administration student task rubric student work technical quality
Paper Chromatography
Administration Procedures
Contributed by: Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)


This item assesses the students' abilities to successfully perform a simple paper chromatography experiment, interpret the results, and infer how the technique might be used by professional scientists.

A good response will correctly identify the dyes used in yellow, green, and brown M&M candies and will explain, using an example, how and why the results of this type of analysis are useful. An excellent response will show precision in the recording of experimental data and will display an understanding of the process and/or its applications beyond what is required for this experiment.

This task is designed to take students approximately 40 to 50 minutes to complete.

Overall Task Content Area:

Physical Science

Specific Knowledge Areas:

Chemical reactions

Performance Expertations:

  • conducting investigations
  • using equipment
  • gathering, organizing, and representing data
  • formulating conclusions from investigational data
  • applying scientific principles to develop explanations and solve new problems

National Science Education Standards:

12 A SI 1: Ability to do scientific inquiry: Grades 9-12
1.4 Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence. Student inquiries should culminate in formulating an explanation or model. Models should be physical, conceptual, and mathematical. In the process of answering the questions, the students should engage in discussions and arguments that result in the revision of their explanations. These discussions should be based on scientific knowledge, the use of logic, and evidence from their investigation.

8 B PS 1: Properties and changes of properties in matter: Grades 5-8
1.1 A substance has characteristic properties, such as density, a boiling point, and solubility, all of which are independent of the amount of the sample. A mixture of substances often can be separated into the original substances using one or more of the characteristic properties.
1.2 Substances react chemically in characteristic ways with other substances to form new substances (compounds) with different characteristic properties. In chemical reactions, the total mass is conserved. Substances often are placed in categories or groups if they react in similar ways; metals is an example of such a group.

(Use the "hot" link on the PALS home page to check the full text of related National Science Education Standards, if desired.)

General Instructions to the Teacher:

This task is designed to take students approximately 40-50 minutes to complete.

Students will be working in groups of 2-3 for the experiment/activity part of this exercise. Each student must record the information in his or her own booklet (test papers). Allow from 20 to 25 minutes to complete the group work, and a similar time period for students to do their individual answers to the test questions.

Students should be ready to work as soon as the period begins. Group assignments should be made in advance. The materials should be set out at each lab station, if possible. A central supply area, if needed, should be easily accessible. All supplies should be clearly labeled.


At this station students should have:
plastic cups
pieces of filter paper
candy (one green, yellow, and brown piece)
tap water
paper towels
Pen or pencil

Advance Preparation:

A large package of M&M candies work well for this experiment. Each group will need one green, yellow, and brown piece of candy. You will need to divide these according to how many groups will participate in the event and place them in the central supply area.

Each group will also need 3 strips of filter paper and one cup.


  • Be careful.
  • Teachers and students should always exercise appropriate safety precautions and utilize appropriate laboratory safety procedures and equipment when working on science performance tasks.


©1997-2005 SRI International. All rights reserved. Terms of Use