Lesson 2: Reading and Understanding the Drug Facts Label

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 examine the Drug Facts label as it appears on different over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. OTC medicine contains a standard Drug Facts format that provides information about the medicine, including the active ingredients, instructions for use, and important warnings. Understanding the important information contained within the Drug Facts label and properly reading the Drug Facts label are critical elements for safe use of OTC medicines. This worksheet identifies the key terms and sections of the Drug Facts label and outlines why they are important to read and understand.


  • Identify the Drug Facts Label
  • Learn the definitions of the terms on the Drug Facts Label
  • Know the importance of reading and understanding all of the information on the Drug Facts Label
  • Learn the potential consequences of not reading and understanding all of the information on the Drug Facts Label
  • Identify the steps to take in the event of a medicine mistake

Materials: Student Worksheet 2, two empty fever reducer bottles (could have a liquid product and a solid dose product), two empty bottles of a pain relievers, two empty bottles of antacids, two empty bags of cough drops, paper, pen or pencil, Internet access, projector, and whiteboard (optional)

Two 40-minute class periods

Lesson Steps

  1. Begin the discussion by challenging students to focus on the overall importance of reading directions. Ask: What could happen if you only read part of the directions on a test? Discuss responses and begin to link the importance of reading informational text in order to understand key information or directions that are vital to completing a task properly or getting the desired results.
  2. Continue the discussion by explaining that all directions are not the same, meaning that sometimes the directions won't appear at the top of the page like on a test. You may have to look for them and you should always ask your teacher, parent, or a trusted adult to clarify so you fully understand them. 
  3. Explain that, in today's lesson, the class is going to learn about the importance of reading and following all of the instructions found on the Drug Facts label of OTC medicines.
  4. Organize the class into groups of five or six students and give one medicine container to each group. Distribute Student Worksheet 2.
  5. Watch the FDA's Medicines in My Home video. Pause the video at key intervals and highlight the different sections on the Drug Facts label. Have students look closely at the medicine samples they have in their groups.
  6. Before beginning the worksheet activity, ask students which medicine their group has and if they know all of the directions and label information for how to use it. Ask: Where are the directions on medicines and what do they tell you? Where are the warnings? Where is the ingredients section? And so on.
  7. Explain that directions and label information for OTC medicines are found on Drug Facts labels, which appear on OTC medicines per FDA regulation.
  8. Walk students through each section of the labels on the worksheet. Create a vocabulary list to reinforce new terms. If you are using a whiteboard, project the image of the Drug Facts label on the board. Review the different sections of the label and reinforce the new vocabulary words or terms:

    • ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: The ingredients in the medicine that make it work
    • WARNINGS: Safety information including side effects, the questions you should ask a doctor before taking the medicine, and which medicines to avoid using at the same time.
    • OTHER INFORMATION: How to store the medicine.
    • USES: Describes the symptoms that the medicine treats.
    • DIRECTIONS: Indicates the amount or dose of medicine to take, how often to take it, and how much you can take in one day.
    • INACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Ingredients not intended to treat your symptoms (e.g., preservatives, flavorings).
    • QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS?: Call the company if you have questions about a specific medicine.
  9. Add the new terms to the whiteboard as you review each and connect with the definitions. Have students refer to their medicine container to reinforce these terms. You may also link the label to the following website and highlight each section as you review: http://www.bemedwise.org/label/label.htm
  10. As they move through this lesson, students will learn that all sections (Active Ingredients, Warnings, Uses, Other Information, Directions, Inactive Ingredients, and Questions or Comments) provide us with information needed to use medicine responsibly.
  11. Explain to students that when medicines are not used properly, real consequences including serious harm may result. Reinforce the importance of never taking medicine without the supervision of a parent or trusted adult. Consequences can include:
    • Allergic reactions to ingredients
    • Medicines can be harmful if you take too much and may not be effective if you do not take the proper dose.
    • Certain medicines can interact with other medicines and may cause side effects or harm when mixed.
    • Many medicines contain the same active ingredients, and should never be taken at the same time.
  12. Discuss how to use the Poison Help number, 1-800-222-1222, if students or their parent or a trusted adult has questions about how to take or give medicine, if there's been a medicine mistake, or if there has been an accidental ingestion of medicine. Inform students of the following:
    a. Calls are free.
    b. Calls are confidential.
    c. Experts answer the phone 24/7, 365 days a year.
    d. Unlike 911, it doesn't have to be an emergency to call. Call with questions or for information, or if you have an emergency.
    e. Poison center experts get 3 million to 4 million calls a year about all kinds of things. They have heard everything, so don't be embarrassed to call.
  13. Conclude the lesson by having students prepare a written response to this reflection statement: "Research the regulation that required Drug Facts labels to appear on OTC medicines. Describe the regulation and identify some of the problems that it helped to address."
  14. Distribute the family newsletter resource available at scholastic.com/OTCliteracy so students may continue the discussion at home. Encourage students to discuss what they have learned about the Poison Help number and to speak with their families about programming the Poison Help number into their cell phones while making sure it is also posted in their homes.

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