Resources needed:

  • Large variety of materials – both natural and man-made
  • Pictures of similar objects in the selection
  • Large pieces of paper headed ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’
  • Everyday material cards, blutack.


  1. Show the children some of the materials from your collection and ask them to describe them using words that they know, for example rough, smooth, bumpy, see through, soft, fluffy and so on.
  2. Now introduce the terms ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’ and ask the children what they think these terms mean. Show the children a few items from the selection and ask them to tell you which pile to place the object in. How do they make a decision? Which ones are harder to sort (for example, cork is a natural material but is often shaped or treated to make it into everyday items).
  3. When you have sorted several of the items, let the children sort their pictures in a similar way using the pieces of paper headed ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’. If some groups finish faster than others, let them find objects from around the room and outside and add those to their selections.

Teaching point: Try to include a selection of materials which will challenge the children. For example, sticks of chalk, a piece of leather, a wooden spoon, a cotton shirt – these are all natural materials, even though they have been treated or changed in some way. Paper, nylon and steel have all been chemically processed in some way and are therefore man-made.

  1. Once the sorting activity is complete, show the children some of the everyday material cards and ask them to think of things which are made of that particular material. When some examples are given, ask why that material is suitable for the job. For example, the covers of books are made from cardboard to protect the pages and be flexible enough to allow the book to open.
  2. Give each child a set of the word cards and challenge them to find things which are made from that material (for less able readers, it might be useful to have pictures of the materials next to the name). Each child should try to ‘allocate’ their cards, trying as hard as they can to avoid labelling something which has already been labelled by another child.
  3. Once the labelling is complete, hold up some of the items the children have labelled and discuss their ‘suitability for purpose’. Which materials really wouldn’t be any good for the job? Why?


Further Activities:

Set the children investigation challenges to find suitable materials. For example, challenge them to make a raincoat for a toy bear and then test to see which one keeps the bear the driest.

Introduce words such as ‘transparent’, ‘translucent’ and ‘opaque’. Give children samples of materials and let them practise holding them up to test if they can be seen through easily or not. Which everyday items are transparent, translucent or opaque? Why do they have this property (for example a car windscreen should be transparent but a bathroom window is usually translucent and black out blinds need to be opaque).

Curriculum Areas covered:

(Y1) Pupils should be taught to:

  • Distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • Identify and name a variety of everyday materials, including wood, plastic, glass, metal, water, and rock
  • Describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
  • Compare and group together a variety of everyday materials on the basis of their simple physical properties.

(Y2)Pupils should be taught to:

  • Identify and compare the suitability of a variety of everyday materials, including wood, metal, plastic, glass, brick, rock, paper and cardboard for particular uses
  • Find out how the shapes of solid objects made from some materials can be changed by squashing, bending, twisting and stretching.