Terrific Tastebuds

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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.

Terrific Tastebuds

Student worthiness

Brand new and untested

Primary biological content area covered

Students will get an understanding of the four taste regions of the tongue.


Student group materials:
- Q-Tips
- Lemon juice
- Sugar
- Tonic water
- Salt
- Paper cups
- Water
- Colored pencils
- Tongue diagram handout
- Pitchers to prepare salt water and sugar water solutions
- Unsalted crackers
- Three different colored stickers
- Ziplock bags
- Premade lemonade
- Plastic table cloth


Figure 1. Tongue Diagram handout.

-The students will receive a diagram of the tongue (See figure 1). The diagram will show the four taste regions of the tongue and will have a space for the students to record where they think the different taste regions are, based on the taste experiment. This tool will be used to share the students' discoveries with the rest of the class.

Description of activity

The students will be given an introduction to tastebuds, focusing on the different types of tastebuds, what they taste, and where they are located on the tongue. They will do this by sampling four different tastes (lemon - sour, sugar - sweet, salt - salty, and tonic water - bitter) and determining which can be tasted the best in what areas of the tongue. Given a diagram that maps out the main regions of the tongue, the students will indicate which area is designated for which taste by color-coding each one.

Lesson plan

1. The teacher will introduce the four different tastes types: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. The teacher will show the students where each region of the tongue is located without telling the students which taste is associated with the region.
2. Have the students write an hypothesis as to whether they will be able to map the regions of the tongue successfully.
3. The students will be given four cups, and each one will contain one of the following four liquids: salt water, sugar water, tonic water, and lemon juice. These four types of liquids represent the four different types of tastes a tongue can sense. The teacher will also pass out a tiny diagram of the tongue that will be filled in by the students
4. The students will be able to taste each flavor with a q-tip, placing it on the different regions that were pointed out on the big diagram.
5. As the students taste test the different liquids, they will record what parts of the tongue can taste each one the most.
6. The students will have four different colored stickers, each representing a different type of taste. There will be a large diagram of the tongue and each student will place their stickers in the region they believe the particular taste is strongest.

Potential pitfalls

Some of the students might not be able to taste some of the foods and will not be able to fill in the diagram directly because of this. Another issue we have to look out for is if a child is allergic to a certain food we are using. We selected simple ingredients to minimize this risk and also to avoid confounding the tastebuds with multiple flavors. Allergies must be addressed before the lesson starts so we know if a student should not taste certain things.

Literature connections

Sharmat, M., 1984, "Gregory, the Terrible Eater", Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.

After reading this creative tale, have the students take a look at their own eating habits. Ask them to keep a log of everything thy eat for one week, and then at the end take a look as a class and discuss the necessity of a healthy diet. Are they getting all the protein, fruit, veggies, and carbohydrates that their bodies need in order to run efficiently? If not, discuss possible changes. Bring in a tasty healthy snack, such as ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins) to demonstrate how healthy eating can even be fun.

Health connections

1. Bitter Melon may help in the treatment of diabetes and psoriasis. Bitter melon is a type of tropical and subtropical vine that is used mostly in Chinese cooking because of its extreme bitter taste.
2. The more salt you have in your body the harder your heart has to work to pump the blood. This is because salt retains water and your kidneys don't work as well as they would have without excessive sodium.
3. Always wash your hands before you eat!
4. Tonic water is bitter because it contains quinine, a drug once commonly used to treat malaria.

Connections to educational standards

S1-2:41 The human body is unique in its heredity, body systems and development, and can be affected by the environment.
Students demonstrate their understanding of Human Body Systems by…
•Identifying the senses needed to meet survival needs for a given scenario.

Next steps

1. After learning about the different taste regions, we can ask the students what tastes they like the best. After they have gone around and said their favorite tastes, we can talk about what foods and tastes are healthy for the body. This could lead into an activity with the food pyramid so the class can be more educated on nutrition and what they should be eating. In order to link it back to the tastebuds, students can taste test a bunch of healthy foods and decide what food group they are in and what type of taste they are.
2. We can also talk to the students about dental care as we are learning about the tongue and the mouth. We could talk about the different parts of the mouth and tell them about the bacteria that could be living there. We can have the students take a swab from the inside of their mouth and look at it under the microscope. After they have seen first hand what is living inside their mouths, we can tell them about how to take care of their teeth and gums.
3. Other lessons that could be connected to this tastebuds lesson:

Citations and links

http://www.lessonplanspage.com/ScienceTasteBudInvestigationUsingJellyBellies23.htm - Tastebud lesson plan using Jelly Belly jelly beans
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/anatomy/tongue/label/labeltongue.shtml - Diagram of the tongue's taste areas


  • Teaching this lesson went very smoothly. I much preferred having two students per group instead of 6-8 per group like we had for our previous teaching experience. It was easier to give individual attention and explanations to students this way, and to keep them under control. I thought that our explanations and instructions were very straightforward and easy for the students to understand. The only exception was that some of the students didn't understand that though the middle taste region was split up into two parts [left and right], they were still the same region and could only taste one type of taste. Another misconception was that the tip of the tongue was only one region but it could taste two types. That aside, though, it was only an experiment to see where the students thought they could taste teach type, and it wasn't intended to yield completely accurate answers.


  • This was a fun lesson because it allowed the students to learn more about their own bodies. I felt bad having them taste the tonic water and lemon juice, but it was fun for them even though they were complaining slightly. It was really helpful to work with such small groups when dealing with so many materials. If we were to do this lesson again with a larger group we would need to make tray full of each tasting type so that time wouldn't be wasted pouring. It was difficult to get some of the children to write the hypothesis, but with encouragement they participated, and ultimately got more out of the experience by putting more into it. They enjoyed the lemonade at the end a lot, and they also enjoyed putting their predictions on the larger model of the tongue with stickers. However, I think the first group felt they hadn't been adequately warned that the left and right side of the tongue were the same region, and we made that more clear for the latter groups.


  • I really enjoyed teaching this lesson and I got the feeling that the students really enjoyed it as well. It was very hands on and it allowed the students to be active throughout the entire time. I thought that the big poster of the tongue was a good visual to have because it gave the students the chance to look at the taste regions the whole time. I also enjoyed working in smaller groups because it gave us a chance to work with the students more exclusively. I definitely think that our lesson went smoother because of the fact that the groups of students were smaller. There was a lot going on in our experiment because we had a lot of food and also a lot of steps. It would have been hard to control a lot of students and get the steps of the lesson to run smoothly.

-Mary Beth