What will a magnet stick to?

By Laura Hospitál on Dec 30, 2015

This simple yet elegant activity is adapted  from the FOSS Magnetism and Electricity kit and book.  Please see review at http://www.perkinselearning.org/accessible-science/foss-magnetism-and-electricity-kit   In this activity, students discover what materials attract a magnet and which don't.


magnet - a substance which has a magnetic field and is able to attract iron and steel

magnetic pole - one of the ends of a magnet where the field of the magnet is most intense

magnetic field - the area around a magnet in which magnetism can affect other objects

attract - to draw by a physical force

repel - to act with a force that drives something away


Students should use braillewriters rather than braillenotes for this activity if possible.  It may be necessary to gather enough braillewriters for the class if many of your students use braillenotes. 



- Prepare a bag of common objects for each group. Whatever you have available should work.  Try to include several metal items that do not have any iron (like aluminum foil).

Possible items to include:

  • washers
  • popsicle sticks
  • rubber bands
  • screws
  • aluminum foil
  • chalk
  • index cards or braille paper
  • rocks
  • marbles
  • pencils


  • A magnet for each student
  • braillewriters 
  • braille paper
  • large print paper
  • 2 small tubs for each student group (I use the tubs from mushrooms.)


Warm Up:

Pass out a magnet to each student.  Begin by having students determine what their magnet can stick to without leaving their seats.

Discussion:  What did the magnets stick to?  Share ideas about what is similar about the items that stick to the magnet

Pick up the magnets before the following activity. 



Give each student or lab group a bag full of common objects. More independent groups of students may work alone while younger students and less independent students should work as groups of two.   

Question: Which items in the bag will stick to the magnet? 

Introduce the bags to the students as follows:  We will be looking at various objects in today's lab.  They might stick to a magnet or they might not.  You'll first be composing a hypothesis before testing the magnets.  Based on your experience in the past with magnets and the warm up activity, compose two lists of items.  This should be done using a braillewriter for braille students so that this list can be easily accessed while looking at your results later.  Students should separate the groups into the two tubs first and then make the lists. 

Hypothesis - 2 lists 

  1. Will stick to a magnet 
  2. Will NOT stick to a magnet


Once all of the students (or groups) have composed their lists, tell students that it is time to complete the experiment and give each student a magnet.


  1. Place all objects back in the bag.
  2. Remove the objects one at a time to test.  
  3. Separate the objects into the two tubs based on whether they are attracted to the magnet or not.
  4. Make a new list  based on your results with columns labeled as follows:  

a. Sticks to the magnet
b. Doesn't stick to the magnet


  • Students should compose a conclusion indicating which objects they were correct about in the hypothesis and which incorrect.
  • Instruct them to include any thoughts about items that acted in ways they didn't expect.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Did any of the items you tested surprise you?  (Students may mention the aluminum or brass objects that didn't stick to the magnet.)
  2. Is there anything you noticed on your results list that is the same about all of the things that stick?
  3. Are any metals in the "things that don't stick" column? (aluminum foil)
  4. What do you think is different about the metal items that stick to magnets compared with those that don't?  (They are all made out of the same kind of metal.)

Explain to the students that there is only one kind of metal that magnets stick to, namely iron.  Sometimes it is mixed with other metals to make steel, therefore steel also sticks to a magnet. Therefore, if a magnet sticks to an object, the object is iron or steel. 

NGSS Standards:

3rd Grade:

PS2.B: Types of Interactions

Electric and magnetic forces between a pair of objects do not require that the objects be in contact. The sizes of the forces in each situation depend on the properties of the objects and their distances apart and, for force between two magnets, on their orientation relative to each other. (3-PS2-3),(3-PS2-4)

Collage of magnets


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