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Testing materials for floatation

Being able to stay afloat, especially after a while in the water, gets harder and tiring for people. Accidental immersion, where people didn't intent to be in the water, but ended up in the water is a major cause of preventable drowning fatalities. If bystanders had the presence of mind to throw a person an improvised floatation device, then this could help save a life by keeping the person's head above water, until help arrives. This activity helps students learn about traditional floatation materials and about modern day items including regular household items.

This is a learning lesson for kaiako and teachers helping tamariki learn to identify and use regular household items which can help people float in water.


Learning Intention

Students learn:

  • about traditional floatation materials and what they were used for
  • to predict, test and evaluate the use of everyday objects and materials as floatation aids.


Success Criteria

Students are able to:

  • name traditional materials used as floatation devices or used to make waka 
  • work within a group to predict, test and evaluate the suitability of regular items as floatation aids.
  • write a statement saying which items they'd grab if they were at the river, lake or beach to help someone float.


Basins of water to perform floating experiments

A selection of everyday items including buckets, plastic bottles, balls, chillie bin, clothing, jandals,balloons, bags, plastic chair, different types of wood.

A selection plants and branches

Lesson sequence

Students brainstorm and the teacher records all the different floatation aids that they know can support a person in the water (so they don’t sink). Both traditional and modern day equipment can be included in the brainstorm.

Ask, What materials are these floatation aids made from?

Examples may include plastic, light weight wood such as cork or balsa, air (in inflatable devices), different fabrics, rubber, closed-cell plastic foams (PVC), kapok (a vegetable fibre grown in tropical countries with a fine wax-like coating on its fibres which assists the fibre in providing buoyant properties).

Teacher places students into groups of four (or models with whole class). Each group has a bucket of water and is provided with samples of different materials and items to test for their ability to float for one minute or more (a piece of wood or wood samples with different densities, plastic, tin foil/aluminium, small plastic bottle, seaweed, denim fabric, other fabric samples such as polyester, wool, polar fleece and waterproof PVC). Students record their predictions, carry out the testing then record their results.

Students then make suggestions as to why some materials are better in the making of floatation aids than others.

As an extension of the above idea, research scientific reasons for why different materials float.

Possible Assessment

Work Sample – Students are able to make suggestions as to the best materials that should be used in the making of floatation aids based on their test results



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