Investigating Crude Oil Mark as Favorite (1 Favorite)

ACTIVITY in Separating Mixtures, Physical Properties, Distillation, Chemistry Basics. Last updated September 01, 2023.


In this activity, students will watch a video and answer questions about crude oil and the process of fractional distillation. They will see how this process effectively separates a mixture and the importance of understanding physical properties.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

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

  • HS-PS1-1: Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.
  • HS-ETS1-3: Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


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

  • Explain what crude oil is, and why society uses it.
  • Provide an overview of the process of fractional distillation and explain how mixtures are separated through the process.
  • Define “hydrocarbon” and identify several common examples from everyday life.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of:

  • Separating Mixtures
  • Distillation
  • Physical Properties
  • States of Matter


Teacher Preparation: minimal

Lesson: 30 minutes


  • Student handout
  • Individual device for students, or computer and projector with sound (Internet access required)


  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes

For the Student



Watch the video, “Crude Oil and Distillation” from Cognito in order to answer the following questions. It may be helpful to pause the video at times, and even rewatch segments in order to fully understand each question and answer.

  1. What is the name of the process by which crude oil is separated into its different components that we use in daily life?
  1. What is crude oil and where does it come from?
  1. How does the original material turn into crude oil?
  1. What is a “finite resource”? What might happen in the future if we continue to use it at the rate we are using it now?
  1. Name three types of “non-renewable” fuels.
  1. What physical property is used to separate a mixture using fractional distillation?
  1. Use the diagram and information starting at 2:19 in the video to explain the process of fractional distillation. Use 3 or more complete sentences in your answer. You can draw a sketch if that is helpful.
  1. Which gas is so light that it remains as a gas during the entire fractional distillation process? Give two examples of how we use these gases in everyday life.
  1. How are the lighter hydrocarbons different from the heavier hydrocarbons that come out of the bottom of the column? Give some examples of how each type of hydrocarbon (lighter vs heavy) are used.
  1. What is the process of “cracking” heavy hydrocarbons? Why do you think we do this?
  1. What are petrochemicals or “feedstock” used for? Name two products you use to clean or repair things around your house that are made from these chemicals.