Using the correct words to describe things is very important in Science. The important words we use to describe materials are called their properties.

Properties means more than just adjectives which tell us, shape, size and colour. A material can be any shape, size or colour since it can be made this way and colour can easily be added eg. paint. The colour may not be the real material itself!

The properties of a material are the things that are special about it and help us compare it and group it with other materials eg. strength, hardness, elasticity, conductivity of heat etc.

In the early stages all describing words are fine but gradually we should try to put them in a league table of importance. Typical words used by pupils when describing materials are:

soft     hard    colour words     see through     shape words     big     fluffy    squashy

bendy    stretchy     strong    squidgy    heavy    rough    clear    shiny    rubbery

rigid    transparent    opaque     cold    ‘make a clanking sound’     absorbent


Words such as squashy, fluffy and squidgy aren’t very useful when describing ‘properties’ since their meaning could vary from person to person.

Some properties can’t be described by looking or touching eg. conductivity of electricity, magnetism, permeability. These have to be measured by an experiment.

The best properties words are:

Hard     shiny     smooth    transparent      translucent     opaque    strong

stretchy     bendy    conductors of heat     conductors of electricity     magnetic

permeable    density (heaviness or lightness)

and of course there are the opposites of many of the above!

Unusual words: a ‘sonorous’ material makes a ‘clang’ sound when struck eg. metals. Sonorous materials are important because without them we wouldn’t have some musical instruments.


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