atom atom

Guess What?!

(a lesson about atoms)

Recommended Age Group: Later Elementary

About this Lesson from Yamina Acebo

Guiding Questions

  1. Have you ever wondered what everything is made of?
  2. What is mass?
  3. What are atoms, and how can scientists guess what atoms look like?





  1. Matter is everything that takes up space.
    • The desk you sit at in school is matter.
    • The food you eat at home is matter.
    • Even the air you breath is matter, because it takes up space, even if you do not see it!
        A balloon gets bigger when you blow into it. This shows you that air takes up space.
  2. All matter is made up of little bits called atoms.
    • There are many different types of atoms.
    • To be able to form all the different objects and things, atoms mix together to make different kinds of combinations.
  3. Atoms are very small.
    • You cannot see them with a magnifying glass.
    • You cannot even see atoms with most microscopes.
  4. Scientists use special tools to be able to "guess" what atoms look like.
    • They do experiments to understand how atoms behave with each other.
    • They also use a special microscope called an electron microscope that gives them ideas of what atoms look like.



  1. Large covered box or container so you cannot see inside of it.
  2. Various items (pine cones, rocks, leaves, etc.)
  3. Drawing paper and something to put the paper on to draw.

Room Preparation:


Procedures and Activities


Ask children the guiding questions:

  1. Have you ever wondered what everything is made of?
    Listen to the children give their ideas. Then, introduce them to the concept of mass.

  2. What is mass?
    Listen to the children and their ideas. Then, introduce them to the concept of matter and atoms.

  3. What are atoms, and how can scientists guess what atoms look like?
    Again, listen to the children and their ideas. It is up to you whether to give them the exact answer to this question before or after the lesson is completed. Some children might understand the definition better after the lesson is done. On the other hand, some children might feel more comfortable if they are told the purpose of the lesson first.

  4. Let's be scientists today!
    If you do decide to tell the children the purpose of the lesson first, tell them that they are going to be scientists today. You are going to guess the name of objects by touching them and tossing them around. Like scientists, you are going to guess what they are by the way they behave.


  1. Make a box.
    • Make a covered box with a hole in the top, or side, so that the children can reach into the box easily to feel the objects inside.

    • Choose mystery objects

      Choose three quite different objects to place in the box: a pine cone, a leaf, and a piece of bark, etc. (If you are working indoors, you might choose other objects.)

    • You may take the children to the location where you found the objects in the box.
      Scientists often have to use many clues to understand something. By going to the locations of where objects in the box were found, we are giving you some extra clues beyond just touching the objects.

    • Take turns feeling the objects inside the box so that objects shift and change for each child. Then have them reach in and feel each object.

    • Make observations like a scientist.
      Ask each child to think about what they feel. Are the objects hard, soft, smooth, rough, etc.?

    • Document your observations like a scientist.
      Ask the children to describe what they are feeling and jot it down. Also, ask them to draw what they think that the object looks like.

    • Guess like a scientist.
      Ask them to find objects outside of the box that they think may be the same as those inside the box.


Back in the classroom, ask again:

  1. Have you ever wondered what everything is made of?
  2. What is mass?
  3. What are atoms, and how can scientists guess how atoms look like?

Give a small review of what was talked about before the activity. Let them share their drawings and observations and compare each other's guesses. At this time, take the objects out of the box. Let them compare their observations to what was really inside the box.

Tell them again how scientists are able to guess what atoms look like, even if they are not able to see them. Compare the activity to what scientists do. Help them notice that what they had just done, in a way, is the same thing that scientists do to see and understand atoms.

Extension Ideas:

  1. If possible, get some 3-D model kits which demonstrate how atoms bond together. Maybe they can create their own compounds.

  2. Conduct experiments about mixing solutions so they can see how atoms react with other atoms.

  3. Maybe the children would like to know what atoms are made of. The linked diagram shows the particles that an atom is made of.

Careers Related to Lesson Topic:



Chemical Engineer


Prerequisite Vocabulary

One of the tiniest particles of any material or element.
electron microscope:
Instrument in which a beam of electrons is used to create a big picture of a very small object.
A clump or bulky amount of matter.
A substance that has weight and takes up space.
Instruments using small magnifying glasses to make the image of a small object larger for us to see.

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