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NSW Syllabuses

STEM Stage 1 - Activity 5

Characteristics of clothing

Description of activity

Students investigate the characteristics of a particular type of clothing and design and make that item of clothing for a doll/figurine /teddy bear.

This activity could take up to three lessons.

  • discussion and design
  • making
  • evaluation and modification.


Students know that clothing is made from material or fabric and different types of material or fabric have different properties. Students have been measuring lengths and have classified objects according to their properties or characteristics. These skills will enable them to design and make an item of clothing that can be used for a specific purpose.



ST1-4WS investigates questions and predictions by collecting and recording data, sharing and reflecting on their experiences and comparing what they and others know
ST1-5WT uses a structured design process, everyday tools, materials, equipment and techniques to produce solutions that respond to identified needs and wants
MA1-1WM describes mathematical situations and methods using everyday and some mathematical language, actions, materials, diagrams and symbols
MA1-2WM uses objects, diagrams and technology to explore mathematical problems

Knowledge and understanding

ST1-16P describes a range of manufactured products in the local environment and how their different purposes influence their design
MA1-9MG measures, records, compares and estimates lengths and distances using uniform informal units, metres and centimetres



  • A range of different articles of the same type of clothing, eg different jackets or different hats
  • Materials for informal or formal measurement, eg paddle-pop sticks, Lego blocks, rulers or tape measures

Work, health and safety

Check relevant Work, health and safety guidelines.

Evidence of work for assessment purposes

  • A labelled diagram of a piece of clothing, indicating materials and reasons for using those materials
  • A photo of the actual piece of clothing

STEM teaching and learning activities

  • Teacher and students provide a range of a particular piece of clothing, eg jackets. This exercise can be done with any type of clothing. For ease, jackets will be used in this example.

  • Display all the jackets in the same way, eg place them on the back of chairs with the front facing out from the back of the chair. You may wish to do the jackets up.
  • Students observe all the jackets and note their similarities and differences. These can be listed in a table.
  • Discuss the question 'What makes a jacket a jacket?' to formulate a list of the essential characteristics of a jacket.
  • Discuss the questions:
    • Do all jackets have the same function?
    • Which jackets have a specialised function?
    • What changes have been made to the basic jacket, to make it more suited to this specialised function?
    • Why do you think changes that have no effect on the function of the jacket have been made?
  • Students investigate the size of jackets by measuring the length of the sleeves. Determine the differences between the underarm sleeve measurement and the outside sleeve measurement. Explain the importance of this difference.
  • Students measure other parts of their jacket, eg the chest (from underarm to underarm), from shoulder to shoulder, outside sleeve length and length of jacket. Record these measurements.
  • Students measure the same measurements on their bodies and record these measurements in the same table.

  • Students discuss why their jacket's measurements are different from their body measurements.
  • Students use this information to design a jacket for a doll/figurine/teddy bear.
  • Record the design in the form of a sketch of the jacket with labels indicating the measurements of the jacket, the material chosen to make the jacket and any fastenings or design attributes.
  • The design notes explain why these attributes were chosen.
  • Students seek and receive constructive feedback. They may modify their design in the light of that feedback. Any changes to the original design should be noted on the original design plan and explained.
  • Students may make the jacket; display it with their design notes and a reflection of the process of design and modification.

Vocabulary list

Characteristic – a feature or quality that belongs to a person, place or thing that helps identify it
Function – the purpose or activity of a particular person or thing
Material – the matter from which something is made, eg fabric, metal, wood
Property – a quality or characteristic of something [not a possession or house]. Words used to identify properties: flexible, inflexible, elastic, protective, waterproof, shiny
Structure – something made of a number of parts that are put together in a particular way

Key inquiry questions

What makes a jacket a jacket?
This discussion is aimed to make students think about the essential characteristics of an object as well as the words we use to describe objects. For example:

  • What is the difference between a jacket and a coat?

Other questions to ask during this discussion might be:

  • Does the material from which the jacket is made affect whether it is a jacket or not?
  • Describe different ways a jacket can be fastened.
  • Does a jacket need to have long sleeves?

Why are there differences in measurements between the jacket and the body?
When dealing with clothes there always needs to be room for your body to move, so jackets can be approximately 10cm larger than the actual body measurement. The jacket is probably also designed to go over other clothes. This becomes important when designing a jacket for a doll etc. There needs to be room for the jacket to be put on and taken off. The differences in measurement are not such an issue if the clothing studied is the hat.

Why make a design plan?
While most students are reluctant to make a design plan, it is an essential skill in the process of design. A first design is unlikely to be perfect. Any changes to a sketch and notes should be shown. It is these modifications and the reasons for them that make the design plan a valuable document because the thought process can be seen. From a teacher's point of view it is the developing design plan that indicates the work done and the thought involved in the process. A sketch and labels on a product design that has not been annotated is thus of little use.

Additional information

The following words outline some common preconceived ideas that many students hold, which are scientifically inaccurate and may impede student understanding.

The word 'material' has a specific meaning in the context of clothing, to mean the fabric (or other substance) used in the clothing. More generally, 'material' means any substance which can be used in a product. For example, the materials used in windows can include: glass, wood, aluminium, paint, etc.

The word 'property' is often taken as someone's possession, house or land. In terms of Science, 'property' refers to a characteristic of a substance. For example, glass is hard, transparent and can break easily (brittle).

Support materials

Adjustments for the diversity of learners

Design an article of clothing for a specific purpose.


By completing this STEM activity your students have been guided through the design process and created an original design for a piece of clothing. Your emphasis on the process of design, evaluate and modify, develops deep thinking about a problem, an understanding that work can be improved and that we can all learn from our mistakes. These are essential skills used in further studies of Technology (Mandatory) Stage 4. Students have used characteristics to classify objects. This is a skill that will be revisited in Science Stage 4 and in Biology.