Beacon Lesson Plan Library

What's the Matter with that Cup?

Kelly Neal
Hillsborough County Schools


Which restaurant gives you more bang for your buck? Students measure volume, circumference, and height of fast food cups, find which one has the greatest volume, and compare/contrast those measurements to discover any correlations between them.


The student uses customary and metric units to compare length, weight, and capacity or volume.

The student uses a variety of measurements to compare and contrast the physical properties of matter.


-A refreshing soda to drink
-Ruler (1 per group)
-Measuring tape (1 per group)
-Graduated Cylinder (1 per group)
-Various “large” cups from fast food restaurants (enough for 1 per group)
-Beaker (demonstration-one only)
-Liquid measuring cup (demonstration-one only)
-Measuring spoon (demonstration-one only)


1. You will need to try the experiment ahead of time, measuring the height, circumference, and volume of each cup you select. Create an answer key after you've completed your measurements so the cups you've chosen to use will have accurate information available to compare against the students' measurements.
2. Copy the measurement chart, rubric, and discussion page for each student.
3. Make an overhead of the measurement chart, rubric, and discussion page.
4. Gather measuring materials for each group and for demonstration.
*ruler, measuring tape, and graduated cylinder (one for each group)
*beaker, measuring cup, measuring spoon (one for demo)
5. Gather sample “large” cups from various fast food chains. If you follow this lesson, you will need eight.
6. Make name tags for each child: Volumizer, Sir Cumference, and The Ruler. Create enough of each to be sure your students each have one of the three jobs.


NOTE: Students should have certain prior knowledge before participating in this lesson. They need to understand circumference, milliliters, and centimeters. This lesson will only address metric units to compare length and volume.


1. Walk to the front of the room, dramatically drinking a tall, refreshing soda from your favorite fast food chain. If possible, drink the last few drops so that you make a large slurping noise.

2. Ask the children to name their favorite soft drink to order when eating out.

3. Ask the students which restaurant they think might offer the largest amount of soda in what they call a large cup?

4. Reveal empty cups from each of the following fast food restaurants (or any others that are available in your town): Burger King, McDonald’s, Sonic, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy’s, Church’s, Popeye’s, Chic-Fil-A.

5. Ask students to predict which cup they believe will hold the most liquid. List the names of each restaurant on the board and record, by vote, which cup the students predict will have the largest volume.

6. Discuss ways in which you might decide, accurately, which cup will hold the most. Accept all student proposals and suggestions for measuring.

7. Present the students with the various measurement tools: tape measure (in cm), ruler (with cm increments), graduated cylinder, measuring cup, measuring spoon, and a beaker.

8. Introducing the word volume:
Volume is defined as the amount of space taken up by a three-dimensional object. Volume often refers to liquid volume, which is defined as the amount of space taken up by a liquid, which spreads completely to fill its container.

9. For purposes of using the same measurement tool, have the students use the graduated cylinder. You may need to demonstrate how to accurately measure with the cylinder.

10. List on the board the three measurements the students will be responsible for: volume, circumference, and height. Explain to the students that they will be measuring these various other aspects of the cups to look for any relationships among the volume, circumference of the top of the cup and/or the height of the cup.

11. Demonstrate how to complete each of the three measurements by posting on the overhead a copy of the chart students will record their information on. The circumference of the rim of the cup should be measured by the measuring tape in cm and recorded. The height of the cup, however, will be more challenging. To accurately measure the height, stand the cup on a flat surface, and line up the cm side of a ruler alongside the cup so that the ruler and the cup are parallel.

12. After the students understand the measuring required, explain how the measuring will take place. You can assign responsibilities any way you choose (grouping children into threes). I would suggest giving each child one job as:
Volumizer (to measure volume)
Sir Cumference (to measure circumference)
The Ruler (to measure height)
The students could keep these jobs throughout the activity, or you could rotate jobs each time a cup is measured. Students will stay stationary, and the cups will rotate among groups. Students will need to take turns measuring the cups and recording information individually on their charts. (You could assign “The Ruler” in charge of passing along/collecting cups.)

13. Give each group a ruler, measuring tape, graduated cylinder, and a cup once directions are understood and let ‘em go!


1. Review information from the previous day and ask students to confirm which cup each group holds the most liquid (greatest volume).

2. Explain to the students that yesterday they had been doing what scientists call EXAMINING MATTER! After writing the word MATTER on the board, see if they can guess what MATTER is by listing on the board various objects (for example: dump truck, pencil, earring, dog bone, shoes, hot dogs, soda cups).

3. Take a few minutes to discuss with the students what these items have in common. Once you’ve exhausted all possibilities…share with them the definition of matter: Objects that take up space and have mass are called matter. If students need a brief explanation of MASS: Mass is the amount of matter an object has. We often use a triple-balance beam to measure mass. See the
extension section for more details on mass.

4. Explain to the students that today they will be comparing the data collected yesterday while examining MATTER. (the soda cups)

5. Lead the students in a discussion about relationships among cups. (Is there any data that the cups share? Do any cups share any measurements? Do the tallest cups have the largest volume? Does the circumference of the lid have anything to do with volume?)

6. Show the students the discussion page (provided) and discuss how students should complete the form with their original partners.

7. Also show the students the rubric, which describes levels of accomplishment necessary to demonstrate understanding of the tasks.

8. Allow students time to complete discussion page in their original groups, being sure to circulate among the students to provide assistance.

9. Discuss results as a class to determine whether or not circumference and height of cups relate directly to volume.


Students will complete a measurement chart for the teacher to formatively assess the students’ ability to use concrete objects to measure volume, circumference, and height.
The rubric included in the lesson provides criteria for successful performance in comparing and contrasting those measurements.


1. Students can continue their exploration of volume by measuring different sized cups from home that are deceiving in their size/volume to enhance estimating and measuring skills.
2. Measuring skills could also be enhanced by estimating and solving volume, perimeter, length problems with french fry containers.
3. Further instruction on mass could be conducted by bringing in any number of objects to hide in small brown paper bags. Students (in small groups or one by one in front of the room) could reach into the bag and describe the texture and size of the object (properties). I would surely include a bag with nothing in it. Although students might believe the bag is empty, air is considered matter because it has mass and takes up space. You can further demonstrate it by filling a ziplock bag with air, sealing it shut, and weighing it on a balance scale.

Web Links

Brainpop videos can be viewed three times a day for free. This video can be used in conjunction with teaching matter, volume, etc.

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