What is Matter? Developing a student friendly definition

scienceteachermamaEnergy and Matter, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, MS-PS1: Matter and its Interactions, Patterns, Physical ScienceLeave a Comment


what is matter

Lesson Description

I start off the whole Matter and Energy unit with students completing an Anticipation Guide: matter and energy unit Anticipation Guide. This gets them thinking about some key ideas we will be learning in the coming weeks and gives the teacher a quick way to see what background knowledge students have about the topics. Students complete the “before” part and we go over their responses. DO NOT share the real answers. Throughout the unit have students go back to the guide and complete the “after” and support their response with evidence. I use it at as a summative assessment at the end of the unit.

This lesson’s goal is to uncover students’  preconceptions about matter and then develop a student friendly definition. We start with a probe (What is Matter?) adapted from Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Vol. 1: 25 Formative Assessment Probes **  that is designed to determine whether students recognize forms of matter by distinguishing between things that are considered to be matter and things that are not (such as energy, forces, and emotions). Students categorize the items into matter or nonmatter and develop a student friendly definition of matter. Listening in on the conversations(arguments) students have during this activity is perfect for assessing preconceptions. When they are done, few groups share out their definitions.  Then, I tell students which objects are matter and which are not and ask them to edit their definitions. They need to come up with a definition of what matter is and what matter isn’t and support that definition by designing and implementing a variety of tests. This should lead into a discussion about mass and volume ­­even if those terms aren’t at first used. Once the hint of the terms “mass” and “volume” are mentioned (i.e. can be weighed, or takes up space); we will begin to explore how we can measure what something weighs and how much space it takes up. This will lead into the next lessons on mass, volume, and density.


  • Some materials I randomly select from the classroom:  sugar cubes, wood blocks,  iron cubes,  iron filings, steel wool, soil, cotton balls, leaves, rocks, rotten apple, water. Other items are represented by words I printed and laminated matter vs. nonmatter images human body, fire, electricity, wind, air, water, heat, light, shadow.


**Any Amazon links are affiliate links. This means I get a small percentage (4%) if you purchase this product. I only promote products that I have bought myself and found helpful. The proceeds are used to keep the blog running. Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *