3. Transformation: Gas, Liquid, and Solid

(This is the Learning Episode 3 for Rose Honey’s teaching unit, Discovering Our Relationship with Water.)

Photograph: Honey, R., Mendenhall Lake, Alaska, 2013


  • Transformation means that something changes the way it looks (shape or color) or its state of mater (water from liquid into solid or gas).
  • Know that things in nature (like water) can sometimes change or transform, and that sometimes this transformation can help to keep nature in balance.
  • Recognize that transformation influenced the travels of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.


During the first winter of Lewis and Clark’s journey, (1804-1805) they decided to build cabins and stay near the Mandan-Hidatsa Native American villages. The Mandan-Hidatsa peoples talked to them about the landscape and rivers ahead of them and helped them to plan the next segment of their journey. It was a very cold winter and the water on the Missouri river was frozen over. One member of the Corps of Discovery wrote, “The wind blew hard from the north and it began to freeze (January 17, 1805).” Clark recorded that their boats were frozen solid in the ice and talked about how they had to “continue cutting the ice” from around the boats “in order to get them out of the river (January 22-23, 1805).” This took them many days. (Lewis, Clark, and Members of the Corps of Discovery, 2002). This learning episode is about the idea of transformation and how water can transform in various ways. Transformation is a part of many Native American stories and can help to demonstrate that nature is always changing and that change and adaptation is something that is necessary and helps to keep nature in balance. The activities in this episode help learners think about transformation from the perspective of shape change and changes in states of matter.


  • aquarium or different large clear container
  • sand and/or clay (enough for all students to build a landscape)
  • one foil roasting pan (or large clear rectangular pan if possible) for each student or pair of students.
  • rocks, sticks, cardboard shapes, etc. to create obstacles for water flow in the pans.
  • multiple balloons in three different colors
  • markers
  • butcher paper


Tell the students the story above about Lewis and Clarks boats becoming frozen in the river. Be sure to look on the Episode Map to see where Fort Mandan is located. Tell your students that the Mandan word for water is “mini” [mee-nee] and the Hidatsa word for water is “miri” [mee-ree] (Native Languages of the Americas (2013). Have them repeat these words back to you. Introduce the idea of different states of matter to your learners. Tell them that water can take on different forms. Discuss with them the boats that they created in the last learning episode, and ask them, “What would happen if the boats that you made were outside in a river or a lake, and the weather became very, very cold. What would happen to the water?” Prompt them to get your learners to talk about ice. Ask them if they can think about the other forms that water can transform into. If they need some help, ask the learners, “What happens if we take a pot of water and make it really, really hot? What do you notice when you boil a teakettle? What happens if you take a glass of water and make it really, really cold?”

Next, talk about how these actions can make water change and transform. Ask students what they think the word transformation means.

Demonstrate the idea of transformation with the following activity. Tell the students that this activity demonstrates how water can transform its shape. “One way that water transforms is by changing its shape. What do you think can make water change its shape?” Show the students a tall glass of water. Ask them to observe and describe the shape of the water. Emphasize that you want them to talk about the water, not the glass that the water is in. Next, pour the water into a bowl or a different shaped container. Ask the students to observe and describe the shape of the water now. How has the shape of the water transformed? Why did it change shape?

Play the game called Magic Water with your students. (This game was originally called Magic Rock and was suggested by Dr. Kathy Moxley-South from the University of Oregon). Explain that in this game, they are going to act like water that transforms into other things:

  • The children curl up into a small ball on the floor.
  • The teacher (or another student, once they learn the game) chants, “magic water, magic water, transform into a ______!” (This can be anything from nature like a spider, bird, snake, grasshopper, snowball, cloud, etc.)
  • The children transform into the object by acting it out.


Watch this video again (it is also in Learning Episode 1) called The Life of Water, Water Which Gives Life (Water Project H2Ooooh!, 2010). In this video, water droplets named Dew and Drip travel downstream to the ocean, evaporate, and then become raindrops. Discuss how Dew and Drip transformed into gas that floated up into the air to form clouds, and then transformed into raindrops and fall back to the earth.


Have the students look at this photo of water. See if they can pick out the 3 forms where water exists in this photo. If not, have a discussion about this with the group.


