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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsSPEAKER: Engineers choose suitable materials to make objects based on the properties of the materials. Objects have specific purposes. Therefore, the materials chosen to make them need to be suitable for that purpose. You wouldn't make a beach ball out of glass. You could. It's possible. But one miss-catch and it would shatter all over the beach. Materials can be classified by their appearance and their properties. Young children will investigate materials using their senses. They may look at it, see what it feels like, consider if it bends or squashes, or if it's light or heavy. Children often find it difficult to differentiate between an object and the material that is made from.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 secondsFor example, children might say a colouring pencil doesn't conduct electricity rather than referring to the material wood. We may group the properties of materials, such as mechanical, for example, hard or soft, stiff or bendy, strong or weak, conductivity, for example, of heat or electricity, optical, for example, reflectivity or transparency, chemical, for example, solubility and reactivity, chemical reactions, or as magnetic.

Properties of materials

It is important to give children practical, hands-on experience of investigating the properties of wide range of materials. Using a simple key can ensure that a full range of physical properties are explored (and perhaps argued about!).

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has produced a fabulous illustrated poster, together with a property key (accessible version), as an example of how this activity could be structured. This is part of a wider set of resources about materials. This is a topic which you can have a lot of fun with. Would you use a laptop to cut a slice of bread? Or wear clothes made out of newspaper? Where children are starting to think about the properties of materials that make them suitable or unsuitable for particular purposes, photographs can be used as a stimulus to get them thinking about unusual or creative uses for everyday materials.


Have a look for images of unusual or creative uses of everyday materials which you could use as stimulus material for a lesson on this topic. Share a link to the image below, and we can build up a bank of examples for everyone to use in the classroom

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Chemistry

National STEM Learning Centre