States of Matter Part 1

139 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT observe the properties of liquids, solids, and gases.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students observe the properties of the three basic states of matter. They will also investigate the question: Does air take up space?

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will begin by exploring the properties of matter. Then, the class will investigate the mass of matter before and after physical and chemical changes by conducting investigations and constructing graphs. 

Summary of Lesson

Today, I open the lesson by discussing the three states of matter. Students then observe the properties of liquids, solids, and gases. At the end of this lesson, students explore whether or not air takes up space by conducting an investigation. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-PS1-1. Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.  (lessons 3 & 4)

5-PS1-3. Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties.  (lessons 1 & 2)

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice:Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.

Students will construct and support arguments about the properties of solids, liquids, and gases. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept: Crosscutting Concept 1: Patterns.

Students will identify similarities and differences in order to sort and classify objects by their properties and states of matter. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS1.A:  Structure and Properties of Matter

Matter of any type can be subdivided into particles that are too small to see, but even then the matter still exists and can be detected by other means. A model showing that gases are made from matter particles that are too small § to see and are moving freely around in space can explain many observations, including the inflation and shape of a balloon and the effects of air on larger particles or objects. (5-PS1-1)

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


20 minutes

Matter Unit Lapbooks

To provide students with a method to keep track of their research and thinking during our unit on matter, I followed these steps to create lapbooks for each student. 

1. I folded each side of a file folder inward to create a booklet that opens from the center: File Folder.

2. Next, I made copies of Lapbook Templates on colored paper (purple, yellow, green, and orange). I made sure to have enough copies so that each student would have 4 graphs, 6 research notes, 8 investigations, 18 vocabulary words (9 sets of 2 words), and the 4 pictures.  I also copied the Other Research Pocket onto blue card stock paper so that students would have a place to put loose papers. 

3. Then, I stapled the templates into each lapbook: Inside the Lapbook.

4. Before starting our unit on matter, I asked students to help personalize their lapbooks. Students used a glue stick and tape to secure the blue research pockets on the back (Student Research Pocket Example). Then, they decorated the cover: 


Creating these lapbooks helps build excitement and student ownership! 


Today, I want students to continue exploring the physical properties of matter by observing the different states of matter. To kick off the lesson, I want to provide students with some background information on the processes that water undergoes in order to change back and forth between a gas, liquid, and solid.

Teacher Note: Building a deeper understanding of the states of matter will lead to more complex conversations between students during today's investigation. Also, by exploring how water changes back and forth between different states of matter, students begin to see how matter is conserved when it changes form, even in conditions in which it seems to vanish (5-PS1-2).

States of Matter Poster 

I begin by passing out a half sheet of paper to each student so that students can create their own States of Matter Poster (Student States of Matter Notes) while I create a class poster on the front board (States of Matter Poster). I find that students learn more when posters are constructed in front of them instead of explaining a poster that was created by the teacher before the lesson.  

I begin by showing students a cup of ice and drawing a cube of ice at the bottom of the poster (solid water). I then emptied the cup of ice into a can on a burner. As the ice melted into liquid water, I explained: When ice changes into liquid water, we call this process melting. Does the temperature of the water get colder or hotter during this process? (hotter) 

When the liquid water changes into a water vapor, the water becomes an invisible gas. This is called evaporating. Does the temperature of the water get colder or hotter during this process? (hotter) I then drew a large red arrow pointing upward and labeled it "Getting hotter." 

We then discussed the process of condensing and water vapor can change into water droplets on the outside of a glass, window, or on blades of grass in the morning. Does the temperature of the water get colder or hotter during this process? (colder) 

Finally, I drew an arrow from the liquid water back to the solid ice and explained: When liquid water changes into a solid (or ice), this process is called freezing. Does the temperature of the water get colder or hotter during this process? (colder) I then drew a blue red arrow pointing downward and labeled it "Getting colder." 

To connect this demonstration with today's lesson, I explain: Yesterday you began measuring and observing physical properties of matter. You learned how the properties of matter help us distinguish one substance from another. Today, we are going to take this one step further by further exploring the properties of different states of matter. 


25 minutes

Getting Ready

I want to provide students with the opportunity to observe different states of matter, so I place the following Investigation Supplies out for each group.

  • Cup 1: Water
  • Cup 2: A Marble, Clay, & Cotton ball
  • Cup 3: Air

Teacher Note: I provided three different types of solids (marble, clay, cotton ball) as sometimes students describe a solid as "hard" or "doesn't move.") Also, if I were to do this investigation again, I would have given students three sandwich bags instead of three cups. Then students could examine how air (gas) fills the space of a container. 

Investigation (15 minutes)

I explain: Today, I would like you to use these supplies to observe the properties of solids, liquids, and gases. I model how to record observations on a Research Notes page by splitting the page into three parts (Solids, Liquids, and Gases): Dividing Notes. Here's what student notes will look like at the end of this exploratory activity: Student Investigation Notes 1 and Student Investigation Notes 2

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin discussing and recording observations, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. What conclusion can you draw about ____?

Student Conference

During this conference, Conferencing with Students, the students determine that liquids take on the shape of the container, solids stay the same shape as long as it isn't manipulated, and gases spread out to fill the container. 

Sharing Findings (10 minutes)

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing the three states of matter, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings. For this reason, after exploring, I ask students to share their findings. Here's part of this Class Discussion. Many students are left wondering: How can we prove that air takes up the space inside a container? 

Reflect & Apply

30 minutes

Teacher Note: Originally, I had planned for students to conduct the following investigation in their groups, however, due to the discovery of some leaky tubs and time constraints, we completed this investigation as a whole class. Now that students have been able to observe how solids (clay) and liquids (water) occupy a space, I want them to explore how gas (air) occupies a space. One of the best ways for students to see that a gas expands to fit the shape of its container is to place a paper towel in the bottom of a cup and dunk the cup upside-down in a tub of water. The paper towel should stay dry as the trapped air in the cup serves as a barrier between the paper towel and water. Water cannot fill the container because air is already filling the container. This proves that air takes up space and that gas fills the area that contains it. 


Using an investigation template (Here's a completed example: Air Investigation) in student lapbooks, the class writes the investigative question: Does air take up space? 

I show students the following materials: a tub of water, clear plastic cup, and paper towel. Turn and talk... How can we use these materials to investigate this question? With teacher guidance, students come up with, "Squish the paper towel into the bottom of the cup." "Place the cup upside-down in the water." "See if the trapped air keeps the paper towel from getting wet." That's exactly what we'll end up doing: 


1. Ball up a paper towel and place it in the bottom of a clear plastic cup. Students notice that the paper towel comes out easily so they suggest that I add a piece of masking tape at the bottom of the cup.

2. Fill a clear tub half full of water.

3. Place the cup upside-down in the water. 

As a class, we draw a diagram of the investigation and note observations before the investigation: Student Example of Observations (Before). Students point out that the paper towel should be at the bottom, the plastic bin needs to be large, and the cup has to be small and clear. 

At a location in the classroom where all students can see, I place the cup upside down in the water. I encourage students to begin completing the Observations (After) and conclusion section of their investigation template (Student Example of Observations After & Conclusion) by asking: What do you notice?

Students point out that the paper towel is dry, the water level went up, and that some air bubbles escaped. Some students also share their evidence-based conclusions aloud: Air takes up space. I know this because when we put the cup underwater, there was air trapped in it so the paper dowel did not get wet.