Natural and Man-made Materials


Gearing lessons to enable my students to make the connection that all man made materials use natural resources at a fundamental level was a fun process. It is easy to make this connection with some objects/things. How about those where students don’t see the process in their everyday use (refer to factory below)?

But first, in India, when we hear the word ‘material’, what do we associate with it? Material is most commonly used to name the type of fabric/textile. So the first step in teaching this topic was to expand the definition of the word ‘material’ to include other kinds of matter. The next step in the sequence was learning that materials are resources which are used to create objects. This led us to explore the sources of the materials—we identified that some materials are found in nature. These natural materials come from plants and animals (in the living and non-living stages) and earth (rocks, ores). That is not all…we learnt that people manipulate and change some of these natural materials to create new materials and that we use objects made with these man-mad materials extensively in our daily lives.

The activities listed below highlight how the class learned to identify:

1) Natural and man-made materials

2) Natural and man-made objects (or things) in our environment and

3) The natural materials from which man-made objects were made

The activities were planned such that the students could observe, explore, record and analyze the information before they arrived at a conclusion.

Activity :

I presented the students with a collection of objects and together we labeled the objects. They explored the objects one by one and answered the question, “What are these objects made of?” I wrote the responses down and they were able to identify most of the materials. I introduced the names of all the materials as they were unfamiliar with a few. “Here we have objects made from fabric/cloth, metal, plastic, glass, wood, oil and mineral. Some objects are made with more than one material. Remember, the word material means different kinds of matter, not just cloth or fabric.”

natural or manmade

natural vs manmade materials

Sand, the CD, and the shell drew some surprised looks. Fortunately I had some glass blowing pictures ready along with a few broken CDs. We learned (thanks to Scientific American) that the live molluscs (clams, oysters, etc) secrete the calcium for the shells.

Next came the discussion on where these materials came from…or the source of these materials. I grouped the names of the objects and wrote those under two columns.

Together we identified what was common to the objects in each group—those in the first group were made from materials found in nature, i.e., from animals, plants and the earth. Objects in the second column were made of materials like plastic and nylon—materials made by people. We learned that people can change petroleum a natural material, in factories (the students had been exposed to the concept that such changes could happen in factories)! So we talked briefly about chemical processes and machines which help make this change happen.


In this group activity students looked through a collection of objects, sorted and placed them in different circles based on where the material came from (or how we got material).

where do the materials come from

Not surprisingly this was a challenging activity. It really had the students thinking about the texture, the feel and other unique characteristics (umbrella repelling water, polyester clothing as opposed to cotton clothes making us feel hot in our humid weather, woolen clothes for colder climates, durability of mud in jewellery…) of the objects presented. We left the paint brush with other objects from animals because the bristles were made of camel hair. The scarf was a cotton scarf and so it went with the book/corrugated paper and other objects we get from plants.

At the end we reiterated the following:

Natural Materials:
Raw materials found in nature.
Come from plants, animals and earth (rocks).
People can’t create natural materials.

Man-Made Materials:
People change natural materials in some way to make new materials.
People then use these new materials to make objects.

Activity :

Next we focused on the concept that people create objects from natural and man-made materials. In this activity students observed their surroundings and identified which objects were created by nature and which were created by (wo)man. I paired the students and gave directions: “We are going on an exploratory walk. We will see many objects (things) outside. Some are created by nature but others are man-made objects. I want you to look around and identify objects that are man-made and three that are natural. Remember, you are looking for objects, not the material. When we come back share your observations.”

natural and manmade objects

After listing the objects we analyzed how natural materials were used by people to produce different objects. Quite often more than one material was used to create objects. For example, students observed sand and cement being used along with bricks to build a wall; jasmine flowers being strung into garlands and vegetables being bought for the day’s cooking. Students identified the materials that the man-made objects were made from—the hand pump from iron, plastic to make the bottle and fabric to cover the car, metal, rubber, plastic and metal for the bikes…

Activity :

The idea for this sprung up when one of the students came to class with jasmine flowers on her hair. The fragrance from the flowers filled the room and I thought why not talk about natural and man-made fragrances…a sensory exploration 🙂 It turned into a more elaborate activity, thanks to the conscious choices people make in buying grooming and personal hygiene products. Our society still uses plenty of traditional products and most of the children were able to relate from their experiences. Thanks to the parents who helped with their input as well.

We began by discussing the fragrance from the jasmine flowers and asked our students to name their favorite fragrances…floral and otherwise. (See list below for their responses)

Perfume (scent)
Cream (lotion)
Sampangi (Frangipani)
Egg Curry
Fish Curry

The following day I brought in flowers, spices, fruits and leaves which gave out different fragrances. The students then played a guessing game—they smelled the items with their eyes closed and tried to identify the smell. Naturally we ended up discussing all those delicious smelling dishes and how people use different spices and herbs in their cooking.

Next the students explored products which used natural and artificial fragrances—moisturizing lotion, liquid soap, perfumes and cleaning supplies.

natual materials used in Indian homes

One of the parents mentioned hibiscus hair oil the next day…and brought back childhood memories of that smelly oil 🙂 This in turn led us to brainstorm a list of natural materials we continue to use in our homes. I honestly didn’t know you could use cream as a face moisturizer! Here is the complete list we came up with (I couldn’t get all the items for the picture).

“Sandalwood, turmeric, henna, split pea flour (kadalai maavu/besan), clove, neem, amla, yogurt/curd, milk cream, curry leaves, shikakai, hibiscus flower/leaves”

Activity :

writing activity

The students were asked to bring two objects from their homes and share the materials used to make the objects. They also had to identify whether it was a natural material or man mad material. I was pleased to see some really original items like clay lamps/agal, mother of pearl ring (inexpensive fortunately). After sharing their objects at group time, we did a quick writing activity with foldables. unfortunately the lighting wasn’t very good for the foldatble at the top.

Art activity:

We had a ton of empty CD covers which I wanted to use only I hadn’t yet decided on the art activity. A friend came visiting that weekend and brought a book on Kolam designs as a gift. As I was browsing I noticed there were quite a few designs which the kids might like and follow along.

The kids created their own artwork using different materials loosely based on the kolam designs. Here are a few works in progress.

rangoli with shells and buttons

The designs with the dots turned out to be perfect for counting and creating patterns.

bangle art work

(Does the glass bangle design look familiar?) If you were to use this I would caution you to sit next to that child. I had rubbed the edges with some clear glue before I put the pieces out.

rangoli with scrap paper

If you have old bindis this is a great activity-perfect for those dots! The gray/silver paper is actually an old shopping bag.

You can use any kind of scrap material for this activity-old earrings/necklaces, ribbons…the kids will enjoy this 🙂

Activity :

There is one other activity I haven’t tried out yet…I found it on the net a while ago. Ask your students to walk around the classroom for a few minutes and note all the objects there. When they return to their seats hand them two (or more) cards which read ‘natural’ and two cards which read ‘man-made’. Have them go around the room and tag objects made from natural materials with the ‘natural’ card, and objects made from man-made materials as ‘man-made’. Afterwards have them review the cards to see if the objects are tagged correctly.


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