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Sound and Smell

Many animals have an acute sense of smell or sound to locate members of their own pack, find food, recognize familiar terrain, or identify the presence of a nearby enemy.

In this matching activity, students will test their own senses of smell and sound to determine how sharp they really are!


  • Use their senses to explore features of other animals.


  • Per Class or Group:
    duct tape
    film canisters with lids or small plastic containers (enough for 1 per student)
    (note: spice jars with “sprinkle” lids and black tape hiding the contents work well)
    nail or screwdriver to poke a hole in the film canister lids
    cotton balls (for 1/2 the students in the class)

    Smell Makers:  peppermint essence, vanilla essence, etc. (the number of different smells should equate to 1/4 of the class; i.e. if there are 20 students in the class, you’ll need 5 different smells)

    Sound Makers:  raw rice, marbles, balls of aluminum foil, erasers, etc. (the number of different sounds should correspond to one-quarter of the students)

Key Questions

  • How easily were you able to match your smell/sound?
  • Many animals can’t necessarily identify a sound or smell, but simply learn to recognize some as familiar, either in a good or bad way. Can you identify what is in your container without looking at it? In this case, does it matter if you know what it is?

What To Do


  1. Prepare the “smell” containers by putting some cotton balls into each container. Drip a few drops of a “smell” into two of the containers. There should be two, and only two, of each smell.
  2. Before replacing the lids, use the nail or screwdriver to bore a hole in the top of them. Duct tape can be used instead of film canister lids.
  3. Repeat for the rest of the smells.
  4. Prepare the “sound” containers by putting, for example, a pinch of rice, a marble or an eraser in two of the containers and then replacing the lids. There should be two, and only two, of each sound.
  5. Each student will receive EITHER a smell container OR a sound container.


  1. Count the number of students to determine how many of the smell/sound container pairs you should pull out.
  2. Randomize the containers and give one to each student. If there are an odd number of students, join in!
  3. Each student will receive EITHER a smell container OR a sound container.
  4. Without speaking, students observe their containers with their nose and ears. DO NOT OPEN THEM. Either waft the smell or shake gently and listen.
  5. In silence, students walk around the class to find the student whose smell/sound matches theirs. If their smells/sounds don’t match, they continue their search.
  6. If they think they have found their match, they should go to the teacher together. The teacher will open the containers (without letting the students see the contents) to confirm or deny the match.

​Teacher Tip: Sounds can be too easy for older students. For a challenge, use more smell canisters. Alternatively, you could set up two rounds: one for sounds and one for smells.


  • Prepare sound clips for the students to listen to (crying baby, laughing baby, children playing, thunderstorm, cat purring, creaking door, dog growling, rushing creek, grilling meat, biting into a watermelon, etc.). Do you react differently to different sounds? Can you identify the feeling the sound brings up in you (fear, happiness, hunger, serenity, etc.)? Would you say that these reactions are uniquely human? Why or why not?