Materials, Objects, and Everyday Structures

To introduce my students to the concept of different materials (and that materials have different purposes depending on what they are being used for) we began with a hunt around our classroom. I wanted to see if students understood what "materials" meant and also how many different ones they could identify. I was impressed with the list they came up with!

To get us thinking more about different types of materials we did an image sorting activity:

Then we did a fun little "Mystery Materials/Objects" activity. I chose 5 different objects that I thought the students might not know the purpose for, and they had to determine what material it was made of, what the purpose of the object was and they had to draw a picture of it. They had so much fun trying to figure out the objects.

We used an eye lash curler for one of the objects and that one got some funny responses from the kids.

The next activity we did was a tower building challenge.  I put out different types of materials and the kids had to test them out to see which material worked best for building a tower.  This activity was meant to help us think about the purpose and properties of different materials and how some materials are better than others for certain jobs.  We used blocks, straws, cotton balls, popsicle sticks and playing cards but you could pick any type of material you wanted for this activity.

This was followed up by a reading of The Three Little Pigs.  This story lends itself so well to discussing materials and why we choose certain materials over others.  We created this anchor chart together:

And then we made our own little flap books to help us match the type of material to each house:

This led nicely into a discussion about things that are man made vs. things that are made by nature. We did another image sort to reinforce this concept:

I loved how this group put the maple syrup in the middle.  They couldn't decide where to put it at first because while the sap is from nature, the syrup is a result of a cooking process.  Some kids also mentioned the glass bottle being man made. We had a really great discussion about this and it led us to talking about man made things and the environment. 

I decided that going to the local landfill could serve as a provocation for further inquiry. This was such a great field trip and it sparked some great conversations among my students upon our return.  We reviewed photos from the trip and talked about the impact we are having on the environment.

This led to a discussion about how we could make a difference:

I also brought in this great bracelet from The Trashy Crafter to demonstrate how materials can be repurposed when they no longer serve the original purpose.  I opened up the package with the students (it came in an old map instead of an envelope).

This particular bracelet was made from the pages of the book, "The Little Mermaid"...which happens to be my daughter's favorite story. Check her awesome store out by clicking here.

This company is a prime example of how we can repurpose materials to keep them out of the landfill.  It was also the jumping off point for our culminating activity.  I told my students that I wanted them to come up with a plan to repurpose old materials into something new and useful.

Before students began to build, I read them this book:

It's a great book about this little girl who wants to create the most magnificent thing. Only it doesn't turn out the way she imagined it.  She gets frustrated but reworks her design and eventually loves the things that she created and is happy that other people find a use for them. 

Once students made their plans, brought in the materials they needed from home, then they were given the freedom to build:

We had such great fun with this unit and there were so many opportunities for great discussion.  I love seeing how first and second graders can think deeply and critically about important issues!

The printables used in this unit (as well as rubrics and other lesson ideas), can be found by clicking here or on the image below:


  1. Wow! I absolutely love these lessons. You're my kind of teacher��
    Just found you through Pinterest. Looking forward to reading more!

    Grade ONEderful
    BL Designs

    1. Glad you enjoyed the lessons! Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Glad you enjoyed the lessons! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Awesome ideas! It really got me thinking for my own class!

    1. Happy to hear it got you thinking! Happy New Year!

  3. I like your style of teaching! Very fun and real world. I am heading to your store as soon as I am done typing! ....:)

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post! Happy New Year!