What is the best brand of paper towel?

Author(s): Yoko Nozawa, Jennifer Howard

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Elementary School (K-5), Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2


FOSS-Related, Physical Science


Strength and Absorbancy of paper

Big ideas(s):

Paper towels can hold more water than other types of paper without breaking.

Vocabulary words:

Weight, wet, dry, thick, thin, strong, weak, absorbant

What you need:

Different brands of paper towel (Bounty, school-issued paper towels, other types of paper towels)

Water and water dropper

Stackable weights (we used density blocks from SEP, standard weight cubes can be used)

Magnifying glass


This lesson begins and ends as a whole class discussion and then calls for 3 stations, so students will be divided into small groups for that portion of the lesson.


Regular classroom

Time needed:

About an hour for the entire investigation.

10 min for introduction,

10 min at each station (30 min total)

10 min+ clean-up and discussion

Author Name(s): 
Yoko Nozawa, Jennifer Howard

Compare different brands of paper towel for their strength and absorbancy through a series of short investigations.  This lesson can be used in conjuction with the FOSS Wood and Paper kit, or on its own.

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Students will be able to perform a short investigation stemming from their observations of different paper towels.

Students will be able to understand that different paper towels have different properties for various functions.

Content background for instructor: 

Paper towels are made from wood or recycled paper. They are sometimes bleached during the production process to make the color whiter. Paper is made from trees which make paper towels. Resin is often added to strengthen the product. Patterns of shapes such as circles or diamonds are often imprinted into the paper towels to help it hold moisture.

Getting ready: 

Set up the materials for the stations ahead of time.  Prepare to show the Bounty ad as part of the introduction.

Lesson Implementation / Outline


Show the class a paper towel ad (we showed an old Bounty ad from the 60s.)

Discuss the ad. What were the claims made? Is it true? How can we tell? What is, in your opinion, a great paper towel? Are there any experiments we can do to test this?


Have three stations set up for three separate investigations:

In the first station, have magnifying glasses set up in order to let the students make their own observations on the different brands of paper towels. Encourage discussion on their properties and how each could be used for a specific function (writing, wiping, holding etc...)

In the second station, test the absorbancy of different paper towels by adding a set amount of water on each square of paper towel. Observe what happens. Which paper holds the most water? How can you tell? What would you use to wipe a spill?

In the third station, have the students work in pairs (or have an adult help out). Hold out a sheet of paper towel and add a set amount of water at the center. Hold it up in the air in front of you and have someone else add a weight on the wet spot one at a time. Count out aloud how many blocks you can fit on the paper towel (we limited it to ten) without the paper towel breaking. Repeat with different brands of paper towel and write down your results. Which paper towel holds the most weight? Why do you think that is?

Checking for student understanding: 

Have an adult check in with students at each station, asking questions as described in the Activity section.  During the wrap-up discuss the findings with the students (see the Wrap-up/Closure section).

Wrap-up / Closure: 

Gather on the rug and discuss the findings. There are different ways of doing this; you could have each group present on a specific investigation, or have a vote on which paper towel they thought was best.

What is the best paper towel brand? How could you tell? Was the advertisement correct and accurate?

We found that Bounty indeed absorbed the most water (just like what the advertisement said). However, the school-issued paper towels were the strongest (but they held the least amount of water.)

Discuss which paper towel you would use if you needed to clean up a spill, or if you had to wrap an object.

Possible extensions: Extend the investigations by exploring what types of liquids or solutions the paper towel can absorb faster/more of.

NGSS Topics
Kindergarten through Grade 5: 
Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science: 
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
NGSS Performance Expectations
NGSS Performance Expectations: 
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: 
NGSS Topics Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science: 

Standards - Kindergarten

Physical Sciences: 
1. Properties of materials can be observed, measured, and predicted. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know objects can be described in terms of the materials they are made of (e.g., clay, cloth, paper) and their physical properties (e.g., color, size, shape, weight, texture, flexibility, attraction to magnets, floating, sinking).
Investigation and Experimentation: 
4. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
a. Observe common objects by using the five senses.
b. Describe the properties of common objects.
d. Compare and sort common objects by one physical attribute (e.g., color, shape, texture, size, weight).