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How Close Is Too close?

Using Standard and Non-standard Measures

How Close is Too close?
  • Grades:
  • K-2
  • Length: 60 Minutes

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The COVID-19 infection has made “social distancing” a common phrase. It means that we should keep a physical distance of at least six feet from other people. Why six feet? That is the typical maximum distance that tiny respiratory droplets travel in the air after someone sneezes, coughs, talks, or sings.

Some people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, do not feel sick. However, they still can pass the virus to someone else. Physical distancing is one of the best ways to keep the virus from reaching and infecting other people.


Teacher Background

The Science

According to the CDC, COVID-19 spreads mostly among people who are in close contact. “Close contact” usually means being within six feet of another person for longer than 15 minutes. The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, laughs, talks, or sings. These actions spray tiny, invisible droplets of saliva or mucous into the air. The droplets can contain virus particles that, in turn, can land in the mouths, noses, or eyes of people nearby.

New studies have found that people who are infected can spread COVID-19 even if they are not experiencing symptoms. This is why it is important to maintain an appropriate physical distance from people not living in your household and to wear a face covering (mask) over your mouth and nose. In general, it is safest to avoid crowded places and gatherings where it may be difficult to maintain physical distancing.


Objectives and Standards

Students will measure distances of 6 feet using standard and nonstandard units.

Science/Health/Math Skills






Next Generation Science Standards Science and Engineering Practices

Analyzing and interpreting data

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking


Materials and Setup

Teacher will need:

  • "How Close" pptx file
  • computer or projector

Students will need:

  • "How Close Is Too Close" student page (electronic or hard copy)
  • fuler or measuring tape
  • household or classroom items that can be used to measure distance
  • tape or sticky notes

Setup and Teaching Tips

This activity begins with a class discussion guided by slides. Students then use household or classroom objects to conduct nonstandard measurements of six feet. You may assign the hands-on portion of the activity as homework. If students do not have a ruler or tape measure at home, have them download a printable ruler (see

Procedure and Extensions


  1. Project the title slide of the "How Close Is Too Close" presentation. Read the question, How can social distancing slow the spread of COVID-19? Ask students what they know about “social distancing.” Encourage them to share their ideas.

Explore and Explain

  1. Use the slides to guide a discussion with students.

Slide 2: Explain that scientists have learned that the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through person-to-person contact. Virus particles contained within tiny droplets of saliva and mucous are released into the air when people talk, shout, laugh, sing, cough, or sneeze. Ask, Why do health experts recommend that we keep a distance of six feet apart?

Slide 3: Direct students’ attention to the image and explain that scientists have found that droplets from a sneeze, cough, talking, etc. can travel about six feet in air.

Slide 4: Ask, Where can these droplets go? Into the mouths, noses, and eyes of others! Once a virus enters the body, it can infect a person’s respiratory system and cause illness.

Slide 5: Remind students that some people infected with the virus may not look or feel sick. It might take several days for them to develop COVID-19 symptoms, but they still may be able to pass the virus to others during this time. Some people develop few or no symptoms, but they also can spread the virus. This is why it is important to wear a mask and practice physical distancing when around other people who do not live in your household. These steps help to prevent disease.


  1. After the slide show, say, We know that COVID-19 is spread through person to person contact. Physical (or social distancing), which means keeping at least 6 feet from others, is one way to limit the spread of the virus. What does 6 feet look like if you can’t measure it?
  2. Explain to the class that they will use household items to see just how far apart they should stand from others.
  3. Project the student page and review the instructions together. You, the teacher, can assign a due date for work completion.


  1. Have students describe how they used alternative units of measurement to estimate six-foot distances. Or, if they complete this portion of the activity as homework, have students make a drawing or have someone at home take a photo of their unique nonstandard measures.
  2. Conduct a discussion with students about ways in which they can maintain their social contacts but remain physically distant. Accept all answers. Possibilities include seeing others outdoors at a safe distance or meeting using video calls or conferencing.


Scientific American. 2017. Human Body Ratios.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Social Distancing.



The COVID HACKS curriculum project is made possible thanks to the support from Laura & John Arnold and Baylor College of Medicine. Scientists, educators, and physicians from Baylor College of Medicine provided content, feedback, and technical reviews.