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Systems and Scale | Activity 5.3

Activity 5.3: Preparing for Future Units – Organic vs. Inorganic (40 min)

Target Student Performance

Students distinguish between organic and inorganic materials on the basis of both their functions (organic materials include foods, fuels, and the bodies of living things) and the chemical structure of their molecules (organic materials contain high-energy C-C and C-H bonds).

Students “zoom in” to ethanol, wood, and water to distinguish between organic materials (materials with high-energy C-C and C-H bonds) and inorganic materials (materials with other chemical bonds).

Materials you Provide

Resources Provided

Recurring Resources


Print one copy of 5.3 Materials Cards for each pair of students and cut the cards out ahead of time. Print one copy of 5.3 Organic vs. Inorganic Worksheet per student. If you plan on using the optional 5.3 More About Chemical Energy Reading (1 per student), print one handout for each student.


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

Show slide 2 of the 5.3 Organic vs. Inorganic PPT.


Listen to students’ responses to the question: why does ethanol burn like wood, even though it looks like water? Check to see whether some students are moving beyond labeling materials as “flammable” to thinking about chemical properties of flammable materials. Do any students mention chemical energy? Do any students mention C-C and C-H bonds? Note students' ability to identify organic materials based on observable properties; organic materials include foods, fuels, and bodies of plants and animals, and based on molecular formulas: organic molecules have C-C and/or C-H bonds.

Use 5.3 Grading the Organic vs. Inorganic Worksheet to grade student responses. At this point, students can be held accountable for correct answers. If students are still struggling with these concepts, you may want to revisit parts of the lesson they are finding difficult.