Introduction to Matter – Particles Too Small to Be Seen

Introduction to matter is simple! With a few common materials, you can teach NGSS 5-PS1-1 and more. Fifth grade students quickly learn that matter is made of particles too small to be seen. Then they discover that it has mass and takes up space. Additionally, kids can explore changes in states of matter. Read on to see how you can tackle this in your classroom.

Mr. Grow Prepares an Introduction to Matter

Our favorite fifth grade teacher opened his laptop. “Yep,” he said to his co-teacher, Mrs. Washington, “it’s time for an introduction to matter.”

First, they decided to look the standards. Mr. Grow read the first one aloud:

NGSS 5-PS-1-1 Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.

“Obviously, there’s more to this standard than meets the eye,” said Mrs. Washington. “Our fifth graders need to know that matter has volume and mass. Additionally, they need to explore states of matter.”


Mr. Grow clicked around a bit more until he found what he was looking for. “Check out this set of matter activities,” he said.

“It begins with kids defining matter. This gives the teacher a starting point.

“Additionally, the teacher sets the stage for a discussion on states of matter. She simply places an ice cube in a container. Then the class discusses its state: solid. That little cube begins a simple lesson on a profound concept.”

Introduction to Matter and Volume

Mrs. Washington moved around the table so she could see his computer screen.

“The next day, the actual introduction to matter begins. The teacher explains volume, as well as use of a graduated cylinder. Then kids measure sugar and water in milliliters.”

An introduction to matter includes volume. Kids learn that a milliliter has the volume of one cubic centimeter. They use a graduated cylinder to measure sugar and water.
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Particles Too Small to Be Seen

“Then,” Mr. Grow continued, “in their lab groups, they stir the sugar and water together.”

“Ah, a solution,” said Mrs. Washington.

“Yes, but really, in this introduction to matter, they begin to realize that particles can be too small to be seen. As a matter of fact, the sugar seems to disappear.”

“Right,” Mrs. Washington replied. “Concepts before vocabulary.”

An introduction to matter teaches fifth grade kids that its particles are too small to be seen. Dissolving sugar in water illustrates this.

“By now,” Mr. Grow said, “the ice cube has melted. All that’s left is water, a liquid. The teacher takes advantage of this to reinforce the name of the change in state of matter: melting.”

More Exploration

Mr. Grow scrolled to the next page. “In the next activity, kids break play dough and water into smaller and smaller pieces. This reinforces the same concept: Matter is made of particles too small to be seen.

“Then they push or pull the tiny pieces back together.”

“Ah-ha,” said Mrs. Washington. “Is that water drop on wax paper? If so, the droplets will attract and pull themselves toward one another. That helps kids understand that particles of matter attract one another.”

Mr. Grow nodded and grinned. “Who knew that playing with dough and water could be so educational!”

An introduction to matter in fifth grade should include breaking matter into smaller and smaller pieces - then putting it back together again. Here, students explore with play dough and water.

Introduction to Matter and Mass

“The introduction to matter,” said Mr. Grow, “continues with mass. Kids compare the mass of a balloon before and after it’s blown up. Obviously, they notice the change in volume as well.”

An introduction to matter in fifth grade includes instruction and experimentation with mass. Kids can measure the mass of air in a balloon, for example.

Introduction to States of Matter

“Now the introduction to matter circle back to states. By this time, the ice cube has evaporated. This provides the context to discuss melting and evaporation, as well as a concept that’s familiar to kids, freezing. To illustrate condensation, the teacher sets out a closed jar of ice water. As you can expect, water from the surrounding air condenses on the outside of the jar.

“As the discussion goes on, kids fill in this graphic organizer. Here,” he said, pointing, “they write the terms for changes in states of matter. In these circles, they write attributes of each state.”

“For example,” Mrs. Washington added, “solids have definite volume and shape.”

“Exactly! Additionally, liquids have definite volume but take the shape of the containers they’re in. And, of course, gases have neither distinct volume or shape. They fill up any container they’re placed in.”

Sometimes, the simplest things are the most profound. Here, fifth grade students observe an ice cube melting and then evaporating. They complete a graphic organizer of changes in states of matter. In addition, they explore how water from the air condenses onto a closed jar of ice water.

Introduction to Matter and Movement of Particles

Mr. Grow scrolled down a bit more. “Next,” he said, “students put drops of food coloring in hot, warm, and cool water.”

His teaching partner looked at the photograph. “Wow!” she said. “That provides a startling look at the way matter moves when heated!”

When fifth grade students place food coloring in hot, warm, and cold water, the differences in movement of particles is evident.

“Yes, and this demonstration provides more evidence. First, the teacher places a balloon over the mouth of a bottle. Second, she places the bottle in a pan with water. As she heats up the pan, the balloon quickly inflates. Finally, kids create a model that shows how particles move farther apart when heated.”

You can demonstrate how the distance between particles increases when heated. Just place a glass bottle in a pan with some water. Secure a balloon to the top of the balloon and put the pan on a stove on low heat.

Enjoy Teaching

“After this introduction to matter,” Mr. Grow said, “the standards say we need to teach properties of matter, as well as physical and chemical changes. Through that, kids need to learn the law of conservation of mass.”

“Sounds like a complete unit to me!”

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