States of Matter

First of all, I updated the Science Without a Net link above to include this year’s posts and reflect a little more about what we’re doing.  It’s been getting a small but steady stream of hits on the blog, which is pleasing to me.  I hope that means people are making use of what we’re doing, using it as a springboard or borrowing it however you like.

We moved on to states of matter and enjoyed ourselves greatly in this lesson (perhaps because it involved a lot of destruction and a lot of chocolate).  The main ideas I wanted to convey were that matter has three “main” states that we refer to: solid, liquid and gas.  I also wanted them to understand what characterized each one.  I decided that we would focus on water and states of matter more next week, so I didn’t dwell too much on water yet.



This is such a straightforward topic that we didn’t use a huge number of books.  I found that the Let’s Read and Find Out title, What is the World Made Of? by Kathleen Zoehfeld was pretty sufficient.  If you’re looking for others, there’s a Q&A Science book called States of Matter.  Also, Rookie Read Aloud has a title called Solids, Liquids and Gases and we had out a set of three tiny easy readers called What is a Solid?, What is a Liquid? and What is a Gas? by Jennifer Boothroyd.  They were simple enough for even my slower reader to read with ease.

For experiment books, I had a few options out and found the book Young Discoverers: Solids and Liquids from Kingfisher to be useful.  We had a few more out as well, including an older title that I got a few ideas from, but I’ve embarrassingly lost my notes and can’t find them.  D’oh.  None of the books I looked at were stand out amazing though, so you’re not missing much.


There’s a huge number of great video resources on this topic.  First up there are some introductions.  Here’s a super quick video but with a nice visual on the structure of solids, liquids and gasses.  Here’s another one, a funky little video about states of matter and glass.  The video quizzes you as it goes along.  And here’s Brainpop’s video on States of Matter.  As always, Brainpop requires a subscription.

Now for more solid resources (see how I punned there?).  Bill Nye has an episode called Phases of Matter.  Here’s the intro and here’s the song (can you name the 90’s song it’s taking off on!).  Also exciting as I think it’s for the very last time this year (they don’t cover anything we’re covering!), Eureka! is here with two episodes on this topic.  First, we have Molecules in Solids and next, we have Molecules in Liquids.  Best of all though, They Might Be Giants have a song about states of matter:


We began with our notebooks and divided a page into three sections.  Then, everyone cut out pictures to illustrated solids, liquids and gases.  There were a lot of clouds and bits of blue sky in the gases section, but there were some interesting solids and liquids.  Continuing in that vein, everyone ran off to find examples of one solid, one liquid and one gas.  There were legos and sticks, juice and water, and several cupped hands holding air, plus one set of lungs filled with oxygen.  The best part was that Mushroom unexpectedly combined his finds.  He asked for help to get from the kitchen baking soda (a solid) and vinegar (a liquid).  Then, he combined them and made, as he put it, “some kind of a gas.”  But hey, he was right!  They do release carbon dioxide when combined.  I was a little blown away, let me tell you.

After that, we talked a little about solids.  There are lots of different types of solid materials, but we looked at a few of them – wood, plastic, and metal for example.  We talked about how solids don’t change shape and volume unless something changes them.  Well, that’s just an invitation, right?  So we all began working to change the solids.  We bent the metal jar ring, snapped a crayon, and squashed some modeling clay.  In the end, we couldn’t make a change on the wood block or the hard plastic play lettuce, so we talked about how to change them and a tool was suggested, so we went outside and smashed them with hammers.  The block was pretty easy.  Within a couple of bangs, we removed a small bit of it, thereby changing its volume and distressed it, changing its shape.  The hard plastic play lettuce was insane though, I must say.  It completely resisted our attempts, which just made the kids more determined to break at least a little off it.  I wish I had pictures, but supervising 4 boys and a hammer really didn’t allow me to take snapshots!  In the end, we managed to crack it and distress it, but we never got a piece off.

We talked then about how all the changes we had made were physical changes.  Not only that, none of them changed the state of the solid matter.  So I asked if we could change their state.  Immediately every kid knew how.  Burn it or heat it.  So out came the lighter (wielded only my yours truly) and we set fire to the block and melted the plastic, though each for just a moment.  Finally, the plastic saw a small change!  We talked a little about changes of state and how the plastic wanted to become a liquid but the wood did not.  However, the kids immediately surmised that the wood didn’t disappear when it burned away, it must turn into a gas.  Excellent.

We headed inside and went back to that snapped crayon.  We melted it in the microwave and watched it turn into liquid, then back into a solid.  I used that as a jumping off point to think about what applications melting then reforming substances had.  It took them a shockingly long time to get to the idea of molded materials like cast iron or plastic toys, but we got there eventually.  That made them think of Legos (which is only important because of what happened next).

I suggested that we melt and reform something more fun, like chocolate.  I had old molds all set to use, but before I could even get there, the kids immediately went to the idea that they wanted Lego molded chocolate.  So, that’s what we made.  We melted the solid chocolate into a liquid, then cooled it in a small pan filled with Legos.  It yielded a cool result that we broke into chucks and ate.

I had a million other activities planned for the day, including a bunch of things about liquids and viscosity and some more science journal things.  However, this was an enthusiastic day where we went with what the kids were into.  And who wouldn’t be into burning things and making Lego chocolate?  So I was happy with that.

Mmm…  Lego chocolate.

9 thoughts on “States of Matter

  1. Ah, Farrar, we just did this same lesson last week, only ours wasn’t as in depth or as much fun. I have to ask you–do you just brainstorm all of this and come up with it on your own? I’m using BFSU and adding in picture books, but we didn’t do nearly as much fun stuff as you did. Although I love science, I’m having to reach waaaaaaaaaaaay back in my memory to come up with the basic facts, and it makes me feel sort of lacking in confidence.

    1. I do the planning myself, but I usually just take ideas from books. If I’m on top of things and we do our readings and watch our videos first, then I usually end up inspired by that – I come up with ideas and it helps me realize the things that would work well to demonstrate or the questions the kids will have. But I also have to reach back and remember some of this stuff. I use the Usborne Science Encyclopedia to guide me.

  2. I too am impressed that your son grabbed the vinegar and the baking soda. wicked cool. can I be in the science club? I wanna make lego chocolate…

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