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ACTIVITY in Observations, Physical Properties, Matter. Last updated May 30, 2023.


In this activity, students will use buttons to model investigating observable properties of matter. Students will use their knowledge of physical properties to create and separate mixtures of assorted buttons into the following categories: color, size (small, medium, and large) and number of holes.

Grade Level

Elementary School


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

  • Describe the meaning of matter.
  • Identify a mixture.
  • Use examples of physical properties to describe matter.
  • Organize quantitative results in a bar graph.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of

  • Matter
  • Mixtures
  • Physical properties


Teacher Preparation: 1 hour

Lesson: 1-2 class periods of 45 minutes each


  • Assorted buttons - ½ cup (about 30-50 buttons) for each group of 4 (Can be purchased at stores such as: Oriental Trading, Amazon, Michaels, and Wal-Mart)
  • Empty egg carton to keep the buttons separated (optional)


  • Students are not to use their sense of taste or put anything in their mouths.
  • Small buttons could be a choking hazard.
  • When students complete the lab, instruct them to place their buttons back in the container.
  • Students should wash their hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.

Teacher Notes

  • This lesson is intended for the lower end of elementary - grades K-2.
  • In this activity, students will model identifying and classify matter based on a variety of observable physical properties by sorting buttons. Students will focus on the characteristics of color, size (small, medium, and large) and number of holes.
  • Make sure to discuss and clarify the term physical properties (characteristics that can be observed with the senses or measured with appropriate tools). Everything in the universe is made of matter. Fortunately, matter has many different characteristics or physical properties which make it useful for our needs.
  • Explain that scientists learn more about materials and objects (matter) by observing, describing, and identifying their properties. They use those properties to sort and classify different kinds matter and determine how each might be useful for our needs. Inform students that they will begin the study of matter by observing like a scientist.
  • Explain that one thing scientists observe is a mixture of different types of matter. A mixture is a combination of two or more substances that can be separated from one another.
  • Engage students by instructing them to look around the room and outside the window. Students should identify things they can see, touch, or smell—matter! List a collection of their responses on a chart or the board. Guide the discussion and encourage students to describe items by their physical properties:
    • Have you ever wondered what makes up everything around you? For years, scientists have wondered and asked questions about the same thing.
    • All the materials and objects around us are made of different kinds of substances. A word for all the stuff that makes up substances and different materials is matter.
    • All matter weighs something and takes up some amount of space.
  • In preparation for the activity, put students in groups of 4.
  • Prepare buttons by placing them in the cups for the younger grades.
  • Assign each group a “Material Manager” to collect the cup of buttons.
  • If time permits, allow each group to sort their own collection in a different way based on other properties.
  • Here is an example of a great anchor chart.

Facilitation Questions:

  1. What physical properties of the buttons allowed them to be separated from each other?
  2. Is the combination of the buttons a mixture? How do you know?

For the Student


  • Matter is everything around you. All matter is made up of atoms and molecules. Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space.
  • Anything you can combine and take apart easily and does not change is a mixture.
  • A physical property is a way to describe the way something looks using your five senses.

Prelab Questions

  1. Explain a salad has lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, is the salad a mixture?:
  2. Since the parts of a mixture can be separated, Explain what can you do if you do not like the cucumbers or tomatoes in your salad.


How many different ways can you separate the buttons?


  • Do not taste the buttons or put anything in your mouth.
  • Small buttons could be a choking hazard.
  • Place the buttons back in the container when you are finished.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when completed with the activity.


  1. The Materials Handler will collect the buttons and an empty egg carton.
  2. Separate your buttons by color using the sections of the egg carton or put them into separate piles on your table. Count and record the number of each color in your data table below.
  3. Separate your buttons by size (small, medium, large) using the sections of the egg carton or put them into separate piles your table. Count and record the number of each shape in your data table below.
  4. Separate your buttons by the number of holes using the sections of the egg carton or put them into separate piles your table. Count and record the number of each button with each number of holes in your data table below.
  5. If you have extra time put the buttons back in the cup and then decide how else you could separate the buttons. What are the categories? Create a new data table for this physical property and record the number of buttons.
  6. When you are finished, return the buttons and egg carton.
  7. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  8. Use the data from each data table to create a bar graph for each physical property.


Red Blue Yellow Purple Pink Orange Green





Number of Holes

Zero One Two Three Four


Create a bar graph for each of the physical properties, using the data from the data tables above.


Explain the meaning of a mixture and what you learned today: