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Lungometer: Vital Lung Capacity

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD, Barbara Tharp, MS, and Judith Dresden, MS.


Materials per each group of 4 students. 

  • Clean plastic gallon milk jug, with lid
  • Plastic tub (10-quart size) filled halfway with water
  • Piece of plastic tubing (0.5-2.0 cm in diameter, 45 cm/18 inches in length)
  • Dark colored crayon or permanent marker
  • Beaker (500 to 1000-mL)
  • Self-adhesive notepad (1½ x 2-in.)
  • Water (a little more than 3.8 liters or 1 gallon)

Materials per student

  • Copies of the Lungometer Data Sheet and Make a Lungometer student sheet
  • Prepared mouthpiece (See Setup, below), made from ½ of a plastic drinking straw


1. This activity requires two class periods and is appropriate for students to conduct in small groups of four. Have students rotate jobs, so that each has an opportunity to measure his or her vital lung capacity. 

2. As an alternative, present the lungometer as a demonstration or have each student measure his/her vital lung capacity on a lungometer you have made. Most students will find it helpful to see a pre-constructed lungometer before attempting to make one themselves.

3. Cut plastic drinking straws in half to serve as mouthpieces. Each student will need his or her own clean mouthpiece to insert into the plastic tubing of the lungometer. 

NOTE: Students with asthma or other breathing problems should not measure their vital lung capacities.

Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Numbers: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932

Houston Endowment Inc.

Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education