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AIR POLLUTION IN the Community

Activity 2 (Explore): What Happens When Things Burn?

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Activity Summary

In this multi-part activity, students begin to investigate combustion by observing a candle burn and looking at the soot it produces. They read about particulate matter and experience a variety of different demonstrations to understand the difference between PM 10 and PM 2.5.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 2 class periods (90-120 minutes)



  • Students will know that particulate matter (PM) is produced by combustion of fuels.

  • Students will have an intuitive and a cognitive understanding of what PM 10 and PM 2.5 are.



  • Candle & lighter/ matches (you may want 2 candles, a bigger one for the first demonstration and a smaller one for the oxygen demonstration)

  • Glass jar &/or metal can with label removed

    • Word wall words (soot, combustion, incomplete combustion, particulate matter (PM), particle)

  • Flour & flashlight

  • Orange (or match)

  • Glass jar, aluminum foil, ice, paper, match (optional)



  • Notes sheet: What happens when things burn?

Standards Connection




1. Frame the Activity


2. Candle Burning Observations

3. Candle Burning Discussion


4. Constructing Explanations

5. Building Vocabulary

6. Oxygen and Combustion

7. Summarizing Combustion Reaction

8. What Burns?

9. Turn and Talk: What is a Particle?

10. PM 10 and PM 2.5

11. Demonstrating PM 10

12. Demonstrating PM 2.5

13. Demonstrating Smog (optional)

14. Visualizing Particulate Matter (optional)

15. Formative Assessment


For more information about On the Air 2020, contact:

Rebecca Davis, Education Manager

For more information about Clean Air Partners, check out our website at:

© 2020 by Clean Air Partners.