Systems and Scale | Activity 5.4

Target Student Performance

Students explain how matter moves and changes and how energy changes when other organic fuels burn, including (a) wood burning in a fireplace, (b) propane burning in a gas grill, and (c) octane burning in an internal combustion engine.

Resources Provided

Recurring Resources


Print enough copies of the three of 5.4 Other Organic Materials Readings and 5.4 Explaining Combustion Worksheets for each student to have one reading and the corresponding worksheet. In this activity, your students may use the Three Questions Explanation 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. Prepare a computer and projector to display the PPT.


1. Use the instructional model to show students where they are in the course of the unit.

Students explore the role of combustion in their home or school and the sources of electricity in their state, and they design an infographic to inform their community of the useful role of combustion and its environmental impact.

Guiding Question

What role does natural gas combustion play in our community and what are its environmental impacts?

Combustion in our Community Activity

  • Activity 1: Gathering Information
  • Activity 2: Designing an Infographic


Have students select which fuel they would like to complete in step 4.

The checklist on the back of the Three Questions Handout can be used to scaffold students’ explanations in many ways.

  • 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 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.


Emphasize the similarities among the explanations of all organic materials burning. There are different fuel molecules, but the same kinds of atoms, bonds, reactions, and forms of energy. The same rules and patterns apply to all examples of burning organic materials.

Extending the Learning

Have students read the articles and/or watch the videos listed in the Digging Deeper section of the 5.4 Other Organic Materials Readings.

Have students construct a model that shows the combustion of other materials with the molecular models and use those models to write balanced chemical equations. Have students explain combustion of other organic materials that they choose. They can find structural formulas for many organic materials on the Internet.