Erupt into Chemistry!

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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.

Student worthiness

Tried at least once and worked well!

Primary biological content area covered

  • This science experiment covers the concepts that involve chemical reactions. The following chemical reaction occurs... NaHCO3 + CH3COOH → Na+ + H2O + CO2 + CH3COO-
  • The eruption happens when an acid meets another substance called an alkali. During the chemical reaction, carbon dioxide is released creating fizz.
  • These concepts will be hard to teach second graders. However, as an educator you should stress that when the ingredients are combined, the volcano releases carbon dioxide, the same gas that we release every time we breathe. This carbon dioxide causes the fizz that flows over the volcano during the eruption.


Safety Equipment

  • Plastic Wrap (mold volcano on plastic wrap for easy clean up; wrap flask with plastic wrap so clay does not stick to glass flask)
    Figure1. Materials needed to create your own volcano
  • Plastic bin (add ingredients for your volcano's eruption inside a plastic bin for easy clean up)

Additional Materials for Each Group of Student

  • 250ml Erlenmeyer Flask
  • 60ml of water
  • 1tbs of baking soda
  • 60ml of vinegar
  • red food coloring
  • few drops of dish soap
  • 1 tbs
  • 1/4 cup


The following attachment includes quick directions for creating an erupting volcano and also questions students can answer while they are completing the experiment.

File:Volcano handout smc.pdf

Description of activity

This science experiments demonstrates a chemical reaction when water, lemon juice (or vinegar), dish detergent, and baking soda are combined. When these ingredients are combined, the solution creates a fizzy, volcanic overflow. The eruption happens quickly and is very exciting for kids to observe. This experiment can be executed with any age group; however, it would be most beneficial for the upper grades so they can better understand what is actually happening during the chemical reaction.

     Since the reaction and the eruption happens so quickly, it is important to take sometime describing what is going to happen when the ingredients are combined.  In addition, as a teacher you should describe why this chemical reaction happens when the ingredients are combined.  Further instruction can involve geography and discussing where volcanoes are located in the world.

Lesson plan

1. Introduce the students to the world of volcanoes. We will discuss where in the United States there are volcanoes and look at the map attached to the students’ handouts. We will explain how the students are going to be making their own volcano using lemon juice and baking soda, and a few other things.

2. We will discuss the chemical reaction that will take place when we add the baking soda to the lemon juice mixture and explain it in a way that the students will be able to understand it. When the baking soda and the lemon juice meet, a chemical reaction happens that causes it to fizz. The reaction creates a gas called Carbon Dioxide, which is the same gas that we release every time we breathe out. The gas expands and pushes its way to the top, and out of, the bottle taking some of the other stuff in the bottle with it. That is why everything comes spilling out the top and looks like a volcano that is erupting.

3. One of the adults will have spread enough plastic wrap on the table for the students to build their volcano on, then wrap the 250ml Erlenmeyer flask in plastic wrap as well and place it in the middle of the patch of plastic wrap. Using the clay, students will work together to wrap the flask, making it look more like a real volcano.

4. When the students are done adding the clay to the outside of the beaker, one of the adults will pick up the volcano, using the plastic wrap that it is sitting on, and carefully move it into the plastic tub.

5. One student will use the graduated cylinder to measure out 60ml of water from the sink and add it to the beaker inside the volcano using the wet funnel. One of the adults will add a few drops of food coloring to the volcano. A different student will add a few drops of liquid dish soap, and another student will use the "wet" funnel to add 60ml of lemon juice to the volcano.

6. When everyone is ready, an adult will hold the "dry" funnel while a student adds a tablespoon of baking soda to the volcano. As soon as all of the baking soda is out of the funnel, the adult needs to pull the funnel out of the way as quickly as possible.

7. Ooh and Aah as the volcano erupts.

8. If there is time, one of the adults will read Voyage to the Volcano by Judith Stamper to the students while the other adults clean up and prepare for the next group. If there is not enough time for the book, we will clean up and prepare for the next group.

Potential pitfalls

The students were really excited about the experiment. It was however a bit too short for the allotted time frame. The other downfall of the experiment was that the students were too young to really understand the chemistry content which is really the most important part of the experiment. We came to the conclusion that this experiment would be more beneficial for an older age group.

Math connections

Students will need to use multiple measuring tools to measure out the different amounts of liquids to add to the volcano. Students will also be able to discuss the difference in volume before and after the chemical reaction takes place and talk about whether there was more in the beaker before or after the reaction.

Literature connections

If there is time at the end of the activity, we are planning to read Voyage to the Volcano by Judith Stamper. There are also numerous other books that could be read that engage students in the world of volcanoes.

Connections to educational standards


1.10 In written procedures, students relate a series of steps that a reader can follow. This is evident when students:

  • Organize the stops of procedures clearly and logically and...
  • Use words, phrases, and sentences to establish clear transitions between steps.

Notation and Representation:

1.17 Students interpret and communicate using mathematical, scientific, and technological notation and representation. This is evident when students:

  • Use physical models to confirm and communicate relationships and concepts and...
  • Explain a scientific, mathematical, or technological concept; explain a procedure they have followed.

Next steps

Further instruction on this experiment can be done with further discussion about the characteristics of volcanoes.  Students can write a report on one particular volcano and share it with the class.  Students can also create a visual representation (e.g. graph/chart) comparing how dangerous certain volcanoes are.


Lindsay Houston - The students were really excited about our activity! While the students were at the other station in the room they were looking over their shoulder to see what we were doing at ours. When they learned we were making a volcano, their faces lit up. Overall the experiment went really well. The only downfall was that the process was quite short. It was the first time our activity wouldn't have benefited from more time. After the volcano erupted and we discussed what had happened and why, we gave the students some clay to play with. This was actually a great idea because it softened the clay for the next group so they could easily form the clay around the bottle to form the volcano. The students had some former knowledge about volcano but they were all surprised to learn that we have volcano in the US. It was really helpful to put the Plastic Wrap on the beaker before putting the clay on top. It saved us a lot of time and the hassle of peeling the little clay pieces off the glass.

Heather French- This experiment was very exciting for the students to participate in.  Since the reaction happens so quickly, we had more time to explain to the students the scientific concepts we wanted them to grasp.  However, even though we had to time to explain what was happening scientifically, I still think these concepts were too difficult for them to understand in the second grade.  I felt that during this science experiment, we were able to teach science more because we were not rushing.  In addition, I was thankful that the students had enough time to answer the questions on their worksheet.  This was helpful because it took up some time, taught them more science, and they were also able to get some writing in and learn some new spelling words such as "volcano" and "erupt".  Even though these activities took up some of the time, the reaction happened so quickly that we still had time left over.  Therefore, we should have had more activities to keep the students occupied during this time, such as books to look at.  However, we accommodated well during our teaching time by having the students play with the clay which they loved!  Overall, I believe that this science experiment was successful and that the kids learned new science concepts.  I was unsure about how excited the kids would be about this experiment; however, to my surprise they were really excited to build their own volcano and when it erupted they were ecstatic!

Citations and links

  • Both of these cites are great recipes for making your own volcano.  However, both of them have slightly different ingredients.

Stamper, Judith Bauer., and John Speirs. Voyage to the Volcano. New York: Scholastic, 2003.

  • This book is a great literature connection to read following the experiment if time allows.