Brief Description:

Students will explore the different states of matter and experiment with objects that are in between states of matter.

Grades: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Time: 1 hour

Keywords: matter, states of matter, viscosity, chemical engineering, newtonian fluids

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will learn the differences between the different states of matter.
  • For older classrooms, the activity can be used to explain concepts of viscosity, molecular structure, and newtonian and non newtonian fluids.


  • Each group will need
    • Plastic cup with 1.5 cups cornstarch
    • Plastic cup with 1 cup of water
    • Styrofoam plate and plastic spoon
    • Several paper towels
    • 2x Recycling bin (or otherwise) to hold water, in lieu of a sink


  1. Discuss states of matter, examples of each, and the energy state of each.
    1. solid:  fixed volume and shape (low energy)
    2. liquid: fixed volume, variable shape (high energy)
    3. gas: variable volume and shape (very high energy)
  2. Discuss some examples of things that aren’t clearly solid/liquid/gas. Jello or pudding (solid+liquid); shaving-cream/foam (liquid+gas); play-dough (solid+liquid). These are mixtures of more than one matter state.
  3. Talk about suspensions. Goop is a suspension of cornstarch in water. The corn starch molecules are sticky, so they don’t slide over each other as easily as water molecules.
  4. Pass out materials
  5. Add about 2 parts of water to 3 parts of cornstarch and mix well with a spoon until all the cornstarch is dissolved. Alternatively you can pour water into the cornstarch while constantly mixing with a spoon. Stop as soon as all the cornstarch is dissolved.
  6. Tests
    1. Poke with fingers: Poke it as hard as you can. How fast can you poke it without making it solid?
    2. Roll into a ball: Pick up and roll between fingers. How long can you hold it like that? How big of a ball can you make?
    3. Mix w/ fingers/spoon: How does it feel when you go fast? Slow? Hold the cup in place and pull the spoon out. Try to do it really fast. What happened?
  7. After the completion of the activity don’t let them wash it down the drain (get them to wipe their hands off before they go to the bathroom)

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