper changes. 

When we are finished with this part of the lesson, I ask each table leader to bring the bowl and the droppers to the sink while I have a helper collect the blocks and another collect and throw away the paper towels. 


5 minutes

To evaluate the learning acquired during the activity, I have the kids sit at the tables and draw a picture of the observation in their science journal. I ask them to draw what they did and what they saw. I also ask them to write about it as well. They are required to write about at least one thing they learned about wood and one thing they learned about paper.

As they are independently working, I roam the room and ask kids to tell me what they are drawing and what they are going to write about. If I need more of an explanation from them, I ask clarifying questions that begin with these sentence stems:

  • What made you....?
  • How did you know....?
  • Why do you think....?
  • Do you think....?

I ask these questions, not to get them to write more, but to get them to think deeper and connect to the learning at a higher level.


10 minutes

I call one table at a time to come sit down on the floor so we can share what we observe. This gives the students an opportunity to recap what was learned from the experience. I have them bring their completed science journals to the floor.

We review what we wrote on the chart paper for wood and paper and add any information that we think is missing. I call on random students by pulling name sticks from a can. The students chosen share their journal page and one thing they learned from the activity.I add anything that is new.

I then open the discussion to the whole class to capture any other observations that they feel may be missing. As I list the items they share, I explain how it applies to the properties of wood and paper.


A student shared that she could change the shape of the paper towel by squishing it in her hand; the wood she could not. I explained to them that one of the properties of wood is that it is hard and we are not able to smash it with just our hands, but because paper is soft, we can.

Another student shared that the paper can pick up water. I explained to them that paper can absorb water; it's kind of like the paper "drinking". I have them say the word absorb with me.


To close the lesson, I ask the kids to turn to their floor partner and share their journal page. This provides everyone an opportunity to be heard rather than just the four I chose name sticks for and any volunteers I called on.

I ask my table leaders to collect the science journals from everyone who sits at their table. This means only six kids are in motion on the floor as the books are collected. It makes the clean up quick and easy.