Easy Ways to Teach Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque

Teach the difference between transparent, translucent, and opaque objects. With just a flashlight and everyday items, you can put together an easy lab, station, or center.

A simple lab, station, or center lets kids explore objects that are transparent, translucent, and opaque.

Ms. Sneed Prepares to Teach Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque

Once again, our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her teaching partner. “Today,” she said, “we’ll continue planning our light energy unit. Let’s take a few minutes to discuss and set up the science station on transparent, translucent, and opaque.”

“Great, let’s get started,” said Mr. Frank.

As usual, Ms. Sneed headed to her science cabinet. Soon, she returned with a baggie full of random objects and a flashlight.

By the time she returned, Mr. Frank had pulled up the lab sheet on his laptop. “I love the simplicity of this activity,” said Mr. Frank. “Seriously, with a flashlight and stuff found around the room, we can teach this physical science concept.”

Ms. Sneed nodded. “And keeping it all in a baggie saves time each year.”

What’s the Difference Between Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque?

Quickly, Ms. Sneed pulled materials from the large baggie. “Do we have enough transparent, translucent, and opaque objects?” she asked.

Mr. Frank looked carefully at the stuff laying on the table. “Well, the lab sheet has space for seven of each. Since we only have ten items, I think we could add more.”


Ms. Sneed began to sort the materials into three categories: transparent, translucent, and opaque. “Hmm, I only see three clear objects: a glass, a hand lens, and some plastic wrap.”

“However,” Mr. Frank inserted, “if the kids are clever, they could also list the baggie and air.”

His teaching partner chuckled. “True. But I think we could use a few more items that are transparent.”

Once again, Ms. Sneed returned to the science cabinet. When she returned, she added safety glasses and lightbulb.

“Parts of the lightbulb are not clear,” said Mr. Frank. “It will be interesting to see how different science lab groups categorize it.”

“Not only that. In reality, none of these items let all light through. On the lab sheet, the definition of transparent simply states ‘allows light to pass.’ Hopefully, no one will be too much of a stickler.”

When teaching the difference between transparent, translucent, and opaque objects set up a simple station or lab like this. Just place an object between a flashlight and a wall. When all light passes through, the object is transparent.
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Next, the pair focused on their group of translucent objects. “These items let only some light pass. We have wax paper, tissue paper, and a square of toilet paper. Not enough, in my opinion,” said Mr. Frank.

Without missing a beat, Ms. Sneed returned to the science cabinet. “What about this piece of screening?” she asked.

“Hmm. Why not? Actually, the holes in screens are transparent and the metal is opaque. But it will make kids think.”

After walking back to the table, Ms. Sneed added the screen, a plastic container, and a piece of burlap.

Translucent objects like this wax paper allow some, but not all, light pass.


“On to opaque,” Mr. Frank said. “We have a sock, a piece of Styrofoam, a paper plate, a plastic lid, aluminum foil, a flashcard, and a base-ten block. In my opinion, that’s enough.”

“When I selected the objects for this station,” Ms. Sneed commented, “opaque objects were easiest to find.”

When comparing objects that are transparent, translucent, and opaque, choose some that don't let any light through, like this piece of pottery.

More Exploration with Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque

“This activity will be one of five,” said Mr. Frank. “They’ll also be rotating through four additional centers:

“If kids finish this station early, they can look for more transparent, translucent, and opaque objects around the room.”

Enjoy Teaching

That famous teacher smile spread across Ms. Sneed’s face. “I love this physical science station on transparent, translucent, and opaque objects. As a matter of fact, I love all the labs in this set of light activities. The kids become so engaged. It truly makes me enjoy teaching.”

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