Exploring the Five Senses

We learn everything about our world by perceiving information through our five senses. When teaching your class about the five senses, be sure to stimulate your students' very own senses for pure educational fun. Include activities that require them to use their noses, hands, eyes, mouths, and ears. Doing so helps students develop an appreciation for their five senses and helps them practice skills in observation and investigation, which are crucial science skills. The following ideas can easily be incorporated into your lessons on the senses. Be sure to pre-assess your students' prior knowledge to help you decide what the class already knows and what they are ready to learn.

The Basics for Youngsters

Can your students identify the body parts responsible for seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling? Have students label these parts on a picture or stuffed animal. Then play matching games to get your students thinking about each sense individually. You can also begin discussions about how the senses are used by reading books that focus on the topic. Read storybooks like Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? or The Listening Walk together as a class and then chart the sensory details used in the stories. The same can be done with videos and songs.

Following classroom practice, assign students to go on a scavenger hunt for sense stimulants at home. Provide students with a chart listing each sense and areas to record what they find in words or pictures. Finding things that are seen, heard, and touched should be easy for them to do. Hint that mealtime may be perfect for finding smells and tastes. Compare the results when you return to class. Discuss the similarities and differences recorded on students' charts. Once students have these basics down, they will be ready to build their vocabulary and continue with more advanced concepts.

Listen Up!

As teachers, we stress the importance of students being good listeners. We want them to notice the benefit of hearing details. Practice how to be good listeners in your lessons on the sense of hearing. Students can learn to concentrate their hearing by experimenting with sound boxes. Present the class with a group of boxes that each contains objects familiar to students. For example, one box could contain a handful of coins; another, erasers. Shake each one and have students guess its contents. If they are stumped, have a volunteer reach into the box to see if he or she can figure out what is inside by using the sense of touch.

Taste Tests

Start off teaching about the sense of taste with a silly pre-teaching activity. For a few moments, have students stick out their tongues at each other. Then ask students what they noticed about the others' tongues. Did they notice the tiny bumps covering the tongue? Explain that these are receptors called taste buds and that the location of a taste bud determines the kind of taste sensed. The receptors at the tongue's tip pick up sweet tastes. Taste buds along the sides sense sour and salty tastes; bitter tastes are noted by those at the back of the tongue. Next, pass out various foods with strong tastes like lemon and grapefruit wedges, salsa, chocolate, and potato chips for students to try. Have students identify the tastes and record their results on chart paper. Next, blindfold students and then have them identify other foods based on their scents and tastes. (Note: You'll want to make sure you have all students' allergy information when planning this exercise.)

Smells Like…

Present your class with 10 items that have a strong smell. Try to have a mix of things with familiar and unfamiliar scents. Flowers like lilacs, spices like cinnamon, and herbs like sage are great to include. Place each into a paper bag or glue each onto a piece of cardboard. Have students try to identify the source of each scent without seeing the item. For the scents that stump students, ask them to recall where they may have smelled something similar. In a garden? In a kitchen? Have students talk out what the item smells like. List the correct responses on the board. Next, mix two scents together to form a new scent and see if the students can identify what has been combined. Repeat this with the other items and tap into the kids' creativity by having them name each new scent.

Relying on the Eye

We depend a great deal upon our vision, but there is no guarantee that we will always be able to count on it. Use optical illusions to show students how our eyes can play tricks on us. Sites like illusions.org have a catalogue of illusions ready to use in your class. Illusions can teach students that our eyes notice colors, size, movement, patterns, and depth while the brain may process these factors to appear as if we are seeing something else.

Another topic to introduce to students when studying the sense of sight is vision disabilities. Colorblindness is one such disability to discuss. Try an online colorblindness test with your students to see if everyone can distinguish between different colors. Will everyone be able to tell red from green? With a blindfold, you can have students experiment with what it would be like without vision. Prompt blindfolded students to use their other senses to figure out what a mystery object is. Follow up these activities with a class discussion about what life activities may be restricted by vision disabilities.

Feeling with Hands and Feet

While you can use boxes for teaching about the sense of touch just like you did for teaching about hearing, you don't have to keep the objects a mystery. Instead, give students items with various textures. You can use feathers, sandpaper, slime, or silk scarves, for example. You will want to include something rough and something smooth, as well as something cold and something hot. As students feel each item with their hands, have them describe the sensations. Next, have students feel the same items with their feet. They will be tickled to see the difference in some of those objects!