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What is a Polymer?

Grades: Grades 3-8
Author: Sue Blackman, Betsy Hulslander, Diane Pitstick, AGPA Staff
Source: Original


Students will explore polymers in the everyday world. They will use their senses (except taste) to make observations and investigate the properties of polymers.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • Students will know what polymers are
  • Students will know the properties of polymers

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • Students will be able to identify polymers in their everyday world
  • Students will be able to make glue putty


  • 6 strands of beads, each about 6-8 feet in length taped together, in a container. These can be purchased at holiday time for home decorations. The beads need to be placed in a container carefully (coiled in container so that the strand is layered) so that they will "flow out" without tangling. See slide #12 of Multimedia Slide Presentation: Introduction to Polymers to see the beads flowing out of the container.
  • Polymers that are found in everyday life, such as plastic containers, plastic film wrap, rubber bands, gum, and plastic cups, rubber balls.
  • Chart paper
  • Plastic cups
  • Craft sticks
  • Borax
  • Water
  • School white glue
  • Food coloring



  1. Talk about "polymers" by talking about examples of polymers in everyday life. Ask how many students have seen or touched a polymer today? Write the word polymer on the board or chart paper as a mystery word.
  2. Perform the bead demonstration with the beads flowing out of the container. Discuss how they are a "chain" - like a polymer molecule. (See slide #12 of Multimedia Slide Presentation: Introduction to Polymers)

Assessment: The assessment is informal and can be used to determine misconceptions that the students may have about polymers. Students will most likely be fascinated with the strand of beads.


  1. Divide students into groups of four and have them make observations to explore a number of polymer items, such as plastic containers, plastic film wrap, rubber bands, gum, plastic cups, rubber balls.
  2. Have the students list characteristics of the items on paper having the students compare and contrast these different items.
  3. Assessment: Within each group, have each student discuss with a partner the properties that they observed in the materials. Have each group list the properties on the board.


    1. Have each group report on their observations of the polymer items.
    2. After they discuss the properties they observed, provide an explanation of polymers regarding properties of these materials and molecular structure. The level of explanation will be based on the students' grade level. See the content knowledge section.

    Assessment: Give the students a piece of paper to draw an item that is a polymer and to write a sentence describing why they believe it is a polymer. Have the students share. You can list the items on the board or on chart paper.


    Have a "Polymer Hunt" at school in the classroom, gym, and playground. See how many polymers can be found.

    Make glue putty as a culminating activity. See the AGPA's Polymer Putty Video and Instruction Guide below:

    AGPA Polymer Putty Demonstration: Learn how to create Polymer Putty in this video demonstration.

    And/or watch the Ball Bouncing video below:

    Assessment: Have the students make a list of the polymers they find in their homes.



    Best Teaching Practices

    • Questioning
    • Metacognition
    • Hands-on learning

    Alignment with Standards

    NGSS Standards:

    • MS-PS1-1 Develop models to describe the atomic compostion of simple molecules and extended structures.
    • HS-PS1-2 Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table,and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.
    • MS-PS1-3 Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.

    Common Core Standards:

    • RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
    • RST.6-8.3 Follow preciesly a multistep procedure when carrying our experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
    • WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.

    National Standards:

    • Science as Inquiry Grades K-4, 5-8
    • Physical Science, K-4, 5-8

    Ohio Standards:

    • Grade K-2: Scientific Inquiry Benchmark C, #10
    • Grade 3: Scientific Inquiry Benchmark C, #6
    • Grade 5: Scientific Inquiry Benchmark C, #4

    Content Knowledge

    Polymers are long chain molecules that are naturally occurring and man-made (synthetic). They are present in many different forms in our everyday world.

    See the AGPA k-12 outreach website for polymer information. Specifically, Multimedia Slide Presentation: Introduction to Polymers, which has basic polymer info.

    Another useful website is the Macrogalleria -


    • General science classroom safety should be followed.
    • In addition, borax can cause skin irritations for some people. If skin irritation occurs, wash hands with soap and water. Both the white glue and borax are non-hazardous, grocery store items. However, since this project involves glue, be careful around carpets.
    • This material should NOT be given to very small children.


    Polymers are present in many different forms in our everyday world.


    Ongoing throughout learning cycle

    Other Considerations

    Grouping Suggestions: Groups of 4 with mixed-ability in the groups, chosen by the teacher.

    Pacing/Suggested Time: 3 lessons - about 30-40 minutes per lesson. AGPA Poly Putty can be stored in a plastic bag. If mold begins to grow, throw away and make a new batch.

    Printable PDF Worksheets