K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • Distinguish between elements, compounds, and mixtures.
  • Explain how composition of materials determines their classification as elements, compounds, or mixtures.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

90 minutes


  • transparencies with key definitions (see critical vocabulary section)
  • samples (enough for demonstration by teacher) of elements, compounds, and mixtures, such as copper, sulfur, water, salt, a can of vegetable soup, chocolate chip cookies (for the teacher to demonstrate)
  • lab instructions for teacher
  • student instructions
  • quiz
  • lab materials: per group: two seven ounce boxes of gum drops containing at least five different colors (or any candy if toothpick can go through pieces), a small container of toothpicks, seven clear zip lock bags (three snack size, two quart size, and two gallon size), a labeling pen to label bags; colored pencils for sketching; unlined paper for sketching


  • Whole group discussion of matter (review definition—matter is anything that has mass and takes up space).
  • Brainstorm—students name different things that are examples of matter, teacher lists on board. Teacher identifies several items as elements, compounds and mixtures. Students make predictions about other items, which will be discussed later in the lesson, at which point the teacher will make a three-way chart to categorize substances as elements, compounds, and mixtures.
  • Activities

    Presentation/Critical Vocabulary

    • Teacher introduces concept of different kinds of matter.
    • Teacher shows examples of an element (copper, sulfur), compound (water), and mixture (a can of vegetable soup, a chocolate chip cookie, etc.). Teacher displays definitions on overhead.
    • Students record the definitions of an element, compound, mixture, substance, and composition (copy from overhead).

    Pre-activity Follow-Up

    Teacher directs students’ attention to the predictions they made during the pre-activity; they discuss the accuracy of the predictions using definitions. The teacher fills in a three-way chart to categorize substances on the list as elements, compounds, and mixtures.

    Differences between Compounds and Mixtures

    Teacher presents compounds and mixtures in opposition.

    • Show a crystal of copper sulfate, write its formula (CuSO4) on the board; point out that it is made of copper, sulfur, and oxygen. Discuss the properties of each element and contrast them to the properties of the compound.
    • Then make a mixture of sulfur and iron and help students see that mixing substances does not lead to change in their properties. Use a magnet to separate the iron from the sulfur to emphasize that components of a mixture can be separated by physical means.

    Student Activity

    Conduct model lab according to the instructions.


    Assessment can be performed using the classification of matter quiz.

    Supplemental information


    Although the lesson needs to be modified for students at intermediate and novice levels of English proficiency, it is appropriate as is for ELLs at advanced level of English proficiency because:

    • definitions, lab instructions, and assessment activity directions are language sensitive
    • the central activity of the lesson is hands-on, which highly contextualizes material
    • students are heterogeneously grouped
    • the teacher circulates in the classroom during the activity and is available to help

    Alternative assessments

    The classification of matter quiz is appropriate as is for English language learners at advanced level of English proficiency.

    Learners at intermediate levels of English proficiency are required to complete items 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 for full credit and are encouraged to try the other items.

    Novice learners are required to complete items 2, 4, 9, and 10 for full credit; teacher will circle questions and items in the bank since not all of them will be used.

    Critical vocabulary

    • matter
    • element
    • compound
    • mixture
    • composition
    • substance


    This lesson plan was developed during the English Language Development Standard Course of Study lesson planning institutes hosted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and LEARN NC, June and July, 2004. It includes specific strategies, instructional modifications, and alternative assessments, which make this lesson accessible to limited English proficient students. Please note that this lesson has been aligned with the goals and objectives of the North Carolina English Language Development standards.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Physical Science

        • PSc.2.1 Understand types, properties, and structure of matter. PSc.2.1.1 Classify matter as: homogeneous or heterogeneous; pure substance or mixture; element or compound; metals, nonmetals or metalloids; solution, colloid or suspension. PSc.2.1.2 Explain the...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Development (2005)

  • Objective 0.01: Use new vocabulary in speech.
  • Objective 0.01: Demonstrate writing using a wide variety of complex vocabulary, including academic vocabulary and idioms.
  • Objective 0.02: Understand and follow multi-step directions on academic topics when spoken at a normal speed with occasional restatement.
  • Objective 0.02: Engage and initiate more extensive social and classroom discourse with peers and adults on unfamiliar topics by asking and answering questions, restating ideas, and soliciting information.
  • Objective 0.03: Comprehend academic questions spoken at normal speed.
  • Objective 0.05: Express an informed opinion that is logical and coherent.
  • Objective 0.05: React to and reflect upon print, non-print text and personal experiences by examining situations from both subjective and objective perspectives.
  • Objective 0.06: Respond appropriately when participating in group discourse by adapting language and communication behaviors to the situation to accomplish a specific purpose.
  • Objective 0.06: Evaluate problems, examine cause/effect relationships, and answer research questions to inform an audience.
  • Objective 0.07: Identify and demonstrate knowledge of various types of communication (e.g., expressive, informational, argumentative, critical).
  • Objective 0.08: Interpret and evaluate experiences, literature, language, and ideas.
  • Objective 0.10: Apply conventions of grammar and language usage.
  • Science (2005)

    Grade 9–12 — Physical Science

    • Goal 6: The learner will build an understanding of regularities in chemistry.
      • Objective 6.01: Analyze the periodic trends in the physical and chemical properties of elements.
        • Groups (families).
        • Periods.
      • Objective 6.05: Investigate and analyze the properties and composition of solutions:
        • Solubility curves.
        • Concentration.
        • Polarity.
        • pH scale.
        • Electrical conductivity.