Balloon Lungs

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Biology In Elementary Schools is a Saint Michael's College student project from a course that ran between 2007 and 2010 and fully described in this book chapter. The student-created resources have been preserved here for posterity. Link under 'toolbox' for printer-friendly versions of the exercises. Click on handouts to print full resolution versions. Please see Wikieducator's disclaimer, our safety statement, and the Creative Commons licensing in English and in legalese.

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Visit lungs for more in depth information

Student worthiness

This experiment has been tried and is trusted.

Primary biological content area covered

  • Students will understand how their lungs work
  • They will understand what lung capacity is and be able to measure their own
  • They will test for a relationship between their lung capacity and their height


  • Balloons (one per student, but you will want extras)
  • Balloon pump (to stretch balloons)
  • Empty 2-liter soda bottle
  • Clay or play-dough
  • Straws
  • Balloon dome (if available)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Rubber band
  • String
  • Measuring tape
  • Poster board (and something to write with)
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Sharpie or other permanent marker (for students to draw on their balloons while waiting)
  • Plastic gloves
  • Poster board
  • Dot stickers


Click to see the full-size handout

Description of activity

This activitiy will help students to gain a better understanding of their lungs and how they work. They will learn about lung capacity and be able to measure their own lung capacity. Before beginning the experiment, the students will see how the lung works by using a soda bottle as well as a demonstration of the diaphragm. Students will then create a hypothesis about lung capactiy and height. After that they will begin the balloon experiment to measure their own lung capacity. They will measure the circumference of the balloon they have blown up with the measuring tape. As a class they will compare their lung capacities with their heights.

Lesson plan

<kaltura-widget kalturaid='315470' size='L' align='R'/> Teacher Preparation:

  • Stretch out each of the balloons with the balloon pump.
  • Create a blank class graph with height on the "y" axis and circumference of students' balloon on the "x" axis.

The teacher can prepare this as a demo or if time allows complete with students

  • Prepare the 2 liter soda bottle by filling it halfway with water.
  • Add food coloring to the soda bottle.
  • Put the straw halfway through the top opening of the 2 liter soda bottle.
  • Surround the straw with clay or play-doh. Make sure there are no spaces left in the top for air to escape.
  • Stretch out a balloon and attach it to the straw. Wrap a rubber band around the balloon to secure it.

For the original experiment, teachers had an already created balloon dome to represent a diaphragm. If teachers can find materials, they can create this dome as well:

  • Place two balloons on the two tubes attached to cork and wrap with rubber bands to hold balloons in place.
  • Place piece of clay on plastic wrap and tie rubber band around clay.
  • Turn dome upside down, place plastic wrap on the bottom (now facing up) with piece of clay in middle.
  • Place metal coil around dome and tuck plastic wrap between the dome and the coil.
  • Screw in coil tight.


  • Explain to the students that we will be learning about the way that their lungs work.
  • Show the students the prepared soda bottle and allow each student to squeeze the bottle.
  • Explain how this represents the inhaling and exhaling of a person's lungs. The soda bottle is their lung and the straw is their windpipe. The lungs are blowing up the balloon attached to the windpipe. (see video)
  • Show the students the balloon dome. The students can pull on the clear plastic wrap to put air in the balloons. When they release the plastic wrap the air leaves the balloons. Explain to the students that the plastic wrap is acting as a diaphragm to their lungs. (see video)
  • Show students a diagram of their lungs to show where the diaphragm is located so they can gain a better understanding. A diagram of the lung can be found by clicking here
  • After each person has taken a turn, tell the students that we will be measuring their own lung capacity and testing to see if there is a correlation between their lung capacity and their height.
  • Allow each student to make a hypothesis and write it down on their handout.
  • Hand out a balloon to each student and allow them to blow it up.
  • Help students to tie the balloon so they don't lose air (make sure to wear plastic gloves while tying balloons).
  • Give each student a piece of string and let them measure the circumference of their balloon by wrapping the string around the widest part of the balloon.
  • Have students use a marker to mark the string where the one end of the string hit the string once wrapped around balloon.
  • Allow each student to measure their piece of string using the measuring tape. Have them record the measurement on their worksheet.
  • Measure each student's height using the measuring tape and have them record it on their worksheet.
  • Have each student place their dot sticker (marked with their initials) on the class graph where their height and lung capacity meet.
  • Compare results and see if there is a link between height and lung capacity by looking at the class graph. Allow each student to make a conclusion.

