What makes things move?

Theresa Porter, Clearbrook-Gonvick School, Clearbrook, MN
based on a lesson from Macmillan/McGraw-Hill - Science A Closer Look


Students will use an inquiry based approach to discover how things move. They will discover that a push and a pull are forces that put things into motion. They will also investigate how friction is a force that slows a moving object.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Learning Goals: Students will be able to describe the position of objects in relation to another object. Student will be able to identify a force as a push or a pull. Student will be able to describe the forces of friction and gravity.
Learning Skills: Observation, Questioning, Plan, Communicate, Predict, Compare, Drawing Conclusions, Record, Reflect.
Vocabulary to be "discovered": push, pull, force, friction, gravity. Review positional words like: forward, backward, going up, going down, over, under, behind, in front.

Context for Use

This lesson will be used in a classroom setting. This lesson is geared for primary grades. It involves both large group and small groups of 3-4. It could take approximately 60 minutes total, 3 lessons of about 20 minutes each would work or it could be completed in one longer period depending on your students. Students may or may not have prior knowledge of the concepts: push, pull, force, gravity. They should have prior knowledge of positional words.

Description and Teaching Materials

Have students share what they know about position and motion. Some prior knowledge will possible be in place depending on the grade level.
Why is it important to be able to describe where something is located (position)?
How can you tell when something has moved (motion)?
Arrange objects in different locations in the classroom. First create a class list of position words with children like: top, above, bottom, next to, under, below, between, under, next to, in front, . Write these words on the board. Select an object and describe where it is. Can the student guess the object? Do this several times with other objects in the room.
Make groups of 3-4 students. Give each group 4 blocks of different colors (you could use any 4 kinds of objects) and a small box. Using the materials have students arrange (move) objects and give a description to the other group members describing where a certain object/block is using the list of position words we have used.
Discuss how things moved. We moved them physically. Discuss about how when something moves, its position changes. Scientist's call this motion.
Observation Activity:
Take the students outside with their Science Notebook.
Give the writing prompt: Things I see Moving
Have students observe moving things outside. Have them write down everything they see that moves. I would plan this around a recess time so they would see things like: ball, kids swinging, kids moving down a slide, tricycle, pulley swing, and kids coming down the fire pole. We also have two roads and two fields nearby so they should be able to see cars, trucks, semi-trucks pulling trailer, tractors, tractors pulling farm equipment.
Come back in and discuss what they saw. Talk about how things moved. Can we determine how things moved? Let them come up with questions about the different objects and try to tell us how they moved. Some things were pushed, some things were pulled and some things just fell.
Give each group a box filled with a toy car, a block, a tennis ball, a dictionary, and a string. Have them in their groups to try to move the things in the box. At this point let them discover a push, a pull, and gravity. When they seem to understand the concepts and how each thing moved that they saw outside or if they still have questions about how a certain object has moved discuss that with the class.
Ask will something move on its own? No, we either had to push it or pull it or drop it. All of these are what a scientist calls Force.
This would be a good time to add these three words to their notebook: Push, Pull, and Gravity.
Push is a force that moves things away. Pull is a force that moves things closer. Gravity is a force that pulls down on everything on Earth.
Focus Question:
Give the students some time to come up with an investigable question that they could investigate using their box of objects that has to do with how things move.
Have them write their questions on sentence strips.
After each group has written their questions read each question and ask things like is that a good focus question, could we really investigate this. As a teacher guide them to the best questions and depending on your situation give each group a different question to investigate or choose 1 or 2 of the best.
Samples of question:
How do you make things go farther? How do you make things go faster? Is it easier to push or pull a toy car? What will happen to the object if it is moved on different kinds of surfaces? Which surface will the object move further on (the cement, the grass, the rocks, the tar, the mulch)? What happens if I give more of a push (more force) to the car?
Choose a Focus Question and write it in your Notebook.
Give a writing prompt: I think______________________________will happen. Or
I predict_________________________.
Have the students make a plan as to how they are going to investigate their question.
They might need help with writing out their plan if this is the first inquiry activity you have done this year. After they have made their plan have the groups go outside and do their own investigation.
When they are doing their investigation they can draw pictures, collect data that they can use in their notebooks.
When they come in they should record their claims and evidence in their notebooks. They then need to write a summary and share this with the rest of the class. The sharing part of the inquiry is very important and they will also learn other things from other students.
When all students have shared it is time for a reflection in their notebooks. Remind them to include new questions that they may have.
Remember that any inquiry at the primary level can be guided and not all of it needs to be completed by the student himself. Using the Science Notebook gives a record of the students learning and helps you as a teacher understand the learning that has happened with each individual student.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This lesson is an inquiry based lesson that uses a Science Notebook. If you have not already been using a Science Notebook you might want to do your own research on them. Remind students to use all materials safely and to work cooperatively while in there groups.


Observe students while in large group and in small groups. Use questioning at the beginning looking for prior knowledge. Assess students Science Notebook for understanding of the concepts and look for the different parts of the notebook.


2.1 The Nature of Science and Engineering: The Practice of Science
2. Scientific inquiry is a set of interrelated processes incorporating multiple approaches that are used to pose questions about the natural world and investigate phenomena. Raise questions about the natural world and seek answers by making careful observations noting what happens when you interact with an object and sharing the answers with others.
2.2 Physical Science: Motion
2.1 The motion of an object can be described by a change in its position over time. Describe an object's change in position relative to other objects or a background. Demonstrate that objects move in a variety of ways, including a straight line, a curve, a circle, back and forth, and at different speeds.
2.2 The motion of an object can be changed by push or pull forces. Describe how push and pull forces can make objects move.

References and Resources