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Questions about Hearing

Students use scientific inquiry to understand how sound is generated, how animals hear, and the role hearing plays in survival.


Lesson Summary


In Questions about Hearing,Ear Shape, and How Whales Hear, students use scientific inquiry to learn about hearing. Inquiry involves asking a simple question, doing an investigation, answering the question, and presenting the results to others. Note that these three lessons should be presented in the order listed above.

In the next two lessons, students will use scientific inquiry to learn about hearing. Inquiry involves asking a simple question, doing an investigation, answering the question, and presenting the results to others.

In this lesson, students watch a video that explains how certain animals rely on their sense of hearing for survival. The video also explains how sounds are produced and how sound waves travel. Then students watch a video that illustrates how scientific inquiry was used to explore the mysterious hearing loss that plagues an Inuit Eskimo population. Finally, students discuss the structure and function of the human ear.


  • Understand that hearing is important for survival
  • Understand how sound is generated
  • Use scientific inquiry to answer questions about hearing
  • Label the parts of the human ear

Grade Level: 3-5

Suggested Time

  • One to two 45-minute blocks

Multimedia Resources


Before the Lesson

Background Information

"Sound travels through the air as waves of vibrating air molecules. When these vibrations reach the outer ear, they travel through the [ear] canal. The vibrating air makes the eardrum (tympanic membrane) vibrate too. The tympanic membrane then passes the vibrations onto the bones in the middle ear. One after the other, these bones start vibrating. The last of these bones touches the oval window. The vibrating of the last bone makes the membrane of the oval window vibrate." This moves the fluid in the inner ear. The moving fluid bends the hairs on the nerve cells, which send a nerve impulse to the brain. (Adapted from Heath Biology, 1985, J.E. McLaren and L. Rotundo. D.C. Heath: Lexington, MA)

The Lesson

Part I

1. Engage students by making a very loud noise without warning (drop a stack of books or metal pan, slam the door, or blow a whistle). Don't give an immediate explanation; just watch their reaction. Then ask them to reflect on how they responded to the loud noise by discussing the following questions:

  • What did you do when you heard the noise?
  • How did you feel?
  • What were you thinking?
  • Did you sense any changes in your breathing, heart rate, posture, muscle tension or body temperature?
  • Why would this response be important for survival?

2. Explain that the sound was a stimulus. The students detected it with their ears and then their brain sent out information to ready their body to react to danger. Hearing is one of our five senses. Our senses collect information about the environment. Ask:

  • What are the other four senses?

3. Tell students that they are going to watch a video clip about hearing. To prepare them for the first video clip, tell them that you want them to look for answers to the following questions:

  • Why is hearing important for survival?
  • "How is sound generated? (Objects must vibrate to produce sound.)

4. Have students watch the Animal Hearing video and then discuss with a partner what they learned. One partner should give an explanation for why hearing is important for survival, and the other should explain how sound is generated. Allow students to watch the video again if they wish.

5. Discuss the video as a class. Explain that in the next lesson they will do experiments with sound, so that they can better understand how animals hear. But first they are going to watch another video, one that shows a scientist doing experiments on hearing.

6. Distribute to each student a copy of the Using Scientific Inquiry to Explore Hearing Loss in the Moriussaq (PDF) handout. Give students a few minutes to review the questions on the handout. Tell students that, as they watch the next video clip on hearing loss, listen for answers to those questions.

7. Have students watch the video Moriussaq: A Case Study in Hearing Loss and work with a partner to answer and discuss the questions on the handout. Students may need to watch the video more than once.

8. As a class, discuss how Dr. Counter used scientific inquiry to figure out why the Inuit men are experiencing hearing loss.

9. Finally, hand out the Whale and Human Ears diagram. As a class, label the diagram of the human ear and discuss how we hear sound. Then ask students:

  • What part of the hunters' ears was damaged by the sound of the rifle?

Explain that the whale ear will be discussed in a separate lesson.


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