Measuring and Comparing Matter

John G. Lauer, Pioneer Elementary, Pierz, MN, based on an original activity from Harcourt Science 2002, UECh1 Matter and Its Changes, pp.E10-E11.
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In this physical science lab activity, students will measure a variety of different materials from the classroom to determine how much matter is found in these materials. Using the same volume for each type of material they investigate, students will determine the mass of these materials by using an elementary balance. The data (the masses of the different materials) will be compiled in graph form and analyzed to determine which materials contain more matter. The investigative results will be shared with other classmates using a gallery approach as students walk around the room looking at other students' graphs and charts. Students will then draw conclusions from the data about mass, volume, and density during a class discussion and write about their findings in a science journal.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to:
  • Use numerical data to measure, describe, and compare physical properties of matter
  • Conduct tests, compare data, and draw conclusions about mass, volume, and density and their relationship to matter.
Process skills used in the investigation include: measuring, observing, comparing, questioning, and predicting.
Key vocabulary words include: matter, mass, volume, and density.

Context for Use

Lab activity: 40 minute session
Grades 3-5; groups of 2-3
A measuring balance is needed for each group of students.
Students should already know the characteristics of matter, what mass is, and how mass is used to decide if something has matter.
This activity is used to initiate a lesson on how matter can be measured and compared.

Description and Teaching Materials

Different objects have different masses. Some objects that students encounter on a daily basis have more matter than other objects. Using materials located in every classroom, students fill cups to a level top and measure their masses using a balance scale. Students record the masses of 5 to 10 objects in grams or kilograms on a data sheet. Students use drawings and words to describe representative samples of the different objects they used in the investigation and record these observations on their data sheets. The measured data is graphed and students compare the different masses of the objects with other students' graphs using a gallery walk about the classroom. A class discussion follows in which students share their observations, analyze the data they've seen and investigated, and share conclusions. Then students write their conclusions in their science journals.

Teacher guided questions:
  • Which objects had the greatest mass?
  • Which objects had the least mass?
  • What kinds of objects had the most mass? What can you conclude about the materials that make up these objects?
  • What kinds of objects had the least mass? What can you conclude about the materials that make up these objects?
Have students generate a series of conclusions about mass and matter on their data sheets. Ask students to think of questions that could be used to test their conclusions. Conclude by challenging students to test their conclusions.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students need lots of hands-on experiences and practice describing the physical properties of matter. This practice is a foundational skill that is used to build upon the more abstract concepts of conservation and weight that are taught in grades 3 to 5.


Students can be assessed on their classroom object observations and data measurement sheets, data graphs, science journal entries, as well as their written responses to the following questions:
  • How do you measure the mass of an object?
  • How can you determine the amount of matter in an object?
  • What kinds of materials contain more matter?
  • What kinds of relationships did you see between the different kinds of materials that the class measured?


4.II.A.3 - mass, shape, volume

References and Resources