Introducing Models to Elementary School Students

Author(s): Linda Akiyama and Ranyee Chiang

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5


Science Skills


Using models to teach concepts and assess understanding

Big ideas(s):

A model is a representation of something.

A model is like the thing it represents in some ways and is different from what it represents in other ways.

Vocabulary words:

model, represents

sensory words and comparison words relevant to the object and the model

What you need:

SEP resource center - Model of tongue or any other visible body part, toy car, realistic doll, science poster, a hand held mirror for each student.


whole class


regular classroom

Time needed:

20 minutes

Author Name(s): 
Linda Akiyama and Ranyee Chiang

Students learn what a model is by comparing a model of the tongue to their own tongue. They practice asking themselves, "How is this model like the thing it represents, and how is it different?"  This format of questioning can be used when using any model in science and can be used to check students' understanding and misconceptions.

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Students will identify some ways that the model and the object are alike and some ways that they are different.

Students will learn to ask, "How is this model like the thing it represents and how is it different?"

As students learn more about a topic in science, their comparisons of model and object will reflect their knowledge

Students will practice comparative language forms (i.e. smaller than, darker than)

Extension: Students will recognize pictures and photographs as models.

Getting ready: 

Get above material

Lesson Implementation / Outline


Who can tell me what this is? (Hold up model of tongue)

Students usually answer that it is a tongue.

Is it really a tongue? What evidence do you have to support your answer?


1. After introduction, hand out mirrors and ask students to look very closely at their tongues. Ask them to think of words that describe what their tongue looks like from the top, bottom and sides.

2. Introduce the idea of a model as a representation of something and the models have some things in common with the thing they represent, but not everything about the model is like the thing it represents. Stress that it's important to know what is alike and what is different.

3. Ask students to tell some ways that the model of the tongue is like their own tongue. List their ideas on chart paper. Do the same for the differences between the model and a tongue. Encourage likeness in function as well as structure. What can a tongue do that the model cannot do?

Checking for student understanding: 

4. Ask if students know of any other models. Show models such as toy cars, realistic dolls, poster of a science topic, photographs. Ask students why all these things can be considered models.

Wrap-up / Closure: 

5. Suggest to students that when they see a model of something, to ask, "How is this like the real object, and how is it different?" If they are not sure of the answer, then encourage them to ask someone or find out on their own by doing research.

Extensions and Reflections

Extensions and connections: 

I repeat this format whenever I use a model in science. I find it an excellent way to check a student's understanding and misconceptions about the topic being studied. It helps me to see if students are incorporating new concepts that we have learned into their general knowledge of a subject. It also helps students to realize what they don't know about a subject being studied. It's a good prompt for a quick science journal entry.


Models can be a source of misconceptions. This is particularly true when a model represents something that the student has never actually seen. As an example, I asked my class how a student walking a Styrofoam ball around a light bulb in the middle of our class was like the earth orbiting around the sun and how was it different. One student said that the line that the Earth goes on when it goes around the sun was missing in our model. He said in space all the planets have a line that they follow to go around the sun. I asked him if he meant a real line that a person could see, and he answered yes. When I asked him why he thought that, he said that he saw it in the solar system books.

The Science Investigation as a Model of the Natural World.doc27 KB