Lesson 3: Properties of Matter I

Getting Started

Matter, because it has certain characteristics, can be classified into groups based on visible features or functions. In this lesson you will be learning about patterns that are used for organizing the elements into groups. Patterns are observed arrangements of forms and events that are used for organization and classification. Patterns are the result of relationships and the factors that influence them and depend on careful observation of similarities and differences.

For matter, similarities and differences are the result of multiple characteristics. They include, but are not limited to conductivity — the ability of an object or substance to transmit heat, electricity, or sound; properties such as melting temperature, density, and hardness; and the type of matter that the element is in normal conditions. Most elements are classified in one of the following two ways:
  • metals -- chemical elements that are malleable (can be shaped or bent without breaking) and ductile (able to be drawn out into wire or hammered into very thin sheets), are usually solid, have luster (bright or shiny condition or tone), and are good conductors of heat and electricity
  • nonmetals -- elements that do not have the character of metals; they can be gases such as carbon or nitrogen

Stuff You Need

  • Eyewitness Chemistry by Ann Newmark
  • aluminum foil (kit)
  • copper wire (kit)
  • play dough (kit)
  • quarter, dime, or nickel
  • rock
  • ruler
  • small pan
  • thermometers (kit)

Ideas to Think About

  • What makes one piece of matter different from another?
  • Is all matter beneficial and useful? (Why does some matter exist?)
  • What are the properties of matter?

Things to Know

  • conductivity: the ability of an object or substance to transmit heat, electricity, or sound
  • ductile: able to be drawn out into wire or hammered into very thin sheets
  • electrical: involving the conduction of electric current
  • luster: a bright and shiny condition or tone
  • malleable: describes a substance that can be shaped or bent without breaking
  • metal: a chemical element that is malleable and ductile, usually solid, has luster, and is a good conductor of heat and electricity
  • nonmetal: an element not having the character of a metal (such as carbon or nitrogen)
  • patterns: observed arrangements of forms and events that are used for organization and classification
  • periodic table: display of the chemical elements organized on the basis of their atomic numbers, electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties
  • thermal: relating to, affected by, or producing heat


  • Know how to use the periodic table to identify elements. (S)
  • Understand the organization of the periodic table based on the properties of the elements: identify regions corresponding to metals, nonmetals, and inert gases. (S)
  • Classify elements by their properties, including their melting temperature, density, hardness, and thermal and electrical conductivity. (S)
  • Identify the properties of an atom including mass and electrical charge. (S)
  • Know each element has a specific number of protons in the nucleus (the atomic number), and each isotope of the element has a different but specific number of neutrons in the nucleus. (S)

Introducing the Lesson

The periodic table is organized based on visible patterns associated with the properties of the elements. These properties lead to the specific organization of the elements in the table. In the activities in this lesson and those that follow, your child will learn a little bit more about some specific properties. The activities in this lesson will look at the following properties: malleability, ductility, conductivity, and luster.
Reading and Questions
Materials: Eyewitness Chemistry by Ann Newmark
Read pp. 22-26 in Eyewitness Chemistry. (Optionally also read p. 27.) Then answer the following questions.
  1. Who created the periodic table, based on his Periodic Law? Why did he leave gaps in the table?
    Dmitri Mendeleyev. He put all known elements in the table but predicted that new elements would be discovered that would have the properties of the elements belonging in those spaces.
  2. What are the characteristics of most metals?
    Can conduct heat and electricity, are malleable and ductile.
  3. What does a metal's order of reactivity indicate?
    How the metal reacts with water and with air. The order can indicate how easy or difficult it is to isolate or extract the metal.
  4. Are most elements metals or nonmetals? What are the characteristics of most nonmetals?
    Most elements are metals. Most nonmetals are not malleable and are not ductile. They are not good conductors of electricity or heat.