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K-1: The Senses

Author(s): Barbara Tharp, MS, Michael Vu, MS, Delinda Mock, BA, Christopher Burnett, BA, and Nancy Moreno, PhD.

Using All the Senses to Understand Our World

Guiding Questions
How do we use our senses to understand our surroundings? What types of input are provided by the different senses? 


  • Senses work together to provide information about conditions inside and outside of the body. 
  • Sensory information is communicated to the brain, which interprets the signals detected by sense organs. 

Like all other forms of life, we humans must interact with our surroundings to obtain water and nutrients, protect ourselves from danger and reproduce. Our senses allow us to obtain the information we need for survival. Senses also work within our bodies to provide cues about the state of our internal organs and positions of our muscles and limbs. 

Simple one-celled organisms, such as the amoeba, detect light, acidity, temperature and other characteristics of their environment over much of their external surfaces. More complex animals have evolved special cells, called receptors, which respond to specific aspects of the environment. Receptors translate information about the physical world and conditions inside the body into impulses that travel along nerve cells, or neurons. Most receptors are specialized to respond best to a particular kind of stimulus. For example, the simple nerve endings in the skin respond to pressure or temperature, while rods and cones, receptors in the back of the eye, react only to the presence of different kinds of light.

Specific regions within the brain receive and integrate information detected by sensory receptors. Through this process, we are able to interpret and react to the environment. Senses enable us to participate in the world—to learn, to achieve, to discover, to communicate. In this culminating activity, students use as many senses as possible to figure out what is inside “mystery” bags


Place one bag “A” and one bag “B” on the table or floor in front of each group of students. Direct students not to touch the bags or look inside until instructed to do so.

Ask, What do you think is in the mystery bags? Give students time to respond. Then, direct them to pick up each bag from the top and shake it gently. They should listen carefully to the sounds produced. Repeat the question, What do you think is in the mystery bags? Most students now will be able to determine that the bags contain small objects, and some may guess that the bags contain popcorn. Follow by asking, How did you know? Students should mention sound as a clue. Some also may have smelled the popcorn.

Have students smell the bags, still without opening them. Repeat the questions, What do you think is in the bag? Why? Students should mention that they used the sense of smell to identify the contents of one or both of the bags. If necessary, allow students to open the bags just enough to smell the contents.

Ask, What is different about the two bags? Let students touch the bags again. This time students should notice that one bag feels warmer. Ask, Which sense enabled you to notice the temperature difference between the bags? [touch, which includes pressure sensors and temperature receptors]

Now ask, Is either batch salted or flavored? Which sense or senses would allow you to determine this? [taste, smell and vision] Allow students to open the bags and remove some of the popcorn to observe with hand lenses. They may notice tiny salt crystals on some of the kernels. Have students draw and label the two kinds of popcorn in their notebooks.

Finally, allow students to confirm which batch is salted by sampling one kernel from each bag. Have them describe the flavors of each popcorn sample.

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    Making Sense! is a colorful, engaging picture/storybook that introduces students to the brain and the five senses as they solve mystery picture puzzles.