BuiltWithNOF
Investigating Materials

investigating materials is very important. It provides a good starting point for countless other investigations relating to the special characteristics or properties of materials which make different materials suitable for different jobs.

There are a great many things which can be done. Following is an outline structure for a series of possible activities based around the properties of materials. All of the activities have been tried and tested. The aim is to keep pupils interested, learn about materials and encourage pupils to be inquisitive and to suggest ways in which more can be discovered.

Describing materials to a partner

Materials ‘I spy’

Families of materials

Materials and light

Magnetism

Static electricity

Heaviness

Warm and cold

Describing materials to a partner

Method 1
Each person in the group has a turn at picking out one material and describing it to the rest of the group using as many words as possible. The group can help if you get stuck.

Method 2
Each person has a turn as before but you are only allowed 5 seconds to hold the material before putting it back in the box and in that time you have to try and say at least 3 words to describe it.

Method 3
Each person has a turn as above but one or all in the group write down the words used to describe the material. Total up at the end the number of different words used to describe the materials.

After this activity:
Discuss the suitability of some of the words used. The meaning of some words might not be clear eg. squidgy. Shape words might not be useful since most materials can be made into various shapes - fixed shape is a property of a solid compared to a liquid or gas but within solid materials the shape does not tell us anything about the special characteristics of the material itself. Colour can also mislead since plastics and cloth etc. can be coloured using dyes etc. We are more concerned with words such as:

shiny, strong, stretchy, transparent, smooth, flexible, heavy, cold to the touch etc.

Materials ‘I spy’

Method 1
One person thinks of a material from the box but does not touch it. They give a clue using one of the describing words from the previous activity. Everyone selects a material from the box and holds it up. The person reveals the material they were thinking of and we find out who is right or wrong. Points could be awarded.

Method 2
As with method 1 but further clues are given eg. 3 clues and then the answer is revealed.

Method 3
For experts only! Start as before but this time we continue giving clues until every single person in the class is holding the same piece of material (or sharing it). The person who gives the clues gets one point for each clue and tries deliberately to keep people guessing for as long as possible.

After this activity:
Highlight some of the materials used in the game so as to reinforce vocabulary used. Discuss uses of some materials based upon their properties. eg. Metals can be used to make bells because they are ‘sonorous’ (a wooden bell wouldn’t work!). Metals can be used to make cars, ships, bikes, bridges etc. because they are very strong. Metals are good for coins because different metals and mixtures of metals are different colours and are very hard-wearing.

Families of materials


Divide the materials into 3 main groups: WOOD, METAL and PLASTIC. You may wish to write the group names on separate sheets of paper and place the materials on each sheet as appropriate. Any materials which are not members of these groups should be left behind in the box.

Give reasons for selecting the materials for each group:

WOOD: Doesn’t feel cold to the touch. Wood doesn’t let heat travel through it very well. We say it is a ‘poor conductor’ of heat. It has a special ‘feel’ which can be rough or smooth depending upon whether it is in the form of a twig or strip which may have been sand-papered. It is not very heavy compared to metal. It is usually a straw/brown colour. It is dull rather than shiny but may be polished and waxed to make it shiny. It is easy to scratch or mark using some metal or even a fingernail. It is natural material which was once a living plant and it has ‘growth rings’ or lines which are usually easy to spot. Wood is quite strong but can split and splinter when cut with a knife or saw. Wood floats in water. Wood will not attract to a magnet. Wood is much softer than metal.

METAL: Feels cold to the touch even if it has not been kept in a cold place! They let heat travel through them very quickly and we describe them as ‘good conductors of heat’. Metals are shiny rather than dull. Most metals are heavy compared to wood. Metals make a clanging sound when struck. They are very strong but can be rolled and flattened out(they are ‘malleable’) to make very thin wires, sheets or ‘foils’ unlike wood which would break and split. Metals sink in water unless we make them into special boat shapes so that they keep the water out! Some metals eg. iron are attracted to a magnet and we can make iron into a magnet. Metal is much harder than wood.

PLASTIC: Can be in so many different forms that it is hard to believe that some types are in the same family. Some plastics are very lightweight (they may have tiny gas bubbles in them) yet others are heavier than some metals. Lots of plastics can be made see through or ‘transparent’ or can let some light through (translucent). They can be brightly coloured and may look like shiny metals. Wood and metals are always ‘opaque’ - they don’t let any light pass through them! Some plastics can be quite rigid and resist bending but others are very flexible and spring back into shape eg. a plastic ruler when ‘twanged’ over the edge of a desk. Plastics feel slightly warm to the touch because, like wood, they are poor conductors of heat. Plastics can be very strong or very weak but are not usually very hard. This means that metals can scratch them easily but plastics can’t make scratches in a piece of metal. Some plastics can float in water but most cannot unless made into a suitable boat shape.

The other two main family groups are:

    FIBRES and FABRICS

Members of this family are: Feathers, thread, cloth, string etc. The fine filaments of a spider’s web could be in this family too! They can be natural fibres like cotton from a plant or wool from a sheep. They can also be man-made fibres such as Nylon which started as a plastic but is made into thin threads from which cloth can be woven. They are generally soft to the touch and very flexible, sometimes stretchy. They usually absorb water and are ‘permeable’.

GLASS and STONE

Members of this family are sometimes be called ‘ceramics’. They come from the minerals in the Earth eg. rocks and sand.Ceramics are very resistant to heat and some of them have much higher melting points than metals. Some are transparent and can be highly coloured eg. stained glass and others are opaque. They are very heavy and sink in water unless suitably shaped. They are waterproof,

Materials and light

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