Flu Season: Making Students Aware of Germs

By Megan Power on October 30, 2009

My husband and I were sick all weekend. I even had to stay home sick on Monday. Lately, many of my students have been sick and missing school. This flu season we need to take time to teach our students about germs and about how they can take steps to protect themselves. Click to see a fun and child friendly activity you can quickly do in your classroom to help make invisible germs real for our students.

To begin our lesson, we watched a video from You Tube called Swine Flu Animation- Protect, Don't Infect. After watching we started a discussion about germs. I wanted to get an idea of what my students thought they were and what they really looked like. We used Kids Health as a quick resource to get some facts on germs. Another great resource you can use from Scholastic, is a Flu Prevention Tip Sheet.


Once my students had a good understanding on what germs were, we went outside for a little experiment. I have done this activity for several years now and it has always had the greatest impact on my young students. All you need is glitter.


First, I talked about sneezing. Then, I poured a bunch of glitter in my hand and I pretended to sneeze blowing the glitter all over the place. The kids usually are so shocked by this and get so excited that I have to redo it. Next, I explained how the glitter represents my germs. When I sneezed they went everywhere. The students look around to see how far they spread. It is very important to explain how real germs will travel even farther reaching all of the students standing around me. This is a very effective visual! 

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The last part of the experiment shows how easily germs spread through touch. Again, I poured a bunch of glitter into my hand. This time I turned to one student and I shook his hand. Of course the glitter got all over his hand. I asked him to turn to the next person and shake hands. The kids see that the next student now has glitter on their hands too. This continues until everyone has shaken hands and has some glitter on their hands. Again, I explain that the glitter represented my germs. I only shook hands with one person but all the kids in the class got my germs just through touching another person's hands! I ask them to think about all the things they touch on the playground and how many other kids touched the same things. It helps a lot to have them imagine every kid having different color glitter. What would the playground look like? What would our hands look like?


After these simple experiments, we discussed how touching our eyes, mouth, nose, and ears transfers the germs on our hands into our bodies and make us sick. We talked about how washing our hands is one of the best ways to protect ourselves from getting sick. Of course, after all of this the students are very aware of germs and are ready to scrub those germs off their little hands!


This is a great idea! Many times kids have a hard time understanding germs since they can't see them - this is such a creative way to give them a visual idea of how germs work.
I found a great article about cold, flu, and allergy symptoms that might be useful for students and their parents. You can check it out here: http://coldremedies.com/cold-symptoms.html
Keep up the good work,

By using this method the kids will enjoy how to prevent the Flu.

Thanks for your comment! It really makes this concept more concrete. Smiles, Megan

I have done this before with confetti paper (little dots of paper)that I buy around Valentine's. It would not stick to hands though. I also used the book "Little "Raccoon Catches a Cold".

Thank youf ro your comment. Using confetti paper is another great way to show how germs spread. Thanks for sharing! Smiles, Megan

I am a school nurse and have taught hand washing for years but have never thought of useing glitter. I love it! Thanks for the idea! Can't wait to try it out. Angela

Angela, Thanks for your comment. Using the glitter really helps them to get a visual on what it means to spread germs. I am glad this might help you keep your kids from getting sick. Thank you as well for all you do for our little guys! Smiles, Megan

Hi Megan,

Will ripped up paper work the same way? I don't want my parents to get upset, I work with 3-4 year olds.

Good Article Though

Thanks for your comment. I have never done it with ripped up paper, but it might work. Let us know how it turns out. Another person suggested to try baby powder. Good luck and stay healthy! Smiles, Megan

Another way I use glitter in my pre-k class is to first introduce the concept by reading the book "Germs are not for sharing," which reviews many common sanitary routines they're familiar with while also introducing the very abstract idea of "germs".

To help make the idea of "germs" more concrete, I put glitter into a shaker and (after explaining that glitter = germs) hold it next to my mouth, with the opening alongside the mouth.

Next, I pretend to cough and as I do, glitter comes out of my "mouth" and onto a student sitting in front of me. After the giggles and eeeeewwwwwwww's subside, we brainstorm ways to prevent the germs from going on others.

The typical response is to cover my mouth with my hand. So, I "cough" again into my hand, which covers my hand in glittery germs... and then I turn to another student and say, "Good morning" while shaking their hand... the rest of the lesson is similar to the original one posted - only difference is that we also brainstorm how to cover our mouths while coughing & sneezing without using our hands (e.g. tissue, crook of your arm, or back of the hand/wrist).

Added bonus - when kids forget to cover their mouths (they are only 3, 4 & 5 years old!), I can refer back to the catchy phrase from the book, "Hey, germs are not for sharing!"

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas! I also have the book and I will make sure to read it to my students. I love the little phrase if someone sneezes or coughs on you. It is so much more kid friendly then saying "Cover your mouth!" Smiles, Megan

I came across this site here on Scholastic for parents that may need materials for their sick students: http://www.scholastic.com/staysmart/

Thanks for that great site!!! Stay healthy! Megan

Just saw this in a tweet from JCC_EarlyLearn and thought it just terrific. Thanks.

I am glad this activity is being spread to help fight the spread of germs! Smiles, Megan

Wow! This lesson is stinkin' awesome! (I mean that in a good way.) Every bit as engaging as the "black light powder" method but closer to universally accessible for those of us who do not live in large metro areas. (yay Walmart!) No doubt during the handshaking portion of the lesson, someone will touch their own face close to the T-zone and illustrate just how easy it is to help the sick germs attack you.

I am so glad you liked this lesson. My students have always responded well to this lesson. You are right about the touching the face. Glitter tends to get everywhere. Even later in the day kids will find glitter somewhere! Smiles, Megan

Great idea. We've done something similar by coating children's hands with cinnamon to demonstrate proper hand-washing. If there's still cinammon on your hands after washing, there would still be germs.

That is another great lesson especially focusing on washing their hands. I think I am going to try this with my students. Thanks for your idea! Smiles, Megan

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