Activity 4.5 - Explaining Ethanol Burning (40 min)

Target Student Performance

Students explain how matter moves and changes and how energy changes when ethanol burns (connecting macroscopic observations with atomic-molecular models and using the principles of conservation of matter and energy).

Resources You Provide

Resources Provided

Recurring Resources


Print one copy of the 4.5 Explanations Tool for Ethanol Burning for each student. Return students’ completed versions of the 4.3 Evidence-Based Arguments Tool for Ethanol Burning for review. In this activity, your students will need to use the Three Questions Explanations Checklist on the back of the Three Questions Handout. Be sure to have this available to students, and see the notes in the Modifications at the end of the Activity for ideas about how to use it. Decide if you will use the Big Idea Probe: Fill 'Er Up, Example Systems and Scale Explanations Handout, 4.5 What Happens When Ethanol Burns? Reading. Print copies of the ones you decide to use.


1. Use the instructional model to show students where they are in the course of the unit.
Show slide 2 of the 4.5 Explaining Ethanol Burning PPT.


If time allows, have students revisit their initial predictions and planning tools from Activity 4.1. Comparing their early predictions to their final explanations may show a greater change in their thinking over time.

The Three Questions Explanation Checklist on the back of the Three Questions Handout

  • Students refer to the checklist as they are constructing their explanations.
  • Students use the checklist as they are sharing and revising their explanations with a partner.
  • Students use the checklist to critique and revise their final explanations.
  • Students use the checklist to critique the example explanations for each unit.
  • Students use the checklist to create and/or evaluate a whole-class consensus explanation.

We recommend using this checklist with a gradual release. As students improve in their ability to write their own explanations, they may rely on the checklist less.


  • Make sure students understand that the chemical energy in ethanol (not ethanol itself) is converted to heat and light energy.
  • Make sure that students discuss and understand all three columns of the Three Questions 11x17 Poster or Three Questions Handout. They play a central role in all Carbon TIME units.
Extending the Learning

If students still have unanswered questions about flames, show the Alda Kavlie Learning Center 'What is a Flame?' video challenge winner ( ).