How's it Popping?

1 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT explain how a popcorn kernel pops by hearing a story and watching the "pop!"

Big Idea

Young kids often think popcorn popping is magic. This lesson clears up the mystery with a scientific explanation.


5 minutes

To engage the kids in this lesson, I have them sit on the floor by calling one table at a time to sit like scientists. 

I then turn on a hot air popper full of popcorn and let them watch with excitement as the kernels get hot and pop. I do not put a bowl down; it's much more fun to watch the popcorn "fly" as it pops. The excitement is worth the clean up time!

I ask the kids, "What do you think just happened?" I choose random volunteers to share their thoughts. I then ask the kids, "How do you think that corn popped?" That's always a good question because many of the kids do not even realize that popcorn is corn!

I choose volunteers to share their hypothesis as I record them on chart paper. We will review them again at the end of the lesson. 


15 minutes


small hors d'oeuvres plates, one per student

four different types of corn kernels, one each per student (make sure one is popcorn)

  • yellow sweet corn (canned or frozen)
  • blue corn (hard hull, bagged)
  • popcorn
  • white sweet corn (canned or frozen)


For the exploration, the kids examine and document the properties of different types of corn.

The kids remain on the floor while I explain the task:

  1. You will get a small plate with four different types of corn kernels on it along with a magnifying glass.
  2. You will examine the different types of corn kernels using the magnifying glass and record the properties on your recording sheet. For instance, if I pick up this kernel first, I would write: big, yellow, soft, squishy, wet (I taste it) and sweet.
  3. You will do this for each kernel on my plate.

I tell the kids that they will have 10 minutes to examine all four kernels and record their observations. 

When everyone is finished, we will meet back on the floor to share our findings.

I call the table leaders up one at a time to get the supplies for their tables. Once the table leaders have the tables prepared, I call the students one table at a time to go sit and begin the exploration.


10 minutes

After the kids have completed their examination and recording of the kernels' properties, I call one table at a time to come sit on the floor to share their findings with their partner. 

I give them two minutes to share their findings, in their way, with their floor partner. I call on random students to share what they discussed with their floor partner. I do this by pulling name sticks from a name stick can. As they share, I record their findings on a chart paper replica of their recording sheet. 

I then ask them to once again consider what would make a popcorn kernel pop. I have them share their ideas with their floor partners and then we revisit our poster. We add or delete any ideas that we think are missing or no longer needed. 


15 minutes

The kids remain seated on the floor while I read, The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola. 

As I read the book, we stop at several places to hold a quick discussion:

  • three main types of corn: field, sweet, and popcorn
  • popcorn soup and popcorn cereal
  • moisture turns to steam and pops the kernel
  • little demon in the kernel (I focus on that being false)
  • doesn't matter what color the outside of the kernel, they all pop white

When we are finished reading the book, we once again review our idea chart and look to see if any of our hypotheses are correct. If not, we cross them off one at a time while discussing WHY they are incorrect and then I add the correct one. 

I have the kids do it this way because it is authentic. Scientists make and change hypotheses based on data and observations every day. I want the kids to understand that they have to start somewhere, but they need to be open to where the evidence leads them and it's okay to change their hypothesis as needed. 


10 minutes

The kids remain seated on the floor as I explain the evaluation task. 

I hold up a copy of the task, which is a landscape-oriented sheet that has the outside image of a popcorn kernel on one side and the inside image of a popcorn kernel on the other. They are to color, cut and glue the outside on top of the inside of the kernel. On the inside image they are to indicate where the water drop "moisture" would be located in the corn kernel before it turns into steam and pops. 

I roam the room as the kids work and ask them to explain to me how popcorn works, that way I check for understanding individually without taking up too much class time. 

When the kids are finished with the evaluative task, I have them meet back on the floor and share their work with their floor partner. I choose 3 to 4 kids to share their work with the whole class. In this way all students get to share and be heard with class time being respected. This brings closure to the main part of the lesson. 


5 minutes

The extension for this lesson is a take home reader about the popcorn. It is simple for the kids to read, but contains the science that was learned through our exploration today. If I don't have time for the kids to cut and staple the pages in order during the science lesson, I incorporate it into the reading block. 

Procedure to introduce the reader:

  1. Teacher reads, they they track with finger
  2. Kids read with the teacher, still tracking with finger
  3. Kids read independently to their partner, each partner takes a turn while the other tracks

This take home reader supports learning and serves as a home-school connection piece. It supports learning by extending the lesson and crossing into Language Arts. Most students can read it themselves; those struggling with reading can have assistance at home. 

I tell the kids that the will get a treat in the morning if they read the book to their family and get it signed on the back by a parent after they read it.

The we eat the popcorn!!