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What Is Air (pre-assessment)

What Is Air? (pre-assessment)

The edge of Earth's atmosphere, as seen by astronauts on the ISS.
Courtesy of The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

  • Grades:
  • Length: 30 Minutes


Students complete a pre-assessment to gauge their knowledge related to air, gases, breathing and respiration, indoor air, and environmental health. Student sheets are provided in English and in Spanish.

This activity is from The Science of Air Teacher's Guide. Although it is most appropriate for use with students in grades 3–5, the lessons are easily adaptable for other grade levels. The guide is also available in print format.

Teacher Background

Air surrounds us, yet we rarely think about its composition or why it is important. It is a mixture of colorless, odorless gases, one of which, oxygen, is necessary for functions within cells. Another gas, carbon dioxide, is produced as waste by most living things and also is required for photosynthesis.

Gas molecules are in constant motion. Because heat makes the movement of gas molecules more pronounced, warm air rises and cool air sinks. Many tiny substances can be suspended in air. Some, such as pollen, dust, or smoke, can lead to allergies or asthma in some people. Other substances in air, such as chemicals, can be toxic to everyone. Most people think of air pollution as being outdoors. But frequently, pollutants can become more concentrated in indoor environments because of limited fresh-air circulation. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve the indoor air quality of homes, schools or offices.

This unit uses indoor air pollution as a unifying, real-world theme to teach students important physical and life science concepts about gases, air, and the respiratory system. It also presents important environmental health concepts related to air quality and indoor spaces.

Objectives and Standards


Allows teachers to estimate students’ prior knowledge related to air, gases, breathing and respiration, and environmental health.

Science, Health, and Math Skills

  • Observing

  • Recording observations

  • Drawing conclusions

  • Applying prior knowledge to a new situation

Materials and Setup

Teacher Materials (see Setup)

  • Several sheets of chart paper to record and display student questions

Materials per Student

  • Copy of the student page


Have students work individually to complete the pre-assessment.

Procedure and Extensions

  1. Ask students to think about the question What questions do you have about air? Record students’ questions on a sheet of chart paper to be displayed in the classroom. Allow opportunities for students to answer their own questions as they complete this unit.

  2. Have students complete the pre-assessment individually, then collect and save each student’s form. Students will refer back to their pre-assessment answers at the conclusion of this unit.

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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932