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What is Paint? A Paint Investigation Mark as Favorite (15 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Physical Properties, Chemical Properties, Mixtures, Chemistry of Color. Last updated October 15, 2019.


In this lesson students will investigate the components of paint. The students will research, organize, and prepare a presentation on the four main components of paint: pigments, binders, solvents, and additives. They will also propose a solution to an environmental issue caused by paint components. During the lesson, students will model how paint components interact at the molecular level.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

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

  • MS-PS1-1: Develop models to describe atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.
  • MS-PS1-3: Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.
  • HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.
  • HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into small, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


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

  • Research a topic, organize information, and create a clear, concise presentation.
  • Communicate scientific information.
  • Describe the components of paint.
  • Classify the components of paint.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of

  • Mixtures
  • Physical Properties
  • Chemical properties
  • Natural and synthetic compounds
  • Research
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Components of paint


Teacher Preparation: 10 minutes


  • Engage: 15 minutes
  • Explore: 45 minutes
  • Explain: 45 minutes
  • Elaborate: 15 minutes
  • Evaluate: 15 minutes


  • Device with Internet access for each student (If technology is not available, articles can be printed for use by student teams)
  • Variety of items for a visual representation.


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

Teacher Notes:

  • Engage: Use the student handout “Paint Investigation Probe.” This activity captures the students' attention, stimulates their thinking, and helps them access prior knowledge.
    This activity is modeled after NSTA Assessment Probes. For more information reference the following resources:
  • In Part 2 students are asked to predict the purpose of particular ingredients. Although this will be completed at the beginning of the lesson as a gauge to determine what the students understand about paint components, it will be revisited at the end of the lesson also. Each component will be reviewed as P-pigment, B-binder, S-solvent, and A-additive as part of the Evaluation section. Answer Key has been provided for teacher reference.

  • Students should individually complete the Probe Part 1 and Part 2. This may be difficult for some students depending on their prior knowledge. Students will also complete the explain section of the probe individually. Next ask students to share and compare their choices with a partner.
  • Finally will prepare to share their choices with the whole group. An efficient way to complete this task would be for the instructor to read a particular substance and have one partner stand if they would include this as an ingredient in paint. Then the instructor could have one group member explain why they chose that ingredient as a component of paint and what classification it received. The instructor may ask who agrees or disagrees, but will continue to the next item quickly. The correct answers aren’t important here. This activity will help determine prior understanding of the ingredients of paint. If students aren’t sure, assure them they will find out more information when they begin to research the components! The instructor can choose to complete this process for the entire list, or the instructor could ask 5 or 10 key components and move on to the next activity, depending on the time constraints. Alternately, the teacher may project the Probe on the board where students could send a representative from their team to check their selected ingredients and categorize them. Common thinking will then begin to surface visually. Students may be more inclined to interact using this strategy.
  • Explore: Use the Student Handout Paint Investigation, “Global Color Conference Workshop presentation.”This requires the students to think, plan, investigate, and organize the properties of paint components. Students will complete two components during this research time, a research based Scavenger Hunt and Environmental Issue Solution. During the conclusion of these presentations, groups will create a visual model to demonstrate what occurs at the molecular level in a mixture of paint.
  • I suggest dividing your students into four or eight teams, depending on the size of your class. Each member of the team will become an expert on their paint component. Assign each team (or two teams for larger classes) one of the four paint component: Pigments, Binders (resins), Solvents, and Additives. Each team will create a presentation to the whole class about the assigned general paint component.
  • Refer to the answer key for potential responses for each of the paint components as well as reference information.
  • Explain: As described in the Explore section, student groups become the experts about a paint component and will present the content to the whole class. As a result of this activity, their understanding is clarified and modified. Rather than the teacher presenting the information, the students become engaged in their learning by researching, organizing, creating and now presenting the information collected to the whole group.
  • Elaborate: Part 2 of the “Global Color Conference Workshop presentation.” gives students the opportunity to expand and solidify their understanding of the concept by applying it to a real world situation. Using a teacher-created rubric specific to the instructor’s individual purpose is suggested to be used to assess the presentations. Once all teams have presented, as a culminating activity, students will create a Visual Representation of what is occurring at the molecular level.
  • Evaluate: Revisit the “Paint Investigation Probe” from the Engage section. Students should apply what they have learned by re-classifying the various paint components from Part 2. Having the original answers to compare would help determine the students’ growth in understanding. See attached answer key for reference.
  • Finally students will complete and submit the “3-2-1 exit slip” and complete a short summary about what they learned about their particular paint component.
  • Extend: As an extension activity, instructors can continue the investigation of paint components by discussing ways that paint can become more environmentally-friendly or “green.” Use the following prompt to begin this conversation/discussion with the class:
    • Paints that carry the Green Seal, for example, are guaranteed to meet precise environmental standards. Paints with this designation must have VOC contents below 100g/L for a non-flat finish and 50 g/L for a flat finish. The Green Seal VOC limit for primers and floor paints is also 100 g/L, while reflective wall coatings can't exceed the 50 g/L mark.
    • For example, cadmium and chromium -- dangerous metals regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- are sometimes used in pigments. In addition, some paints include toxic materials to prevent mold growth or extend shelf life.
    • For more information visit Green Seal.

For the Student

Download all documents for this lesson, including the teacher guide, from the "Downloads box" at the top of the page.