Element, Compound, or Mixture? Identify & Sort

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Students can practice identifying elements, compounds, and mixtures


Different ways to use this activity:

  1. Vocabulary reinforcement
  2. Students can review the slides independently as added practice and self check.
  3. This can be a guided mini-lesson for a whole class to reinforce the concept.
  4. Students can work in pairs to sort the cards into the 3 different groups, then discuss the answers as a class. Challenge – categorize the mixtures.
  5. Give each student one of the larger cards and have them do the activity “Quiz, Quiz, Trade


For more lessons related to this activity, please click on the tags below.






Rainbow Test Tubes Activity


Problem: How many colors can be created by starting with red, yellow, and blue solutions?


Updated Jan. 10, 2017 with results:

Results 2016-17

Materials per group of 3-4 students:

  • Student Handout RainbowTestTubesPublic (pdf)
  • Spreadsheet to collect data (excel – public)
  • 9-10 test tubes with test tube rack
  • Erlenmeyer flasks filled with red, yellow, and blue solutions of food coloring and water
    • 5 drops of food coloring per 200 mL (25 per 1L)
  • 3 x 25 mL Graduated Cylinders
  • 3 x 10 mL Graduated Cylinders
  • pipette
  • beaker filled with clean water
  • large beaker for used water
  • this activity took 2x 50 minute class periods


This lab is an updated version of the classic Rainbow Lab (link) that has been around since the 80’s (Measuring Liquid Volume with a Graduated Cylinder 1988). I used this for many years with my 5th graders, and previously with my 6th graders in the early 2000’s. Now that I am teaching 6th grade again, I wanted to make it more open ended and challenging. The purpose of the original version of the lab was twofold: First – could they follow directions carefully to make a rainbow? Second – how precisely can they measure liquid volume?


For the new version of this lab, I created new objectives and assessed the students based on their problem solving, collaboration, and measuring skills.


  • Students will be able to precisely measure liquids with a graduated cylinder
  • Students will be able to create their own lab procedures using the given parameters to guide them
  • Students will create new mixtures and solutions
  • Students will be able to record accurate data
  • Students will collaborate and problem solve to achieve a common goal
  • Students will test, evaluate, and select the best proportions to create the colors orange, green, and purple
    • each group made 3-4 different combinations for each color and had to, as a group, determine which combinations of primary colors created the best secondary colors
  • Students will follow proper lab procedures to avoid color contamination
  • Students will record and analyze data from the whole grade and compare their findings to the averages from each group, what patterns or trends did they notice in the data?
  • Students will create their own ‘designer’ color and share it with the class
    • this was fun way to wrap up the activity, we had a ‘fashion’ show with each group coming up to the front of the room to showcase their newly created and named colors
    • if time allowed, at the end we made a rainbow with each student holding their test tube and standing next to a person who had a color similar to their own, from Red to Purple
Visual assessment – all test tubes are even and you can quickly see that each color has a volume of 25mL.

Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures Classification Activity

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Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures –

  • NEW: Google Slides – Public Link
  • Sorting/Task Cards and answers (pdf) – laminate and cut apart, 1 set per 2-4 students
  • NEW: Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures Notes
  • E, C, M, ? (pdf) – laminated or glued onto construction paper, cut apart, 1 set per group
  • OLD: PPT Slides (ppt – read only access)
    • this ppt can be downloaded and saved to your computer, but not modified
    • click on ‘read only‘ to open the ppt after downloading
  • OLD: Notes (pdf)

Note: I modified this lesson to add a hands-on component with the addition of task cards that students can sort at their desks. I use this lesson as a group work activity to introduce Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures.


  1. Each group will have one set of task cards and one set of ECM? cards to hold up.
  2. Students will sort the items pictured into 4 columns: Elements, Compounds, Mixtures, and “?”. (The “?” category is a temporary place holder for students to discuss further within their group, all items should be sorted before answers are revealed)
  3. Once all the groups have had a chance to discuss and sort the items, we will go over the answers as a class.
  4. Using the ppt, show the first item (Rocks). Ask each group to choose one of the E,C, or M cards.
  5. Have them place the “?” in front of their answer. (this prevents the other groups from seeing their answer) A spokesperson for each group will stand up and hold the ECM? cards.
  6. Ask all the groups to reveal their answer at the same time. Compare answers & discuss.
  7. Reveal the answer and have students record the results in their notes.
  8. If needed, have students move the card to the correct category on their desk, too.
  9. For fun, I award a point to each group that has a correct answer, the kids enjoy a little friendly competition :).
  10. Continue with the next slide (Copper) and repeat.

For more lessons related to Chemistry, click on the Chemistry or Properties of Matter Tabs up above.

Using Lego Bricks: Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures Activity

Exploring Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures using Legos
Exploring Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures using Legos

I use this activity to help students visualize how atoms are used as the building blocks of matter and how matter can be classified as elements, compounds, or mixtures.


  • 12 Legos – 3 different colors and sizes with 4 of each kind
    • Lego Bricks must be the same size for each color (see photo above)
    • stored in sandwich sized zip-top bags
    • 1 set per 2 students
  • colored pencils
    • I placed 3 crayons in each bag along with the Lego pieces
  • handout (pdf)

Background Information

  • Each Lego Brick represents one atom
  • Each colored Lego Brick represents one atom for each element
    • example: 4 blues = one element, 4 oranges = second element, 4 greens represent a third element
  • When Lego Bricks are snapped together, that represents a chemical bond and one compound
  • Lego Bricks that are not snapped together are not chemically bonded to each other
  • For mixtures, you can have combinations of single bricks (elements), bonded bricks (compounds), or a mixture of both elements & compounds