Are there Objects that are too Small for Us to See?

4th and 5th grade science class
Time Frame
Set Up: 30 min
Activity: 1- 2 hours (2 days of science)
Clean up: 5 min
After completing this activity students will be able to understand that their are objects that we can not see with just our eyes, why and how these materials are important for us.

  1. Students will make connections between the activity and its applications in the world.
  2. Students will gain an understanding of the importance of technology and science, and gain an appreciation for research

Standards Addressed
Next Generation Science Standards
5.SPM Structure, Properties and Interactions of Matter

  1. Use the model that matter is made of particles too small to be seen to describe and explain everyday phenomina.
  2. Investigate physical properties of materials and use the properties to distinguish one material from another.

Engineering principles
Core IDea ET52: Links among Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society
ETS2: Interdependence of Science Engineering and Teachnology
ETS2.B : Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World

Activity Materials:
To be prepared ahead of time:
“Measurement UNO” cards(4 sets for a class of 25)
Picture slide show for class showing the change in the copper and graphene at different times on the hot plate. (Optional)
Sample piece of copper and copper with graphene(Optional)

Activity Instructions
Set-up: Make sure microscopes are set up for the class.
Day 1: Students will compare different objects measurement scales, from kilometers down to nanometers.

Intro(10-15 min)

Whip Around: Teacher goes around the classroom to each table group. Students at the table group have to say an object smaller than the student before them. The first student starts with the Earth. We will have 2 rounds of this game. All students have the right to pass. Students will be able to do another “whip around” at the end of the activity(for assessment).

After the whip around ask students- what was difficult about this activity, what are some of the units we use to measure?

Turn and talk with your table groups.

Ask tables to share: After each table has had a turn to share teacher can explain the “game” to the class.
Ask: How do we measure objects? What are the tools we use in school?
*Use a table and have students shout-out objects that can be measured using the following units.*







Start by just introducing kilometers, meters, centimeters, and millimeters.

Then play game and add in Micrometers and Nanometers after first round of the game.

Play game

Measurement Style UNO
(15 min)

( 2 rounds 1st round just with Kilometers, meters, centimeters and millimeters)

Step 1: Students should be placed in groups of 4-5

Step 2: Give students cards- each group will have a variety of cards with different objects on them.

Step 3: Explain the rules and show them how the game works. During the game make sure that students are playing following the rules- make sure at least 1 person at each table fully understands the rules and can explain them to their table if they need to.


  1. 1 student in each group(determined by teacher) will get to deal the “measurement cards” (the cards on neon green paper) The item cards ( on hot pink paper) will be placed in a stack in the middle of the table.

  2. Student next to the dealer gets to flip over the first item card.

  3. All of the other students place the “best fit” measurement card next to the item.

    1. If a student lays down a football field item card students with a measurement card of meters should lay down their card. The goal is to get rid of all your cards by the end of the game. The first person to lay down all of their measurement cards wins.

  1. Student who lays down the “item card” has the right to say that a measurement card is incorrect. For example if a student lays down a football field card and another student says the best measurement is kilometers- then the student gets to give the kilometer card back to the student who put it down.

  2. The game ends when one of the students has no measurement cards left.

After 15 minutes have students clean up their cards.

**Make sure to give students a copy of the rules with their cards. They can refer back to the rules throughout the game.

Introducing micrometer and nanometer(10-15 min)

Ask students if they think it is possible for something to be smaller than a millimeter?

Give students a chance to talk

Partner activity: Have students push in their chairs and make eye contact with 2 other students in the class… Then have them meet with their 2 “appointments”

Question for their appointments:

  1. Do you think there are object smaller than a millimeter?

  2. What do you think might be smaller than a millimeter?

  3. Can we see any of these objects?

After “Partner Activity” Add Micrometer and Nanometer to the table-This will be displayed on the board

Ask: What tools can we use to see detail in small objects or large objects?

Answer: Microscope/ hand lens.

Microscope/ Hand Lens practice (15 min)

Choose 3 objects from your table to look at under the microscope. Draw a picture of what you see.

Day 2:

Intro: Measurement Style UNO – Add micrometers and nanometers to the list and review the last day(15 min)

Review Microscope use and parts(10 min)

Learning about an object that is measured using the Nanoscale- How small is it really?

Intro to Graphene(10 min) Give each student 2 post-it notes. Tell them that by using a pencil they should color in as much of the post-it note as possible and make the lines as dark as possible.

After they are done coloring- tell them that there pencils are made using graphite- and we can see the graphite on the paper. Then tell them that they are actually looking at millions of layers of something much smaller.

Ask students: What do you think we are looking at?

Have students investigate by looking at both pieces under the microscope. Ask what did you notice about the lighter post-it vs the darker post-it?

Show them the copper pieces- say one of these pieces has something on it- the other one is just plain copper- which is which? have the class vote A or B.

Microscope Investigation (10 min) After they vote, let the class look at both under the microscope to see if they can tell a difference between the two pieces.

Slide Show(15 min) Then show them the slide show(Graphene heated at 200 degrees C). As the class is watching the slide show ask: Why is one side changing colors and the other side is not? How could this happen?

Tell the students: The item on the right is copper with graphene on it- we cant see it because it is very very very thin. We cant even see it using our microscopes in the classroom. A special microscope has to be used to see it! Show them a picture of an SEM mircoscope and graphene on the microscope.

Ask what they think the graphene looks like? Draw a picture of what they see.

Ask the class: How could graphene be used? Why is it important to learn about? Why are scientists working with graphene?

If there is extra time- play Measurement Style UNO and look at copper/ graphene copper under the microscope.


Students can be assessed using the assessment at the end of the Microworlds unit. Students can be assessed for this activity informally based on their responses to the questions.


Have students complete a vocabulary activity using the following words:






Teachers should read about graphene before doing this activity with their class. The class should already have a knowledge of the Metric system- Millimeters, Centimeters, Meters, Kilometers before starting this activity.

Supplemental Materials

  • Assessment worksheet/ vocabulary worksheets


RET Fellow: Elizabeth Waldinger

RET Leadership Team: RET Teachers, Ben Taylor, George Lisensky, Mike Arnold Lab group, Robert Jacobberger ,Susmit Singha Roy, and Anne Lynn Gillian-Daniel.