Teaching Matter in Upper Elementary

Teaching Matter in Upper Elementary got a whole lot easier with this Matter Lapbook.

As I child, I remember watching Mary Poppins and finding her bag of magical goodies truly delightful. It was amazing how she was able to pull so many things out of her bag. Even as a child, I knew there was NO WAY she could actually fit most of those items inside her carpet bag from the clouds.

But how did I know the items couldn’t possibly fit?

That is because even as a small child I had some concept of matter and how matter works. 

I could look at a group of items and quickly deduce what state they were in, approximately how heavy they were, and assume whether or not they could fit inside a container.

But understanding matter is more than just eye-balling a pile of toys and deciding whether or not they’ll fit in a container. It is about truly understanding the different forms of matter and how they can be manipulated, measured, and classified.

Teaching matter in upper elementary can be a lot of fun with lots of different experiments and manipulatives, but a good matter lesson really starts by helping students grasp the fundamentals. 

What should we cover?

When I begin a matter unit, there are a few key points that I always make sure to cover. 

First, I talk about what matter is and the vocabulary associated with it. If students don’t understand the vocabulary, it is hard for them to talk about matter in any kind of depth.

In addition to the vocabulary terms, I also make sure to focus some time on the different states of matter (mainly solids, liquids, and gasses), and how each is measured.

Those are the basics, but my instruction often grows from there.


When teaching matter in upper elementary, I know that my students are often coming into this topic with very limited content-related vocabulary since terms like properties, elements, and density are not common language for elementary students. However, they are all important terms in talks of matter.

This is my matter vocab list:

  • Matter
  • Atoms
  • Elements
  • Periodic Table
  • Properties
  • Solid
  • Liquid
  • Gas
  • Plasma
  • Mass
  • Volume
  • Density
  • Mixture
  • Solution
  • Solute
  • Solvent
  • Physical Change
  • Chemical Change

With a lot of new terms to teach and discuss, and so many ways to approach the topic of matter, I knew that I would need to find a way to help my students organize and visualize their notes and the new information I’d be sharing with them.

As I often find myself relying on physical manipulatives to help students keep their notes and vocabulary terms organized such as paper bag books, lapbooks, envelope books, and accordion envelope books, I decided to create a Matter Lapbook for my students.

Teaching Matter in Upper Elementary with The Matter Lapbook

The Matter Lapbook helps my students stay organized and keeps notes easily within reach throughout our matter study.

When I’m teaching matter in upper elementary, it usually takes about two weeks for us to fully construct the lapbook and dive into each concept. 

The topics covered within the lapbook include:

  • Defining Matter
  • Matter Vocabulary
  • States of Matter
  • Physical Properties of Matter
  • Heterogeneous vs. Homogeneous Mixtures
  • Measuring Matter
  • Physical Changes 

Teaching Matter in Upper Elementary | Matter Lapbook

In addition to the visual, manipulative parts of the lapbook that students interact with, the lapbook also includes 12 pages of informational passages covering each of these topics more fully.

States of Matter

Although it is easy enough to just talk about the different states of matter (solids, liquids, gasses), the images and passages in the lapbook illustrate how each of these are composed and the informational text begins to introduce atoms and elements.

Although we don’t go as deep as a middle or high school biology or chemistry class, the lapbook passages and images do a good job setting up a foundation for this learning and introducing terms at a basic grade-appropriate level.

Properties of Matter

Matter makes up everything in the universe and beyond, so how can we possibly break down such a gargantuan topic into just a two-week unit? 

One of the ways is by talking about the different properties that make up all living things (physical and chemical).

The Matter Lapbook provides graphics and reading passages that discuss both physical and chemical properties of matter, while also setting up a solid foundation for a teacher to get creative with exploring the same topic in class.

Physical properties can be observed using our five senses which makes for some fun in-class activities where students can observe an item or fluid using those senses.

Chemical properties are also important for telling elements apart. Exploring chemical properties can be a fun way to incorporate some hands-on science experiments into this unit.

Measuring Matter

Mass, volume, and density…oh my!

After many years of teaching matter, this is the topic within my matter unit that is often most difficult for students because there are parts of measuring matter that just don’t make sense to our logical minds. For example, how can two balls that are roughly the same size be completely different weights? 

I love using the lapbook and passages to go over the basics of measuring matter like defining the key terms (mass, volume, and density), but then I often depend on physical manipulatives for students to actually experience this concept first hand.

Changing Matter

Another incredibly important part of teaching matter is talking about how matter can change. 

It is such a natural concept, but again, it goes against the logical parts of our brains. How can rain and snow be the same thing? How can the water you put in a pot to boil end up filling your house with steam? Why did my new metal earrings turn green or my mom’s outdoor metal chairs start to rust in such a short amount of time?

These are all natural occurrences, but they are also all examples of matter changing. The Matter Lapbook helps set up the vocabulary students will need as they continue to discuss and explore these situations in real life.

Continued Exploration

I love using the Matter Lapbook to organize my students, their notes, and help focus our matter unit in the classroom. It helps them to establish the vocabulary and basic understanding needed for us to thoroughly dig into this topic through in-class experiments and hands-on manipulations. 

I also love that students can take the lapbook home after our unit to discuss with their families. Parents appreciate the all-in-one lapbook because it limits the number of papers and random notes that are coming home with kids each day.

Grab the Resource

If you are considering teaching matter in upper elementary, make sure to take a closer look at the Matter Lapbook  in the Undercover Classroom store!

Leave a Reply