Productive Paper-Foolproof Forms

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Students will explain how paper is made by exploring the process of recycling paper.

Big Idea

How is paper made?


5 minutes

I ring my chime to get the class’s attention and ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’.  Once seated, I announce that we are about to begin the second Science lesson in our unit about paper.  I ask the students to look at me.  In my hand, I have a piece of thick paper (rice paper is amazing if you can get it, though construction paper works fine).  I spray the paper with a quick squirt from the water bottle.  “Who sees something that happened when water touched the paper?”  Everyone raises their hand. “The water made the paper more see through.”   “You noticed the paper became more transparent.  Let’s explore why this happens!”  Activities like this, as simple as they are, are valuable opportunities to raise the vocabulary of the students.  At this point, we're ready to move on.

Whole Group Instruction

10 minutes

For this lesson, I re-introduce the book titled Paper. I plan to use this book for many lessons in this unit. Pages 18-21 focus on different forms of material and how they become paper. I review these pages and highlight the way wood turns into paper. “Remember in one of our last lessons, we learned about wood and it’s uses.”  “I made a triangle to keep the door open!”  “RightYou did!  Who else found a use for wood?” “Houses..paper..pencils..”  To practice accessing prior knowledge, we brainstorm these items share ways wood is used. “Today, we’re going to learn more about one of those uses.  It’s one we use every day.  Who can guess? ”  “Paper?”  “Absolutely right! Today, we’re going to learn how paper is created..and even make some of our own!” As smart teaching strategies, I always do two things at the beginning of a new lesson. First, I connect it to prior knowledge to give concrete meaning and extend the learning opportunities. Second, I present it with enthusiasm to foster instant engagement. 

I struggled a bit at the beginning of this lesson to design an easy way to illustrate the concept of paper creation. With the right materials, it’s pretty easy to do the blender version (here’s a great example of that activity. The problem I have with it is that it takes a fair amount of equipment that I and many teachers don’t have readily available. So I’m choosing instead, to do a simplified version.  “Most of you noticed that the water made the paper more transparentThis is because water will break down the wood fibers. Once that happens, it gets soft. After it gets soft, what do you think happens?” ”It falls all apart.”  “Right, so getting wood- in our case, paper- wet is an important step to making paper.”  I remind the class the material from the book. “We are going mix paper and water to create pulpFrom that pulp, we are going to create paper. Who wants to find out how?”  “”  “Let’s be paper specialists!” 

Small Group Instruction

10 minutes


• Paper Collection (untreated, fibrous paper works well)

• Small jars for mixing

Prior to this lesson, I organized a collection of paper; newspaper, tissue paper, rice paper, anything without a coating disintegrates well. My goal is to provide the students with a porous form of paper so they get quick gratification as it breaks down.

I take a minute to explain the process: 

• First, collect paper and tear it into small pieces until you have about two handfuls.

• Next, put the paper into the glass container and pour just enough water to cover it.

• Then, start mixing until it looks like oatmeal (or something else!)

• Last, spread the mixture thinly over some wax paper.   Put next to window to dry. 

To make this particularly productive, I have the students use their hands to tear, mix, squish, mix some more, squish some more..everything that is fun at this age.  Only I know there is a higher purpose!  The goal is to show the students how paper breaks down, becomes pulp when mixed with water, then dries to create paper. I ring the chime and instruct the students to begin the activity as I mingle around to guide them. They interact with each other as they conduct the experiment, talking about the changes they observe. As they put the paper near the window to dry, the activity winds down, I give them a one-minute warning with a handclap pattern. I ask the students to complete their paper projects and return back to their carpet squares.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

To create maximum drying time, we waited until after recess to check the progress of the paper.  Once we sat down on our carpet squares, I ask, “What did you notice about the paper?”  “Mine was hard but a little bumpy.”  “What do you think makes the other paper we use so smooth?”  “It's squished more.”  “Sounds like you discovered a way to make something have a different form.  Maybe next time we can figure out a way to smooth out the surface more.”  I take a second to gently clarify the vocabulary, while supporting the process.  This step is short by design because the intent is to give the students an additional opportunity to process and share their results, thus making the material more concrete.  Once this step was complete, I again rang the chime to end the lesson.