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Systems and Scale | Activity 4.5

Activity 4.5: Explaining Ethanol Burning (40 min)

Students use the Explanations Tool to explain what happens to ethanol when it burns.

Materials You Provide

Resources Provided


Print one copy of the 4.5 Explanations Tool for Ethanol Burning for each student. Return students’ completed versions of the 4.3 Evidence-Based Arguments Tool for Ethanol Burning for review. In this activity, your students will need to use the Three Questions Explanations Checklist on the back of the Three Questions Handout. Be sure to have this available to students, and see the notes in the Modifications at the end of the Activity for ideas about how to use it. Decide if you will use the Big Idea Probe: Fill 'Er Up, Example Systems and Scale Explanations Handout, 4.5 What Happens When Ethanol Burns? Reading, and/or 4.5 Matter & Energy in Ethanol Burning (Combustion) Graphic Organizer. Print copies of the ones you decide to use.


1. Use the instructional model to show students where they are in the course of the unit.

Show slide 2 of the 3.1 Predictions about Soda Water Fizzing PPT.


During the class, circulate while students are comparing their explanations. Listen to see if they are able to explain ethanol burning at both the macroscopic and atomic-molecular scales. Use Three Questions Handout, 4.5 Grading the Explanations Tool for Ethanol Burning to grade your students’ work on the 4.5 Explanations Tool for Ethanol Burning. This worksheet accompanies explanations tools for all examples of combustion in this unit. At this point in the lesson, students should be held accountable for correct answers. Use 4.5 Grading Matter & Energy in Ethanol Burning (Combustion) Graphic Organizer to grade the graphic organizer.


  • Make sure students understand that the chemical energy in ethanol (not ethanol itself) is converted to heat and light energy.
  • Make sure that students discuss and understand all three columns of the Three Questions 11 x 17 Poster or Three Questions Handout. They play a central role in all Carbon TIME units.


If time allows, have students revisit their initial predictions tools from Activity 4.1. Comparing their early predictions to their final explanations may show a greater change in their thinking over time.

The checklist on the back of the Three Questions Handout can be used to scaffold students’ explanations in many ways.

  • Students refer to the checklist as they are constructing their explanations.
  • Students use the checklist as they are sharing and revising their explanations with a partner.