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Investigating the Physical Properties of Everyday Items Mark as Favorite (1 Favorite)

LAB in Observations, Physical Properties, Matter. Last updated July 08, 2021.


In this lab, students will collect and analyze ordinary, everyday items in order to learn more about physical properties. Students will record data about each item, and then classify their items according to their properties.

Grade Level

Elementary School

NGSS Alignment

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

  • 5-PS1-3: Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data


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

  • Identify properties of matter such as, physical states, magnetism, mass, texture, color, etc.
  • Classify objects based on similarity of physical properties.

Chemistry Topics

This lab supports students’ understanding of

  • Physical Properties
  • Matter
  • Observations


Teacher Preparation: 15 minutes
Lesson:  1 hour


  • Triple Beam Balances or Electronic Balances
  • Magnets
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Bowls of water
  • Everyday Items (note: items will vary; they will be collected by students)

Teacher Notes

  • You may want to start this lab by having several students take turns describing an item, without identifying it. The teacher could supply the examples to use, or students good generate them (as long as they are appropriate!)
    • For example, a student is tasked with describing a tennis ball, he or she might say, “It’s round, fuzzy, neon yellow, it bounces, and used in a sport and is hit with a racquet.”
    • This description is full of great physical property examples, and having students participate in this guessing game a few times might help them think of the many different physical properties.
  • Teachers may have students bring items from home (must be appropriate), or use items found in a student’s desk/locker/cubby. Alternatively, you could go outside, or elsewhere in the school to collect items.
    • I instruct each child/group to collect 5 specimens that they find interesting. This may include rocks, leaves, soil, paper, pencils, books, toys, food…
  • This lab can be completed independently or with partners/very small groups.
  • I suggest that teachers set-up stations or designated areas to make magnets, balances, and several bowls of water available to students as they collect data about their samples. It helps to have multiple of each station/area available.   
  • Bring the samples to the classroom and follow the procedure on the student handout in order to determine their physical properties. Examples include: color, shape, mass, size, buoyancy, magnetic, texture, state of matter, etc.
  • After students have identified physical properties, they will be instructed to sort their samples into groups based on similar properties. For example that may group things together that are magnetic, vs those that are not. The items could be grouped based on their state of matter, etc. there are many ways to group the items, as long as an identical physical property is shared by the items in the group.
  • An Answer Key document is available for teacher reference.

For the Student



Physical properties describe items. Physical properties can be observed or measured

Prelab Questions

  1. What are the meanings of the following terms?
    1.  Magnetism:
    2. Mass:
    3. Conductivity:
    4. Density:
    5. Buoyancy:
  2. What are the three states of matter?
  3. Think about what you know about a ball. List at least 3 physical properties about the ball:


You will collect 5 different items/samples and identify their properties.


  1. Collect 5 different samples
  2. Return to the classroom.
  3. Identify each sample by recording its name or description in the “sample” column of the data table below.
  4. Determine if each sample is a solid, liquid or gas, and record it in the table below.
  5. Find the mass of each object using the balance. Record the mass of each object in the table below.
  6. Put a magnet next to each item to see if they are magnetic. Record results.
  7. Put each item in water to test the buoyancy. Record results.
  8. Sort the items into like groups.
  9. Record any additional physical properties in the last column of the data table.


Solid, Liquid, or Gas
Mass (g)
Magnetic Yes/No
Float or sink in Water? Yes/No
Other Identifiable Property?


  1. What was the most common property?
  2. Organize your samples into groups that share similar physical properties. Record your results in the table below. An example has been completed for you.

Physical Property
Items that share the listed physical property
Example: “liquid” Water, juice
  1. Explain how you sorted your items:
  2. Are some physical properties easier to identify than others? Explain.
  3. Classify your items again in a different way. Record your results in the table below.

Physical Property
Items that share the listed physical property
Example: “liquid” Water, juice


What have you learned about physical properties?