Solids, Liquids, and Gases

The states of matter can be confusing.  We often show them (like when we show an ice cube, a glass of water, and then steam rising from the pot on the stove), but we rarely explain to kids WHY they behave the way they do.  Solids, liquids, and gases make a little more sense when you look at the microscopic make-up of matter.

States of Matter Exploration – A Look at Solids, Liquids, and Gases

Start by taking as many kids as you can possibly get into a hula hoop, then ask them to dance, jump, and wiggle!  Not too easy when all those molecules are all packed in tightly!  That’s like a solid.


 Now have a few kids step out and ask the same thing.  That’s like a liquid.  The particles have a little more room to move.  And finally, leave just one kid in the hula hoop and have her move it and shake it!  She can move all over any way she wants . . . plenty of room when you’re a gas!

Solids are tightly packed, usually in a regular pattern.  They retain a fixed shape.  Liquids are close together, but not regularly arranged.  They conform to the shape of whatever container they are in.  They slide, move, flow, and vibrate.  Gases have plenty of room; this allows them to move freely about as they please.  Unlike solids, they are also compressible because there is still plenty of room in between their molecules.

Here’s another simple way to show solids, liquids, and gases:

See these 3 identical clear cubes?  The first one is tightly packed like a solid.  If I shake it, the pom-poms inside can’t move.  The middle one is like a liquid.  There are lots of molecules, but not so many that it can’t move and flow as a liquid does.  And the last one is like a gas – very few molecules, all with plenty of space.  When I shake this box the molecules move freely!

And now you understand states of matter . . . molecularly!

Have kids draw a picture showing this concept, then write examples of lots of solids, liquids, and gases to help solidify the concept.  (I couldn’t help myself!)

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