Many students think that atoms do not move in a solid

Properties of Matter


Students might believe matter is continuous and static, assuming particles in solids don't move due to their tightly packed representation in diagrams, negating possibilities like vibration.

Resources to address this

  • A model of vibrating atoms in a solid  (11-16)

    A large, flexible model is suggested for illustrating particle arrangements in solids often more suitable than the rigid types commonly found in chemistry departments. This model demonstrates how solid particles are connected by spring-like forces, showing how vibration affects individual atoms while maintaining the overall pattern.

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  • Tsai (1999) activity 

    Using the activity proposed in this study was effective in challenging students' conceptions about the motion of particles in different phases and was significantly better for retaining knowledge: the performance of the control group regressed dramatically within four weeks and the experimental group did not.


  • Boz, Y., () Turkish Pupils' Conceptions of the Particulate Nature of Matter, Journal of Science Education, 15 (2) 203-213.

    Describing changes of state using the particle model can be difficult for students and, as a result, some of them avoid using it if they can. This means that the students retain several misconceptions that could be addressed if they had considered how atoms and molecules behave. This paper outlines how the students’ conceptions should be challenged using simulations and appropriate models.

    Paper digest

  • Tsai, C., () Overcoming Junior High School Students' Misconceptions about Microscopic Views of Phase Change: A Study of an Analogy Activity, Journal of Science Education and Technology, 8 (1) 83-91.

    Small interventions can have significant results in addressing student misconceptions about matter. In this study the use of roleplay and analogy allows students to overcome some inaccurate ideas and retain the knowledge over the long term. Similar activities could be used to help students understand particle behaviour in your lessons.

    Paper digest

  • Andersson, B., () Pupils' Conceptions of Matter and its Transformations (age 12-16), Studies in Science Education, 18, 53-85.

    This research shows that some of the misconceptions students have about matter are reinforced by the learning materials and approaches used in classrooms. Textbook illustrations can give false impressions about sizes, scales and movement and the limitations of models can give misleading ideas. This paper explains why teachers need to be aware of the misconceptions that can be produced and how to tackle some of them.

    Paper digest

  • Adadan, E., Irving, K. E. and Trundle, K. C., () Impacts of Multi-representational Instruction on High School Students' Conceptual Understandings of the Particulate Nature of Matter, International Journal of Science Education, 31 (13), 1743-1775.

    Teaching approaches continue to develop, and this paper compares two techniques to see if they can have an effect on reducing misconceptions about matter. The results show that both tested methods can successfully improve student understanding but the careful use of visual tools and appropriate simulations, selected after formative assessment, helps the most.

    Paper digest

  • Adbo, K. and Taber, K. S., () Learners' Mental Models of the Particle Nature of Matter: A study of 16-year-old Swedish science students, International Journal of Science Education, 31 (6)


    This research paper shows that students hold a wide range of misconceptions about matter and in particular they do not understand how particles behave during changes. The static representations of particles in textbooks do not help this situation. It is critical that students understand the particle model before they try to explain changes of state and chemical reactions.

    Paper digest

  • Özmen, H., Kenan, O., () Determination of the Turkish Primary Students' Views about the Particulate Nature of Matter, Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, 8 (1)

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