Teaching the acoustic properties of materials is a good way to teach physics concepts, extending them into the technological arena related to materials science. This article describes an innovative approach for teaching sound and acoustics in combination with sound insulating materials in secondary school (15-16-year-old students). Concerning the subject matter to be taught, a review of specialized literature on architectural acoustics and acoustic properties of materials is presented. A teaching/learning sequence on the acoustic properties of materials using a modelling and enquiry approach is introduced. A central experiment to test the capacity of sound attenuation of materials and to determine whether they behave as sound reflectors or sound absorbers is discussed in detail. © IOP Publishing Ltd.