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Describing Physical Properties Mark as Favorite (1 Favorite)

ACTIVITY in Observations, Physical Properties, Matter. Last updated November 06, 2023.


In this activity, students will use their different senses to describe the physical properties of a variety of items. Students will also determine what state of matter the item is, and categorize it accordingly. Students will practice using vocabulary words as they record their observations in a data table.

Grade Level

Elementary School

NGSS Alignment

This activity will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • 2-PS1-1: Plan and conduct an investigation to describe and classify different kinds of materials by their observable properties.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


By the end of this activity, students should be able to

  • Use different senses in order to identify physical properties of an object.
  • Identify the specific properties of each state of matter in order to compare and contrast objects based on observations.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of

  • Matter
  • Physical properties
  • States of Matter
  • Observations


Teacher Preparation: 5 minutes

Lesson: 30-45 minutes


  • Vocabulary cards (downloadable version provided)
  • Variety of objects (see teacher notes)
  • Parent letter


  • Advise students to use their different senses to make observations about each object, but they should not taste any of the objects, materials, or substances.
  • No other specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes

  • This activity was designed for use with elementary grades K-2, as a culminating activity. It should be used in order to demonstrate that students have the ability to categorize items based on their physical properties.
  • The teacher should review the following terms, and use the provided picture/vocabulary cards to explain terms (or another means of reviewing them). If using the vocabulary cards provided be sure to print them in color, fold and laminate:
    • Matter
    • Physical Properties
    • Solids
    • Liquids
    • Gases
    • Material
  • Additional background information and definitions can be found at the chem4kids website.
  • The teacher should collect items and also ask students to bring in a couple items (refer to parent letter provided).
  • A few suggestions include:
    • Gas: an inflated balloon
    • Solids: rocks, marbles, cups
    • Liquid: Vegetable oil, hair oil, bottles of water, food coloring
  • Items should each be labeled with a number.
  • The items could be distributed to groups of students (3-4 items per each group of 3-4) and then the items can rotate tables. The number of items would depend on what your students bring in.
  • To combat the issue of having too many items for a specific category use the provided example parent letter and assign students to a particular state of matter.
  • The teacher will advise students to use their senses to identify physical properties of each substance and determine which state of matter category an object belongs in and why.
  • Students will record their findings on the provided student handout.

For the Student



Everything is matter and matter can come in three different states: solid, liquid and gas.Each state has physical properties. These properties are descriptions of each object. You will use your different senses and your knowledge about matter to make a hypothesis about where an object belongs on the chart.

Remember not to taste any of the objects, materials, or substances


  1. Each group will receive a tub containing items.
  2. Your group will decide which category of matter (solid, liquid or gas) that each object belongs in. Record it in the table.
  3. Next, record your explanation for placing the item in a specific category (why do you think it is a solid, liquid or gas?)
  4. List physical properties of the item in the table. Be sure to describe the material of the item and use your senses to make observations.
Item number Solid, liquid or gas?
Explain Why you think so!
List Physical Properties

of the object below:


  1. How did you decide where to put each item in the chart?
  2. What other properties are helpful to think about as we categorize the items?