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Exploring States of Matter

In this hands-on activity, students will explore different states of matter.

Matter is all around us. It is in everything that we see that takes up space physically.

This exploration activity focuses on the three main states of matter:

  • liquid
  • solid
  • gas. 

The activity can be used to introduce or reinforce the ideas of the three different states of matter and the transitions between these states.

The activities will also help students further understand that temperature and pressure are what affect the transition of states.

Matter can appear quite different depending on which state it is in. When water is in its solid state, it is hard ice with a fixed volume and definite shape. When it becomes liquid water, it maintains its fixed volume but takes on the shape of its container. When it becomes gas, its volume becomes different along with the shape. 

The particles also differ with each state. In the solid state, the forces between the particles are very strong such that they are very compact and tightly joined together and cannot freely move, but can only vibrate. Hence the very definite shape and volume of solids.

In liquids, the particles are still close to one another, but they are able to move freely, which is why liquids flow and take on the shape of their containers. It is also the reason why you cannot apply pressure to a liquid (in most cases) to cause it to take on a specific shape.  

In a gas the particles move freely creating large spaces between them. A gas will expand to take on the shape of it's container and as there is space between particles they are compressible.

If you consider the particles of each state of matter, it becomes evident that pressure and temperature are the major factors that affect the transitions of matter.

  • Temperature can cause molecules to move slower or faster.
  • Pressure can cause molecules to become more or less packed together.


  • Differentiate between the three states of matter.

  • Understand how matter changes from one state to another, and what affects the change.


  • You’re In Hot Water
    beaker, or a heat resistant container to boil water in
    hot plate
    lid or cover for container
    gloves for holding the container with boiling water if there is no handle

  • Incredible Can Crush
    empty pop can
    cold water
    hot plate

  • Frozen Balloons
    long balloons
    tall vacuum container/dewar containing liquid nitrogen
    a table to perform the demonstration, placed at a safe distance in the room
    gloves for protection
    goggles for protection

  • Dry Ice Sublimation
    graduated cylinder, preferably tempered glass
    styrofoam container or another appropriate container for dry ice (It is very important as there are specific methods of transporting dry ice.)
    insulated gloves for handling dry ice
    tongs for handling dry ice
    goggles for eye protection
    dry ice (The more pellets the better, but take care not to use too much dry ice.)
    access to warm or hot water (The hotter the better for the cloud/fog effect.)

    Teacher tip: A 3:1 ratio of water to dry ice in volume will create a good fog effect.

  • Deposition Exploration
    Photographs/slideshow of examples of deposition: clouds and snow, window and window with frost, leaf and frozen leaf, etc.

  • The Swirls Around Us
    beakers or clear containers for liquids
    hot water, cold water and other types of liquids (salt water, oil) for the extension activities
    coloured ice cubes made with water dyed with food colouring. At least 1 tray is recommended.

    Teacher Tip: Make extra ice cubes if you plan to have groups/pairs of students observe the demonstration on their own and/or if you plan to implement the extension activities.

Key Questions

  • How do you know when matter changes states?
  • What factors affect the transition of phases of matter?

What To Do


  1. Set up three stations with one of the suggested activities or demonstrations at each of the three stations.

Exploration Activity:

  1. ​Introduce the activity and have the students set-up their notebooks to record observations and make predictions for the stations.
  2. Guide students through each of the three stations.
  3. After the three ​stations, have the students write a conclusion. Then, share observations and conclusions as a group.

Other Resources

Science World | YouTube | A Moment of Science: Liquid Nitrogen