Waft is That?

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SWBAT identify different smells by sniffing unidentified substances in containers and determining what substances are creating that smell.

Big Idea

Young children do not often come equipped and ready to use their sense of smell in order to gain insight into topics. They only know whether they find a scent pleasant or not. This lesson encourages them to use their sense of smell to make observations.


10 minutes

I gather the kids on the floor and I read a book called, Walter the Farting Dog. As I read the book, I think aloud about what is in the story. I ask the kids basic comprehension questions as I read to get them thinking about their sense of smell.


It’s important to understand that most young children have never thought about their individual senses in a deliberate or specific manner before this lesson. Therefore, it is vital that you be clear and focused on the sense of smell specifically while delivering this lesson. The world bombards children with sounds, sights, tastes and smells all at once without distinct separation. Imagine walking into a pizza place like Peter Piper and imagine how it would be for a small child. This lesson helps the children learn to zone into the single sense of smell so they can learn to distinguish it from all others.


5 minutes

I get the kids thinking about their sense of smell and connecting to it by having them create a circle map as class of things that they can smell. This helps them concentrate and connect with that specific sense. I ask them to close their eyes and think of things that they like to smell. I record those things on to the circle map.


I then ask them to think of things they do not like to smell. This is the fun part because they can have a lot of fun with this. They will giggle and say things like “fart” and think it’s funny, but what they don’t realize is that it is scientifically correct and I point that out to them.  I say, “That might be funny to say, but is it true? Does anyone here like to smell farts?” They suddenly calm down and realize that even the obsurd in science can be considered. They add other obsurd things and then we move to more “normal” ideas again to finish off the map.


15 minutes

Here’s the part were the teacher can have some fun. I use dark plastic bottles (I used to use film bottles, now I use whatever is dark that I can find. Some pharmacies will donate small medicine bottles). You will need 8 bottles per table. I buy oils from a baking supply company and from the local health food or essential oils store. Here are the smells I use:

peanut butter






Preparation: First use a tool to make small holes in the top of the canisters.  Use cotton balls to put the oil on. Use two cotton balls per bottle/scent. Insert each smell in it’s own canister. Make sure the childproof lids are secure if using a medicine bottle. If not, super glue the lids onto the bottle. I ask you to do this because I have had a few kids in the past try open bottles and taste the cotton balls because smell and taste are naturally connected. Especially when we find the scent pleasant. Label the bottles with numbers 1 through 8. Make sure all the ones are the same scent, all the twos and so on. Cover the holes on each bottle with packing tape making sure you leave a folded tab for easy removal.


Place one of each scent bottles in a small basket or bag along with a t-chart paper for the kids to discuss and decide whether each scent is mild scent (tolerable or pleasant) or strong (untolerable/unpleasant) (you may want to use different descriptive words, but please do not use good or bad, like or do not like…those are too general and open for too much opinion).


Procedure: All tables have students numbered so the activity is well organized and all tables are doing the same thing at the same time with your guidance.  Student number one at each table takes out bottle number one and pulls off the tape tab. They smell it first and they place a mark on the side that they think describes the smell (mild or strong). I do not tell them what the smell is. I then have the twos smell it, then the threes, etc until each child at every table has had a chance to smell and record. I ask student one to put the tape back on the holes and set the bottle off to the side. I then ask student two at each table to find bottle two and take off the tape. They pass that one around the table and mark what they think as I guide them. We continue this way for all eight scents.


We then gather on the floor and I record the data for the class on a whole group t-chart.



5 minutes

I reveal to the kids what scent was in each bottle and we talk about the things that we decided were mild and strong (pleasant or unpleasant).  I ask the kids what they think makes things smell mild and strong and how they think our sense of smell works. I then show them a diagram of a nose and how the sense of smell works (very basic) and explain to them how it works. I have them repeat back with me in order:

first, I sniff the object. The waft of odor goes in my nose and reaches little things inside called receptors. There are about 10 million receptors in your nose!

Once the receptors get the smell, it sends the information to your brain and your brain tells you what it is. So if you smell an onion, the odor from the onion goes to the receptors. The receptors send the information from the smell to your brain. Your brain says, "Aha! I smell an onion!"


5 minutes

I have my table captains come and get a cut and paste job for each person that sits at their table. Once the captains are at their tables and have put a page at each seat, I dismiss one table at a time to go sit down.

In the science journals, the kids cut and paste into two different groups - things you would want to smell and things you would not want to smell. I walk around the room to make sure the kids are taking the job seriously and I ask them why they would or wouldn’t want to smell specific things.

I also have them glue a diagram of a nose in their science journal on the adjacent page. I do this so they will have a running record of what they have learned in science throughout their kindergarten year. By the end of the year, they are able to read the words on the diagrams and look over what they have learned on their own. It is also a great artifact for them to share with their family when they exit kindergarten.


5 minutes

The evaluation is done in the sorting portion of the extension and the sharing/writing that is done in the draft books. I look to make sure they are focused on the sense of smell and not confusing it with the sense of taste which happens from time to time, especially when it comes to favorite foods. Some will say, “I like chocolate ice cream because it tastes good.” I explain they can say that when we are talking about taste and tongue, but not for smell. They can still write about chocolate ice cream, but they need to explain how it smells, not tastes. This can be a real challenge for some young children. Providing a sentence stem is helpful here.


I like ­­_______________________ because is smells ________________________ .


5 minutes

I invite the kids to bring in one item that they like to smell from home to share with the class during our writing time the next day.  Or they can bring in a picture of something they like to smell, e.g. pizza, pie, cake, etc. We write about it in our writing draft books.