Potential pitfalls

  • It can be challenging to work with students and balloons. It is important to make sure to help each student with tying their balloon if they need help, but make sure to wear gloves while doing so. Also, make sure each student knows that they will need to be patient while waiting for the teacher to help them.
  • Some students may struggle to blow up their balloon. If a student can not blow up their balloon, have a second student help them. Have the student who is having difficulties begin to blow out a breath while another student or teacher begins to blow into a balloon. When the student blowing air stops, have the student who was blowing up their balloon stop.
  • While waiting for their turn to use the tape measurer, many of the students may become anxious. Have students create faces on their balloons with permanent markers while waiting, but make sure they do not get any marker on themselves.
  • Students may be more interested in playing their balloons rather than measuring them. Feel free to take away balloons from those students who cannot concentrate on the experiment.

Math connections

<kaltura-widget kalturaid='315472' size='L' align='R'/> Students will be creating a graph comparing height to lung capacity with height on the "x" axis and lung capacity on the "y" access. After all results are tabulated, the class will compare their personal results with the results of their classmates and analyze the shape of the graph and what that means about the data. Also, students will be measuring the circumference of their balloon with the string and then with the measuring tape.

Literature connections

  • Cole, Joanna & Degen, Bruce. The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body. Scholastic Press, 1990.
  • Curry, Don. How Do Your Lungs Work (Rookie Read-About Health)

Children's Press, 2004.

Connections to educational standards

  • 7.14

Students demonstrate understanding of the human body — heredity, body systems, and individual development — and understand the impact of the environment on the human body.

  • 7.9

Students use statistics and probability concepts. This is evident when students: a.Collect, order, display, and analyze data in order to answer a question or test a hypothesis

Next steps

In this experiment we tested to find a correlation between height and lung capacity. If we were given more time we could have tested to find a correlation between lung capacity and other variables. For example, the students could test their lung capacity in a cold environment and then in a warmer environment. This way they could test for a correlation between lung capacity and the air temperature.


Overall, I believe that this experiment went very well when we tested it with the students. The sheep lung, balloon lung dome, and the bottle lung worked very well to gain the student's attention. They enjoyed seeing how these demos worked and were interested to learn how these demonstrations related to their lungs. When it was time to test the student's lung capacity they were all very excited because they were given the chance to blow up their own balloon. They enjoyed testing to see how big they could make the balloon in one breath. It definitely helped that we had stretched out the balloons before giving them to the students. The students each made a hypothesis before we started the experiment. I believe that making the graph to show the results of the class helped the student's to visualize the correlation between their height and their lung capacity. The student's were also interested to see where they showed up on the graph compared to their classmates.

While performing the experiment, our group came across one difficulty we did not forsee. One student was unable to blow up a balloon. This was not due to their lung capacity, but to their lack of knowledge of how to blow a balloon, which can be difficult for kids to learn at this age. To overcome this obstacle quickly, I had the student begin on my mark to exhale while I blew into the balloon; once the student had finished their one breath, they told me to stop blowing. Although this was a very inaccurate measurement of the student's lung capacity, without a balloon, the student seemed defeated. It is thus important to stretch the balloons a lot before giving them to the students and make sure every student can blow into a balloon. One other issue we did not forsee was that many of the students asked us teachers to tie their balloons. This was unsanitary, for the student had left their saliva on the balloon. It may then be a good idea for the teachers to wear gloves while tying the balloons to prevent the spread of germs to the students and to the teachers as well. Also, while waiting for their turn to use the measuring tape, many students began to color on their balloons. However, all that was available to them was magic marker, which quickly came off their balloons and onto their clothes and desks. It would be beneficial to give students permanent markers in order to keep them occupied while waiting, but make sure they do not get the marker on their clothes.

It is also a good idea to make sure the students know beforehand that the balloons are not to be played with while the teacher is talking. We ran into several problems with this. The teacher should have the students place their balloons somewhere else less distracting while they are trying to talk or give instructions. The teacher should also decide beforehand whether or not they want the students to keep the balloons.

Citations and links