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Your Beating Heart

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There are three lessons in this group. The first two provide students with the opportunity to learn about the circulatory system and conduct an experiment where they take their pulses after different types of activity. During the third lesson, a pediatrician explains how she checks a patient's heart and the ways that a healthy lifestyle (food and exercise) can keep students' hearts healthy.
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Time Needed
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3 class sessions
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heart, artery, vein, capillary, lungs, pulse, circulatory system, cardiologist
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Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • illustrate a schematic circulatory system of a human body including heart, lungs, arteries, veins and capillaries;
  • describe the role of parts of the circulatory system;
  • conduct an experiment to increase understanding of the relationship between heart rate/pulse and exercise;
  • describe what cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig did for babies with heart defects.


  1. Overhead projector
  2. Transparency 1. Circulatory System (PDF)
  3. Transparency 2. Heart (PDF)
  4. Handout 1. Vocabulary List (PDF)
  5. Handout 2. Measuring Your Pulse Rate (PDF)
  6. Handout 3. Evaluation (PDF)
  7. Cardboard cylinders from toilet paper or paper towel rolls (one per team of two students)
  8. Pieces of white butcher paper 5ft. long (one per team of two students)
  9. Red, blue, and black magic markers (one set per team)
  10. Blank piece of butcher paper for recording student questions about the heart and the circulatory system
  11. Wall clock with second hand, or stop watch
  12. Teacher Resource: Dr. Taussig Biography


Lesson 1:

  1. Have students form teams of two, and have each team draw a life-size outline of one student's body on butcher paper. Direct the students to put the paper on the floor. Have one student lie down on the paper, and the other student trace around the body in black marker. Students will draw in the parts of the circulatory system during the first lesson.
  2. Have students put the toilet paper roll on the chest of a partner and listen. Tell students that they may move the tube around until they hear something. Ask students what they hear, and where they think the sound is coming from.
  3. Explain that the sound is their hearts beating. Tell students that the heart is a muscle that pumps blood around the body in a system called the circulatory system. Explain that they will learn how our hearts pump blood throughout our bodies to bring the supplies and nourishment that gives us energy to do all the things that we do every day.
  4. Explain to students that they will now fill their butcher paper outlines with the parts of the circulatory system. The overhead transparency, Transparency 1: Circulatory System (PDF) and/or content from the interactive game “Circulation Station” can be used as visual resources.
  5. Ask teams to draw the heart and lungs on their paper outlines. Give instructions that the heart is about the size of their fists and is located in the chest area, slightly to the right on the drawing. The lungs lie beneath the ribs and are slightly smaller than the rib cage that protects them. Tell students to feel their ribs, so they know where the lungs are.
  6. Explain to students that they will be using red markers to draw the arteries and blue for the veins. Tell them that the blood in the veins is not blue, but blue is used to distinguish between the two different types of blood vessels.
  7. Next, ask students to use their red markers to draw in the arteries. Explain that the arteries carry blood away from the heart and reach each extremity. Have students use the blue marker to draw veins leading from the extremities back to the heart. Have students draw small dashed connections between the arteries and veins to represent capillaries.
  8. When they have finished drawing in their parts, review the circulatory system using Transparency 1. Circulatory System (PDF).
  9. Review the terms using Handout 1. Vocabulary List (PDF) and discuss their function in the body.
  10. Have students write brief descriptions of each part of the circulatory system on their body outlines.
  11. Put up a sheet of blank butcher paper and record any unanswered student questions for use with the doctor who will visit the class in the third lesson.

Lesson 2:

(Note: This lesson can be done outside or in the gym. Assistance from the PE teacher or other adult would be very helpful.)

