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Our Lungs Our Air Our Health

Activity 2 (Explore): Breathing & Exercise

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Activity Overview

Activity Summary

In this activity, students investigate the connection between the respiratory system and circulatory system by doing a set of experiments involving measuring heartbeat and breathing.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 60 minutes



  • Students will make a connection between breathing and heart rate, especially as related to exercise

  • Students will recognize that shortness of breath can make it hard to exercise



  • Thin straws (diameter approx. ¼ inch) - cut in half

  • Timer (one per group or one for whole class)

  • Stethoscope (optional) and cleaning wipes/alcohol

  • Graph paper (optional)



  • Experimental procedure and data collection sheet

Standards Connection

DCI: LS 1.A: Structure & Function

SEP: Planning & Carrying Out Investigations

CCC: Cause & Effect



When have you gotten out of breath before?

  • Students may say things like: when they exercise, when they climb a lot of stairs, when they’re tired, etc.

  • This warmup is designed to help students begin to make a connection with the experience of having an asthma attack


1. Frame the Activity

Tell students that you are going to look back at some of the questions they created during our last activity. Use the KWL chart to bring up questions such as:

  • Why is it hard for Tatiana and Calvin to exercise?

  • Why do you get out of breath?

  • What happens to your body when you exercise?

Tell students that they are going to do an experiment today to try to answer some of these questions by measuring their heart rate and their breathing. These are two ways to see how our body reacts to something like exercise.

2. Introduce the Experiment

Hand out the experiment and data collection sheets and review steps 1-3 of the procedure with students. Students in pairs will be conducting four different tests using two different parameters: resting or exercising and breathing normally or breathing through a straw. One student in each pair will be the participant, and the other will be the data collector.

Breathing and Exercise experiment chart.

For each test, the data collector will count breaths during the test, and measure heart rate afterwards.

Safety First!: Breathing through a straw and exercising can be physically challenging for students. Students who have respiratory issues such as asthma should be the data collector for this experiment.

Stethoscope safety: Wipe down stethoscopes with alcohol wipes after using to maintain cleanliness.

Students should not have a problem counting their breaths, but they may need practice measuring heart rate. If you have stethoscopes to use, this will make it easier. If not, have partners wrap their whole hand lightly around their partners’ wrist. They should be able to feel a heartbeat. It may be helpful to do a practice round of data collection with students before starting the experiment.

3. Test 1 (resting, no straw)

For this test, Partner A will breathe normally. While they are breathing, both partners should count the number of breaths they take in 30 seconds. Partner B will use the timer to keep track of the time. As soon as 30 seconds is finished, record the number of breaths and start counting heartbeats for Partner A using a stethoscope or holding your partner’s wrist. 

Teacher Tip: If you only have one timer, use a class timer on the projector or use a watch, and have all groups start and stop at the same time for both the breathing and the 30 seconds afterwards.

Technology Integration: If student computers are available, have students record their data in a Google spreadsheet to more easily share later on.

Step 4

4. Test 2 (exercise, no straw)

This test is the same as Test 1, except this time Partner A will exercise using the method chosen by the class. Like the other tests, students will count breaths for 30 seconds during the test, and count heartbeats for 30 seconds after the test.

For this test, students will need to decide as a class what the “exercise” will be. It can be jumping jacks, jogging in place or any moderately strenuous exercise. Consider the capability of students in the class and any disabilities when choosing. Remind students that they will need to count breaths while doing the exercise so it shouldn’t be overly complicated. Review steps 4-5 with students, then monitor and support as necessary.

5. Pool Data and Review

Have the class pool their data for Tests 1 & 2 either by writing it on the board, or by using a spreadsheet that is projected. Calculate averages for breathing and heart beats for each test and have students record the class data on the "Summary of Class Data" page of their data sheet. Have students answer the first two questions at the bottom of the sheet (When was heart rate fastest? When did they take the most breaths?) and review together as a group. If possible (based on the data), help students make a connection back to the opening questions: ex. when you exercise, your body takes more breaths and your heart beats faster.

6. Test 3 (resting, with straw)

Hand out straws to Partner As. Ask students what they might be trying to understand by using the straws (ie, understanding what happens to your body when you don’t get as much air).

Review steps 6-7 with students: this test is the same as Test 1, except this time Partner A will breathe through a straw. Partner A should make sure to only breathe through the straw and not their nose. Like the last test, students will count breaths for 30 seconds during the test, and count heartbeats for 30 seconds after the test. While students are conducting the test, circulate and support as necessary. Be sure to remind students that they should only breathe through the straw (not their nose).

7. Test 4 (exercise, with straw)

This test is the same as Test 4, except this time Partner A will exercise.

Review steps 8-9 with students, then monitor and support as necessary while they conduct the test.

Safety First! This test may be strenuous for students, so tell them that they can slow down their exercise if necessary, and they can stop if they don't feel well. Student safety is the top priority. 

8. Pool Data & Review

Have the class pool their data for Tests 3 & 4 the same way they did with Tests 1 & 2. Calculate averages and have students write them on their data sheets. Then have them answer the rest of the questions below with their partners. Students will likely see that they have higher heart rates and take more breaths when they exercise vs. not exercising, and they have higher heart rates and take more breaths when breathing through a straw vs. not. The highest heart rates and breathing will likely be while exercising and breathing through a straw. After students have answered the questions, lead a short discussion to summarize the results.

Graphing (optional):  This experiment does not require a lot of complex data analysis that requires graphing, but it is a good opportunity for students to practice graphing their own data. If you would like, have students create bar graphs of their data (or the class data) from their 4 experiments to help with the analysis.

9. Class Discussion

Return to the questions you considered at the beginning of class (ex. Why do Tatiana and Calvin have a hard time exercising?) Lead students through a group discussion to strengthen their understanding of the answers to these questions. Some key takeaways are:

  • Your breathing rate goes up when you exercise because your body needs air (oxygen) to get energy from the food you eat. It uses this energy to do anything your body needs like heal yourself if you get hurt, grow, or think.

  • Your heart rate increases when you get less air. Students may make the connection here that your heart is helping to deliver air (oxygen) by pumping your blood which is carrying the oxygen. When you have less air, you need to deliver it faster.

10. Return to the KWL chart

Have students take out the KWL charts they created in Activity 1 and display the class KWL chart you made. Have students identify anything new they’ve learned that helps them to understand the phenomenon. For example: your heart rate and your breathing rate are connected. Add any new learning to your chart while they add it to theirs.

11. Formative Assessment

Hand out the Claim Evidence Reasoning (CER) summary sheet for students. Have them use the CER structure to write an answer to one of the questions using their data. You may want to choose which question they will answer (you can also choose another one). A possible CER response to the question: “Why is it hard for Tatiana and Calvin to exercise?” could be:


  • Claim: It is hard for Tatiana and Calvin to exercise because when you exercise your body needs more air and they can’t get enough air because they can’t breathe well (like the small straw).


  • Evidence: Our breathing rates were higher in Test 2 & 4 when we were exercising. It was hardest to exercise in Test 4 when we had to use the straw.


  • Reasoning: Your body needs air to exercise, and if you can’t get enough air because you have trouble breathing, then it makes it hard to exercise.

Modification: If the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) structure is new to students, this would be a good time to go over the structure and write this CER together as a class. You can also provide one or two of the pieces and have students write the other parts.

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