Photograph: Honey, R., Prince William Sound, Alaska, 2013

Discovery Journals

Ask the students to draw water in their discovery journals by first giving them some ideas of water that is in different matter states. Draw on a large piece of butcher paper or on the chalkboard things like an ice cube, glass of water, rain drop, clouds, natural body of water like a pond or a river, snow flake, etc. For children who have trouble drawing these things, you can have them practice their fine-motor skills by having a snowflake cutting activity, then pasting their snowflake into their discovery journal. Discuss the different ideas that the children had, and talk about how all of these things are water, but that they are in different shapes, and different states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas).

Books to Read

  • The Gift of the Bitterroot [Book 6] (Arlee, 2008).
  • Salmon Boy: A Legend of the Sechelt People [Book 7] (Joe, 2001).
  • The Story of Jumping Mouse [Book 8] (Steptoe, 1989).
  • Water Story [Book 9] (Real Bird, 1978).
  • Book List


0688e706cb13fd4bb7e9e1efa915964eInside Activity

 Transformation by Shape

Research Question

How does water change/transform its shape?


Listen to the word for water in the Yakama language, spoken by Shana Brown

  • Ask students about the places where they live. Was their home ever a lake or a river? Have the waterways changed where they live, and how? Have an Elder tell a story about how the waterways were shaped when they were children. You can also tell the students to ask their grandparents or other Elders about this.
  • Demonstrate the activity that they are going to do using the aquarium. Prior to class (or with the students if you have time), build a structure out of sand and/or clay on the bottom that simulates a river bottom or a lake bottom (you can also build structures like mountains and valleys). Fill it with water and then look at it from different perspectives. On the side, you can see underneath the water, on the top you can see the shape of the lake. Talk to the students about the different shapes that you see from these perspectives.
  • Give learners plastic containers or foil turkey roasting pans and modeling clay.
  • Demonstrate for the students how to use the clay to build models of mountains and valleys in the pan. You can also have them use small rocks or sticks to simulate large boulders, logs and trees.
  • Using a glass of water, pour the water over the landscapes the students created. Talk about the shape of the water in their containers. Take an aerial view photograph of one or two of them. Print the photos out. Outline the shape of the water with the students and compare differences and similarities. You can also prop the containers up and pour water down the container to simulate a river.
  • Talk with them about the different shapes the water makes because of the way their clay is modeled and relate it to different landscapes around them.

Emerging Learners

For children who are less cognitively developed or might need some help with their fine motor skills, you can have a few landscapes already made for them out of clay or sand, and ask them instead to place rocks and or obstacles in the landscape for the water to flow around.

Advanced Learners

Students who are more advanced learners can explore with making different types of riverbeds, or other bodies of water like lakes or oceans. They can also explore with sticks or pieces of cardboard to make dams or to divert the flow of the water. Discuss how changes in land or structures such as dams transform water. Rivers can become lakes; falls in rivers can change into flat water. Bring up the notion that humans can transform the shape of water when they build dams or move the earth around.

Helpful Hints

Between the ages of 2-5, children are developing spatial awareness related to their experiences with their bodies and their surroundings. Giving children experiences with space in different contexts will help them to develop a better understanding of the size of objects in relation to other objects, and spatial awareness in regards to position. Using language like “behind the tree, next to the rock, on top of the box, etc.” will help them to develop their spatial awareness further (Poole, Miller & Church, 2014).


fb65735a70bf1412e670c3edcde3911bOutside Activity

Gas, Liquid, Solid

Have your students listen to the following Solid, Liquid, Gas song by the band They Might Be Giants (They Might Be Giants, 2010). Talk about solid, liquid, and gas water, and tell the students that you are going to explore these three states of matter using balloons.

Next, do this activity that was influenced from an activity by Fit Kids Clubhouse (Fit Kids Clubhouse, 2012).