  1. Tell the students that they will be conducting an experiment with their own hearts to identify how fast the heart beats during different types of activities.
  2. Using Transparency 2. Heart (PDF), show the parts of the heart (right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, and left ventricle). Tell the students that the heart is the hardest working muscle in the body. It works all the time - one part (right atrium and ventricle) pushes blood to the lungs to get oxygen from each breath. The other part (left atrium and ventricle) pumps the oxygen-rich blood out to the body. (Note: the names of the parts of the heart are not important for the student to remember, but are used to describe how the heart functions).
  3. Show the students how to take their own pulses on the wrist or on the side of the neck. Explain that what they feel is the heartbeat, called a pulse, caused by the heart's pumping blood through arteries in the body.
  4. Use Handout 1. Vocabulary List (PDF) to review the words: pulse and pulse rate.
  5. Have students practice taking their pulses during six-second intervals. Using a stopwatch or wall clock to track time, say, "START" to initiate the count and "STOP" when six seconds have passed.
  6. Distribute Handout 2. Measuring Your Pulse Rate (PDF) and review, explaining that students will conduct multiple trials just as a scientist would do for an experiment. Have the students study the grid and point out that they will multiply their pulse counts by ten (adding a zero) so their pulse rate tallies will be for one minute.
  7. Have students work in teams of two to conduct three trials for each of the three activities. Ask the students to record their data on their handouts. Time the students to engage in each activity for three minutes before taking their pulses. Have students rest for one minute between activities. (Note: Only two trials of the activities may be possible, depending on the class time available).
  8. When students have finished filling in their handouts, ask the following questions.
    • Does everyone have the same heart rate at rest? After the different activities? What does this mean? Explain that there is a wide range of normal heart rates.
    • Why is the heart rate different for the three activities? Remind students that the heart is a muscle and like other muscles, exercise makes the heart muscle stronger.
    • Ask what the students think their hearts are doing during the different activities. Remind students that the heart is part of the circulatory system where the arteries, veins, and capillaries work with the heart to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the whole body.
  9. Explain there are many physicians who work with people's hearts. These doctors are called cardiologists. Some cardiologists work only with children and are called pediatric cardiologists. A pediatrician is a doctor who works with children. Introduce the related Handout 1. Vocabulary List (PDF).
  10. Introduce Dr. Taussig with a read-aloud of Teacher Resource: Dr Taussig Biography.
  11. Tell the students that a pediatrician will visit the class for the next lesson to tell them how she works with children and examines their hearts.
  12. Ask students for questions they may have for the pediatrician based on what they learned about the heart and circulatory system. Add any new questions to the butcher paper sheet developed in the first two lessons.

Lesson 3:

  1. Before the lesson, set up a visit from a pediatrician to talk with the students about the heart, what students can do to keep their hearts healthy, and ways that hearts can be repaired. Review the work that the class has been doing and the general questions that have emerged. Request that that she bring her stethoscope, so children can listen to their hearts. Let her know that the class has been learning about Dr. Taussig and her work with "Blue Babies" and, if she is knowledgeable about Dr. Taussig and her work, ask her to include it in her presentation and discussion. (Note: students or their families may know of pediatricians who are willing to visit or who have visited the school before. If not, the county or state medical association, listed in the white pages of the phone book, is a good resource).
  2. Introduce the guest pediatrician and have her engage students in a discussion about the importance of having a strong and healthy heart, and how proper exercise and healthy eating habits can promote heart health.
  3. Provide the pediatrician with the butcher paper questions from earlier lessons.


Have students fill out Handout 3. Evaluation (PDF) to describe what they have learned about the circulatory system and Dr. Taussig's work.


National Science Education Standards:

  • Scientists use different kinds of investigations depending on the questions they are trying to answer. Types of investigations include describing objects, events, and organisms; classifying them; and doing a fair test (experimenting).
  • Each plant or animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction. For example, humans have distinct body structures for walking, holding, seeing, and talking. Individuals have some responsibility for their own health.
  • Students should engage in personal care—dental hygiene, cleanliness, and exercise—that will maintain and improve health. Understandings include how communicable diseases, such as colds, are transmitted and some of the body's defense mechanisms that prevent or overcome illness.
  • Many people choose science as a career and devote their entire lives to studying it. Many people derive great pleasure from doing science.

Math Standards:

  • Collect, organize, and interpret data, including making predictions, involving the heart rate at rest and after exercise.

English Language Arts Standards:

  • Students apply a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g. libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Possible Extension Activities

  1. Students determine class averages and place data on a graph.
  2. Students report on some of the American Heart Association pamphlets or Internet sites included in the Student Resources section.
  3. Students interview a PE teacher or trainer about the role of exercise and heart health and write up their interview.
  4. Students interview a person with heart problems and write up their interview.
  5. As a class activity students dissect and examine a beef heart (check with your local butcher) or a pig heart (check with local slaughter house). A dissection of an actual animal heart can help the students understand the parts of the heart (structures) and how they function, i.e., that the auricles (receivers/storage of blood) have thin walls, and the ventricles (pump) are thick muscles.

Teacher Resources

Student Resources

  • Circulation Station: Discover the circulatory system and help a red blood cell make its journey through the body.

Web Sites


  • Alicia Allou, Takoma Park Elementary School, Takoma Park, Maryland
  • Maria Crassas, Science Teacher, Francis Scott Key Middle School, Silver Spring, Maryland
  • Denise Downing, Fourth Grade Teacher, Arleta School, Portland, Oregon