Germs Can Travel

Children will explore germs, how germs travel, and make “sneeze” paintings.


Lesson Objective

Children will explore germs, will learn how germs can travel, and will make “sneeze” paintings.


What You'll Need

  • Printed or digital images of bacteria and viruses (from an Internet search) – 2
  • 5'-6' long sheet of white butcher paper – 2
  • Spray bottles – 6
  • Red, yellow, and blue watery tempera paint – 1 bottle of each
  • Masking or painters tape – 1 roll
  • Newspaper or additional paper – to cover floor

What To Do

Note: Before beginning the activity, fill the six spray bottles with the watery paint — 2 bottles of each color. Using the tape, hang the paper on the wall and cover up exposed flooring.

  1. Pretend to sneeze without covering up your mouth, and ask the children what it looked and sounded like.
  2. Ask them how far they think the sneeze traveled.
  3. Pretend to sneeze again, this time covering up your mouth, and ask the children to compare the sneezes.
  4. Ask children if they know why we cover up our mouths when we sneeze (see Did You Know?).
  5. Explain that not all germs are bad, but some germs can make us sick (see Did You Know?).
  6. Display images of bacteria and viruses. Explain that scientists add color to bacteria and viruses so they can see them better; discuss these images with the children (see Guiding Student Inquiry).
  7. Tell the children that they will be making a class painting of “sneezes” using paint in a spray bottle so we can more easily see the “germs.”
  8. Explain that the painting will imitate the way germs spread when someone sneezes.
  9. Demonstrate by standing a short distance from the wall, pretending to sneeze by saying, “A-choo!”, and spraying once with a paint-filled spray bottle.
  10. Choose a different color spray bottle, stand a little closer to the wall, and again pretend to sneeze—while doing so, spray once.
  11. Compare the sprays (see Guiding Student Inquiry) and discuss, noting that, with both sneezes, the germs traveled.
  12. Have children take turns choosing a color and contributing to the class “sneeze” painting.
  13. Discuss the distances that the sprays traveled, and connect this to the distance a sneeze can travel.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Describe the sneeze – what did it sound and look like?
  • Tell me how far you think the sneeze traveled.
  • Describe the bacteria and virus images.
  • Can you tell which germs can make you sick?
  • Explain why you think it’s a good idea to cover up your mouth when you sneeze.
  • Describe the pattern in the sneeze painting—how far did the paint spray travel?

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Explain to the children that germs are microbes and that some microbes are helpful. Different microbes that are helpful are some kinds of bacteria, yeast, and algae. Cheese and yogurt are both made using bacteria. Bread is made using yeast. Ice cream and puddings are made using algae. You could set up a taste test of foods made from different microbes.
  • Inflate a latex-free glove. Have the children smell the glove. Deflate the glove and ask the children what germs look like. Inflate the glove again and add ½ teaspoon vanilla to the inside of the glove. Hold the glove closed and have the children again smell the glove. Explain to the children that germs (microbes) are so small that we cannot see them. However, they can go through what seems like a solid wall (latex glove). This is why we can smell the vanilla but cannot see it.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children describe the sneeze?
  • Could children make a guess as to how far the sneeze could travel?
  • Could children state that covering the mouth when sneezing is a good way to block germs from traveling?
  • Could children describe that the spray in the sneeze painting was spread out over a large area?


Did You Know?

The scientific term for germs is microbes. Microbes are bacteria and viruses. Some of these germs are so small that they cannot be seen unless they are under a microscope. Some scientists add color to microbes so they can see them easily under the microscope.

Germs are microbes, and some of these can make you sick. Germs are on many surfaces, but there are several ways to keep germs from spreading. Covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze can reduce the spread of germs. Discarding tissues in the trash immediately after use can also help keep germs from spreading. Frequent hand washing using warm water and soap is another excellent way to keep germs from spreading.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • sneeze – to let out a sudden loud burst of air through the mouth and nose. Sneezes are usually caused by something that irritates the nose.
  • germs – a very, very small living thing that can cause illness.
  • cover – to put something over something else to protect it.
  • imitate – to copy the actions of.
  • spread – to open or stretch wide.
  • pretend – to imagine or make believe.

Lesson Tips

  • You could make the sneeze paintings outside, weather permitting. Attach the paper to an outside wall or fence, and continue as above.


  • Germs Are Not for Sharing by Elizabeth Verdick
  • Germs Make Me Sick! by Melvin Berger
  • Wash Your Hands! by Margaret McNamara
  • Germs by Judy Oetting

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

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Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS