Water Illusions: Refraction & Magnification

Source Institutions

Add to list Go to activity
Activity link broken? See if it's at the internet archive
Learners demonstrate how water can distort, refract and magnify light. In an investigation called Underwater Differences, learners do activities including the Broken Pencil, examining how a pencil half-in and half-out of water has its appearance affected by the water, and Stick it to the Bottom, examining how a sticker on a table appears different when seen through a jar of water. In an investigation called Bigger Through Water, learners make a water magnifying loop and use it as a lens to read the newspaper or a magazine. The student journal offers an additional Science @ Home activity about scattering the light from a flashlight.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 2 small (125 mL) and 2 large (600-1000 mL) clear glass jars
  • Gallon of water
  • Pencil
  • Sticker about 1-inch in length and width
  • 10-inch #22 gauge bare wire
  • Nails of different sizes (5mm, 7mm, 9mm)
  • Magazine or newspaper clipping
  • student journals and writing tools


  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
    • Light and Optics
      • Electromagnetic Spectrum
      • Reflection and Refraction
      • Sunlight and Color
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Science After School Consumer's Guide


  • All rights reserved, State of New Jersey, 2006

Funding Source:

  • No Child Left Behind Act of 2001