A fun competition designed to investigate the physical properties of water


Created by Debbie Newcomb, RHA Educator.

Level: Grades 4-8

Lesson Duration: 50 minutes

Setting: Kitchen table or outdoors



  • Olympics music or other sports themed music (for fun!)
  • Different absorbent materials (paper towel, tissue, napkin, cloth)
  • Boat pattern
  • Small piece of cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Soap chips (shaved from a bar of soap)
  • Large aluminum trays
  • Stopwatch

 Background Information: Water molecules are attracted to other water molecules by a process known as cohesion. Water molecules are attracted to other materials (e.g., glass and soil) by adhesion. The surface of water is strong and can support the weight of paper clips and small insects that skate on top of the water such as water striders. The strength of the water surface is referred to as surface tension. Surface tension makes it possible for these items to be held up due to the strong bonds between the water molecules. Capillary action is the means by which water is drawn through tiny spaces in material and occurs when water molecules are attracted to the molecules of a paper towel, or yarn and to each other. The water appears to defy gravity and is able to move upwards, as it would through the soil.


The Activity:

  • Set up 5 event stations.
  • Work as individuals or form teams (For extra fun, come up with team names!)
  • Play the Olympic theme song as a prelude.
  • Each team completes the events in any order. (See the activity cards for individual event directions.)




  • Compare the results of the different events.
  • How does cohesion (water’s attraction to itself) and adhesion (water’s attraction to other materials) play a role in each activity?
  • For additional fun, create medals to hand out for each event!


Lesson adapted from H2Olympics – Project WET Curriculum and Activity Guide. The Watercourse and Council for Environmental Education (CEE).

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