Brush Up On Breathing

Squishy, slimy and SPONGY, our lungs help us breathe!

We need oxygen for our bodies to function, and the lungs help us get the air we need! Lungs are pink and spongy and fill up with air when we breathe in, or inhale.

In this activity, you will use sponges to paint the texture of lungs.

• Identify and locate the lungs in the human body
• Explain that lungs expand and contract when you inhale and exhale  
Key vocabulary: Lung, Organ, Breathe, Asthma, Trigger


  • The lungs are a part of the respiratory system, which helps bring oxygen from the air into the body.
  • Oxygen reacts with the sugar we get from food, creating energy that powers the body.
  • Air flows in through the nose or mouth, down the windpipe (called the trachea) and into the lungs.
  • sponge has lots of holes and air in it – and our lungs do, too! They are pink and spongy
  • In the lungs there are bronchial tubes, which turn into bronchi/bronchioles as they get smaller. These root-like tubes are small tunnels that help the air flow through the lungs
  • At the end of the bronchi are alveoli, which are tiny air pockets. The alveoli help the oxygen get into red blood cells. There are hundreds of millions of alveoli in the lungs.
  • When we inhale, the lungs expand. Exhale, deflate.


  • Asthma is characterized by episodes or attacks of inflammation and narrowing of small airways
  • It is not well understood as to how and why some children and adults develop asthma and others do not – possibly related to environment factors and individual genetic disposition (Guilbert & Krawiec, 2003)
  • Children with asthma can present with a variety of symptoms such as
    • shortness of breath
    • wheezing
    • coughing
    • chest tightness
    • pain
  • Asthma triggers can elevate the severity of asthma at an alarming rate. Common triggers include:
    • “exercise, viral respiratory infections, air pollution, irritants, weather, allergens, coughing, and emotions” (Lim et al., 2009).
  • People with asthma usually have two types of inhalers: a controller and a rescue
  • Controller inhaler is typically used in the morning or night and contains medication that helps prevent asthma-related symptoms
  • Rescue inhaler is used in response to a sudden onset of asthma symptoms (i.e. an asthma attack)

For more information about asthma for parents, children and educators, please see IMPACT DC.

Kid-Friendly Language:

  • Mucus (or snot) is the sticky stuff in the nose. It also lines the airways and the digestive tract.
  • Mucus helps protect the nose and lungs from the dirt, dust, germs and pollen in the air, all of which can cause irritation or even infection.
  • People with asthma have extra mucus in the lungs, so the airways get smaller and it gets really tough to breathe
  • You can’t “catch” asthma from your friends – it’s not contagious!

Key Questions


  • Sponges
  • Small bucket or bowl of water
  • Red paint or red ink pad (washable)
  • Smocks or aprons to cover clothing
  • Disposable tablecloth or newspaper to cover work surface
  • Outline of the lung

Activity Plan

  1. Connect to  prior knowledge:
    • Ask: What is special about a sponge? (Sample response: it picks up water!)
    • Explain: Right, all the little holes in a sponge can hold water
    • Demonstrate: Dip the sponge into the bucket of water. Have the students observe what happens when the sponge is full and when it is empty.
  2. [optional] Draw the tubes that carry air through the lungs onto the outline
  3. Dip a sponge into the paint or ink pad and gently dab it onto the paper with the lungs
  4.  Notice how the texture left by the sponge mimics the texture of lungs

As with all activities, adult supervision is recommended.

Follow-Up Questions

  • To represent the ends of the bronchi (the root-like tubes in the lungs), students can use fingerprints to show the tiny air sacs (alveoli).
  • Use different types of sponges and compare the texture of the lungs. Which works best?

Extension Activities

  • Using large straws, put some slime in one and leave one clear. Have one child use the slime straw and one child use the clear straw to have pinwheel races, blow boats across water, etc. to show that the blocked straw (or the asthmatic lung) is harder to get air through.
  • If you don’t want the kids blowing the straws, set up a demonstration where you can pour water through both of the straws. Not much water should come through the straw with the slime, but should flow smoothly through the clear straw.
  • Use glitter to represent dust and other molecules in the air. Discuss how we need mucus in our noses and throats to help make sure pollutants don’t enter our lungs by showing how the slime picks up all the glitter from the table.

Check it out!

Books: What's Inside Me? My Lungs/ Que Hay Dentro De Mi?/ Los ...

Que Hay Dentro De Mi? Los Pulmones/ What’s Inside Me? My Lungs by Dana Meachen Rau (Grades 1-2)

Lungs: Your Respiratory System by Seymour Simon (Grades 3-6)

To give your body the oxygen it needs, you breathe twenty times every minute. You breathe more than twenty thousand times each and every day. Acclaimed science writer Seymour Simon explores the important journey that air takes in and out of your lungs


Say hello to Chloe and Nurb and let them take you on a tour of the human body. You’ll find out how the body’s organs work and learn about body systems like the digestive system and brain and nervous system. Enjoy your tour!

Reviewed April 2020 by Tiffani Sherrer, MPH, CHES, IMACT DC

NGSS Connections (Life Science)

Disciplinary Core IdeaConnect It!
LS1.A: Structure and Function All organisms have external parts. Different animals use their body parts in different ways to see, hear, grasp objects, protect themselves, move from place to place, and seek, find, and take in food, water and air. Plants also have different parts (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) that help them survive and grow. (1-LS1-1)Humans use lungs to take in air. How are our lungs similar or different to other organisms’ lungs? How do plants take in air?
LS1.A: Structure and Function Plants and animals have both internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction. (4-LS1-1)
LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans Populations live in a variety of habitats, and change in those habitats affects the organisms living there. (3-LS4-4)Look at asthma rates in different areas. Why do some communities/places have higher rates of asthma than other places? How is the environment affecting how people can breathe? More background on this topic.
LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)Compare and contrast how plants and animals breathe.