Lesson 1: All About Medicine

Note to Teachers: Before beginning each lesson in the OTC Literacy program, inform students that they should never take medicine without the supervision of a parent or trusted adult.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson we will define over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and prescription (Rx) medicines and the similarities and differences between them. This lesson will also introduce the OTC Drug Facts label and discuss how to use medicine responsibly. 


  • Define over-the-counter medicines and prescription medicines
  • Understand how OTC medicines and Rx medicines are similar and how they are different
  • Define how to responsibly use medicine

Materials: Student Worksheet 1, empty medicine bottle with dosing cup, paper, pen or pencil, Internet access

Time: One 40-minute class period

Lesson Steps

  1. Have students complete the Pre-Assessment Quiz online or reproduce and print out the survey. In this survey students will answer questions based on what they already know or have heard about over-the-counter medicine. Save the quizzes for later comparison when students complete the same quiz for a post-program comparison.
  2. Once students have completed the Pre-Assessment Quiz, begin Lesson 1 with a class discussion by asking students to brainstorm a list of symptoms they have had when they are not feeling well. (Answers may include: upset stomach, headache, fever, cough, etc.)
  3. Invite students to share a personal story that describes what happens when they get sick. (Answers may include: go to the doctor, take medicine, rest, drink water or juice, stay home from school, etc.)
  4. Discuss how there are many different ways that doctors treat sickness, one of which is recommending medicine. Medicines fall into two main categories: OTC or Rx medicines.

    Over-the-counter medicines (OTC): These can be purchased from store shelves without a doctor's prescription.
    Prescription medicines (Rx): These can be purchased at a pharmacy, and only with an order (or prescription) from a doctor. They are intended only for the person for whom they were prescribed.

    Both OTC and Rx medicines can cause real harm if label instructions are not followed.

  5. At the front of the class, display and identify each of these components: a sample of an OTC bottle of fever reducer, the age-appropriate dosing device (child dosing cup), and the Drug Facts Label.
  6. Describe how every medicine is unique and has a certain set of characteristics that enable it to treat specific symptoms. Explain that in Lesson 2, the class will investigate these characteristics by learning more about the Drug Facts label. Ask students to recall a time when they had to take medicine. Begin by asking students: What measuring tools or devices has your parent or a trusted adult used to give liquid medicines?
  7. Then, survey the class by asking for a show of hands to the following questions:

    • Has anyone ever taken medicine without the permission of a trusted adult? If so, why?
    • Have you ever read the Drug Facts Label on an OTC medicine container?

  8. Explain how every medicine comes with dosing directions and most pediatric liquid medicines come with a measurement device, most commonly a plastic dosing cup. Explain how the dosing instructions appear on the Drug Facts Label. The purpose of these instructions is to help make sure that those who use the medicine take it correctly. When we do not follow instructions, the medicine may not work the way it is meant to, or the medicine can make you feel even worse or can even hurt you. You may have allergic reactions or experience side effects like dizziness or nausea. Sometimes when you mix certain foods with a medicine, the medicine does not work properly. Reinforce the importance of always communicating with a trusted adult before taking any medicine.
  9. Organize the class into groups of five or six. Distribute Student Worksheet 1 and have teams complete the worksheet. Discuss their answers as a class and invite any follow-up questions about the lesson.
  10. Distribute the family newsletter resource available at scholastic.com/OTCliteracy and encourage the students to continue the discussion at home.

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