Top 5 Ways to Teach About Germs April 05 2010

What can be both good and bad, lives and travels everywhere but can't be seen?


The reality of germs that are invisible without the help of microscopes can be a tough sell for younger kids, who tend to be more concrete in their cognitive development. Germs, however, do exist and effect teachers and children in classrooms each year. Teach your kids not only about the existence of good and bad germs, but how to stop them from traveling and making us sick!

What Are Germs?

Germs are tiny organisms that are so small that we need to use microscopes to see them. There are four basic kinds of germs: viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa. There are good germs as well as bad germs. The good germs help our bodies function, and the bad germs attack our systems, making us sick.

Germs live everywhere, which is a valuable fact for students to process. Talk with your students about what germs are, then make a list with your students about where germs can be found - on food, countertops, floors, our hands, noses and wounds, doorknobs, and other surfaces. Explain that germs travel from place to place and person to person, and you can show them how using the activities below!

Germ Glow

For this activity, gather the following materials:

  • 1 small container of glow in the dark paint (make sure the label says “water soluble”)
  • 1 medium-sized bottle of lotion
  • 1 black light (or you can just turn out the lights in a small room, like a bathroom)

Mix the paint and lotion together until combined. Place a small amount in each child's hand,and have them rub their hands together. Use the blacklight or the darkness in the room to show how the glowing "germs" are on their hands.

Take your students to wash their hands as they usually do, coming back to see how many germs are still on their hands under the blacklight. Direct your students to wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, singing Twinkle, Twinkle or the Happy Birthday song through two times.

This time after they wash their hands, use the blacklight to see if there are less germs present than the last time. Discuss the value of washing our hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.

Germ Glitter

For this activity, you'll need the following materials:

  • Glitter (nutmeg will also work)
  • Lotion or petroleum jelly
  • paper towels

Put a small amount of lotion or petroleum jelly into each child's hand, explaining that they need to rub their hands together. Sprinkle glitter over each student's hands, directing them to rub their hands together a second time to distribute the glitter. Explain that the glitter is like germs all over our hands!

Go through a part of the day, enough time to disperse the glitter through regular activity but not enough time to drive you crazy - a half hour should do it. Then, calling on a couple of volunteers, have one volunteer try to get the glitter off using a dry paper towel. Have another student try to get the glitter off using cold water. Then have another student use soap and warm water, washing for 20 seconds.

Compare the glitter still present on the hands of the three volunteers. Ask students which way worked the best, and have them take a look around the room. Is there glitter anywhere else besides their hands? Explain that this is how germs spread. Then take a bathroom break, directing students to wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds (you'll probably want to have bleach wipes available for the kids to help you clean up the glitter now sticking to various items in your classroom).

Now that your kids have a concrete example of how germs spread, here are a few fun activities to help them get rid of the bad germs and stay healthy!

A Hand Washing Song

To be considered clean and germ-free, hands should be washed for a full twenty seconds, which is the equivalent of singing Happy Birthday through twice.

Instead of singing the traditional birthday song, try this one out, sung to the tune of Happy Birthday:

Washing hands can be fun
Make germs take a run
Use warm soap and water
In 20 seconds, you're done!

Work with your students to make a second verse for a full twenty seconds of hand washing, or the second verse can be written by small groups, partners, or individual hand-washers. Another option is to use the tunes of other well-known songs, like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (also known as the ABC song) or My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean. Your students can create, write and sing their hand-washing songs for the class, reinforcing the handwashing guidelines in a fun and memorable way!

Hand Washing How-To

This writing lesson plan helps reinforce how to write a clear expository paragraph. After taking your students through the rules for hand washing, direct them to write out how they would explain these steps to another person who didn't know the hand washing rules.

When they're finished with this rough draft, choose a brave soul to share their steps by reading their piece out loud to the class. While your student is reading, pantomime following the directions, asking questions along the way when steps are missing. For example, this student might have started right in with using soap, but what about turning on the water?

After a few more brave volunteers and questions, give students time to revise their steps to include important information that may have been left out. Reassure your class that their pieces of writing should look quite messy after the revision process, and that's okay. Go through a couple of volunteer readings again, asking more questions as needed and discussing with your class what should be included when writing directions.

When you and your students feel confident about these expository paragraphs, provide a copy of this Paragraph and Picture sheet for each student to write a final draft and provide an illustration.

To Share Or Not To Share

This is a great activity to review with your kids what items are great to share with one another...and what items are not great to share.

Before you begin, use cut sentence strips to make cards or pictures of common items, focusing on specific ones that are not for sharing. Some good examples are hats, hair brushes, tooth brushes, drinking straws/cups, and chewed gum. Then make a variety of cards that feature items good for sharing - these might include pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, books, etc.

Use a pocket chart for this activity, and place a sign that says "To Share" on the left side of the top pocket, and a sign that says "Not To Share" on the right. During the lesson, have your students decide which card or picture belongs in each column underneath these signs,. Another way to complete this chart would be to pass out the cards to the students and have them place each one in the correct column, discussing the choices along the way.

Even though these helpful skills like hand washing have been introduced, keep reminding students throughout the school year about the importance of getting rid of those bad germs, especially upon returning from the bathroom. These skills will help keep you and your students healthy all year long!