  • GAS
    • Hand out unfilled balloons to everyone.
    • Ask the students, “Is there anything inside of these balloons?” Discuss: “What can we fill these balloons with?” Air! Tell the students that air is made up of gasses and it is all around us but we don’t see it. If you put some air into the balloon, it captures it and this helps us to see it and feel it. Emphasize that air is a GAS. Help them blow up their balloons, tie them and tell them to experiment with the GAS balloons.
    • Blow up your own balloon and let each child take a turn pinching the bottom and letting it go. Tell them, “Let’s watch gas in action. What do you predict will happen?”
    • Next, talk about what kind of LIQUID they might fill their balloons with. Eventually (or rather quickly) they will come up with the idea of water.
    • Help them fill their balloons with water and emphasize that water is a LIQUID.
    • Again, let them play with these balloons. You may need to have multiple water balloons prepared, as they will likely break them easily.
    • Pre-freeze water balloons so that you can bring out SOLID balloons filled with ice.
    • Let them play with all three types of balloons. Let them feel them, jiggle them, hang them down by the end, and even throw them down onto the ground if they would like to.
    • Pay special attention to the play with the solid ice balloons. Be sure that students are closely supervised during this activity and have them slide the ice balloons instead of throwing them if necessary.

During all three parts of this activity, record statements that the children say, like: “The LIQUID is squishy in there,” “The LIQUID swings the best,” “The SOLID is heavier than the liquid,” “The GAS one floats,” or, “SOLID hits the ground hard.” Write their statements on butcher paper and put them on the walls of your classroom for discussion during circle time, or even the next day.

Helpful Hints

Write GAS, LIQUID, and SOLID in permanent marker on these balloons so that the students begin to recognize these words. Another way to help students to distinguish between the different states of matter is to make sure the GAS, LIQUID, and SOLID balloons are different colors.



Use the following questions as talking points to have discussions about the different states of matter that we experience with water. Use the children’s answers and knowledge to gauge what parts of the activities they understood or may need to repeat in the future.

  • During snack-time, ask the students if they are drinking a solid, a liquid, or a gas?
  • Discuss the air that you are breathing and ask them to tell you what state of matter that is… Am I breathing in a liquid? A solid? A gas? What about when we go swimming? What do we swim in? Is it a solid, a liquid, or a gas?
  • What would happen if I put this glass of juice into the freezer? What about if I put it in a pot on a hot stove? What would the liquid do?


Have your students watch the following video, and ask them to tell you where they see water as a solid, water as a liquid, and water as a gas in the video.



Arlee, J., Sandoval, A., Montana Legislature, Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, Salish Kootenai College (2008) The Gift of the Bitterroot. Arlee, Montana: Npustin Press.

Fit Kids Clubhouse (2012). Clubhouse Truth: Preschool Science Matters. Retrieved from: http://fitkidsclub.blogspot.com/2012/06/clubhouse-truth-preschool-science.html

Fuller, J. [JennJennBBY]. (2007, November 5). Celilo Falls [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT_nxvZ3UVw

Joe, D. (2001) Salmon Boy: A Legend of the Sechelt People. Gibsons, British Columbia: Nightwood.

Kunik1962 (2007, June 7). Lost Echo of Celilo Falls [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5Ku9HIyQNQ

Lewis, M., Clark, W., and Members of the Corps of Discovery. (2002). January 22-23, 1805. In G. Moulton (Ed.), The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved April 25, 2014, from the University of Nebraska Press / University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries-Electronic Text Center, The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition web site: http://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/read/?_xmlsrc=1805-01-22-23.xml&_xslsrc=LCstyles.xsl

Native Languages of the Americas (2013). Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Siouan Language Family. Retrieved from http://www.native-languages.org/dakota_words.htm)

Poole, C., Miller, S. A., and Church, E. (2014). Ages and Stages: All About Body Awareness. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ages-stages-all-about-body-awareness

Real Bird, H. (1978) Water Story. Retrieved from: http://apps.educationnorthwest.org/indianreading/2/book15.pdf. Crow Tribal Historical and Cultural Commission.

Steptoe, J. (1989). The Story of Jumping Mouse. New York, New York: HarperCollins.

They Might Be Giants [ParticleMen] (2010, March 12). Solid Liquid Gas Official Video [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btGu9FWSPtc

Venkov, D. (2009, May 24). See Through the Water [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXFYu7l_rNk

Water Project H2Ooooh! [UNESCOVenicOffice] (2010, August 18). The Life of Water. Water Which Gives Life [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAnDlYRycqs