Skip Navigation

Is It Natural or Transformed?

Author(s): Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, and Paula H. Cutler, BA.
Is It Natural or Transformed?

Objects can be classified as natural or designed/processed.
© Sandra van Der Steen.

  • Grades:
  • K-2
  • Length: 45 Minutes


Students examine, compare, discuss, and classify materials as either "natural" or "transformed" (changed or processed by humans).

This activity is from the Resources and the Environment Teacher's Guide. Although it is most appropriate for use with students in grades K–2, the lesson is easily adaptable for other grade levels.

Teacher Background

Resources are the materials people and other organisms obtain from the environment. Resources provide for the needs and wants of a population (group of the same kind of organism). All plants and animals depend on the resources in their environments to live, grow, and reproduce.

A variety of resources are used by people without much modification. Some resources that are used in their natural state include air for breathing (although it often is filtered in buildings), fresh fruits and vegetables for eating, and some spring water for drinking. People transform other resources to solve problems. Changed resources include cut timber and manufactured bricks for homes, cooked or prepared foods derived from raw goods, and water made drinkable by processing surface water. “Processed” means that something has been prepared or converted by a special treatment.

Objectives and Standards


  • Anything that an organism obtains from its environment is a “resource.”

  • Resources can be nonliving or living. Some nonliving resources,  come from objects or materials that once were living, such as trees and wood.

  • People and other animals use some resources just as they occur in nature. Other resources are transformed into something else before they are used.

  • Objects can be classified as natural or designed/processed.


  • Observing

  • Sorting and classifying

  • Comparing

  • Generalizing

Materials and Setup

Materials per Student Group

  • Large bag containing four different pairs of materials. Each of the four pairs should contain one natural item and its matching designed/changed companion. Place loose materials, such as sand, in smaller, sealed plastic bags.

Materials per Student

  • Hand lens

  • Student sheet


  1. Prepare 6 large bags, each containing four different pairs of materials for students to observe and sort.

  2. Make sure that each of the four pairs contains one natural item and its designed/processed companion. (For examples, see lesson PDF.)

  3. Arrange students in a circle for item 1. For the remainder of the activity, have students work in groups of four.

Procedure and Extensions

  1. Have students sit in a circle. Explain that the class will conduct a sorting activity and, that to demonstrate sorting, you will sort the students according to one attribute (e.g., shirt color, shoe type, etc.). Do not identify the attribute you plan to use. Have two or three of the students matching that attribute stand and move to one side of the circle. After a few minutes, ask the rest of the students having the same attribute to stand with the first group. Next, have the remaining students stand up and form a separate group. Ask the class to figure out how they have been sorted. Repeat the procedure using several different attributes.

  2. Arrange the students in groups of four. Pass out the bags of materials for sorting.

  3. First, encourage each group to sort the materials in any way they like. Have them use hand lenses to observe the materials as they sort.

  4. Next, tell students they will sort the materials into two groups: Materials that are natural (how they are found in nature) and materials that have been processed (products not occurring naturally, but transformed or combined with something else). Ask students about their groupings, making sure that they understand the difference.

  5. Let each student share one item and explain why she/he thinks it is natural or processed. Have the student describe where the item might be found, and if it has been changed from its original state.

  6. Have students match the two items belonging to each of the four pairs received by their group. Distribute the student sheets, and have each student draw and describe the pair of items.

  7. Have students match the two items belonging to each of the four pairs received by their group. Distribute the student sheets, and have each student draw and describe one pair of items.

  8. Distribute the worksheets. Have students draw a picture and write about the item.


Encourage students to bring items from home to add to the materials. Use these materials in a sorting center in the classroom.

Handouts and Downloads

Related Content

  • Resources and the Environment

    Resources and the Environment Teacher Guide

    Young students explore how living things—including humans—use resources found naturally in their environments or modify resources to meet their needs. (11 activities).

  • Tillena Lou's Big Adventure

    Tillena Lou’s Big Adventure Reading

    Tillena Lou becomes lost while while exploring away from her home, then she gets an unexpected ride into the world of people. What surprises await the tiny turtle?


Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Filling the Gaps: K-6 Science/Health Education
Grant Number: 5R25RR013454