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What's Happening to Your Body

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There are three lessons in this group. The first two focus on the biological and developmental changes that take place during adolescence and addresses the nutritional, physical exercise, and mental exercise needs of adolescents during this period. During the third lesson, a health professional with a background in adolescent health needs leads the class in a group discussion. (Note: these lessons are intended to serve as an introduction to a more in-depth nutrition unit by helping students understand the biological processes that underlie their lifestyle choices, including nutrition.)
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Time Needed
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3 class sessions, plus time for student research
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nutrition, protein, carbohydrate, adolescence, puberty, lifestyle
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Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • list the types of biological development that occur during adolescence and the nutritional, physical, and mental needs that support that development;
  • explain various aspects of adolescent development and the resulting needs for nutrition, physical exercise, and mental activity;
  • describe careers in the field of adolescent health.


  1. Computers with Internet access
  2. Overhead projector
  3. Transparency 1. General Information about Adolescence (PDF)
  4. Handout 1. Worksheet for Team Research (PDF)
  5. Handout 2. Guidelines for Specific Adolescent Lifestyle Needs (PDF)
  6. Teacher Reference 1. Body Grid (PDF)
  7. Teacher Reference 2. Brain Research (PDF)


Lesson 1:

  1. Before the lesson, have students write down the changes that occur in the teen body and hand them in. Indicate that the next day's activity will focus on the changes in the teen body and the healthy choices individuals can make to support those changes.
  2. Begin the lesson with an introduction to the general topic of the changes in adolescent development by showing Transparency 1. General Information about Adolescence (PDF). Discuss the items on this list, emphasizing that this is GENERAL information and that individuals vary a great deal and are still "normal."
  3. Indicate that teens have many lifestyle choices that affect their development. A possible metaphor: building a healthy body during adolescence is like building a house. The human body is partially developed before adolescence, but during adolescence the body is "under construction." Stress the importance of quality materials/foods and lifestyle choices in building a healthy body that will last a long time.
  4. You will now be working with students to fill out a grid on the blackboard. (Refer to Teacher Reference. Body Grid (PDF).) Tell the students they will be discussing the lifestyle choices that they can make to positively affect their bodies during this important time. Go over the information they wrote on the previous day to compile a list that aligns with the topics BONES, MUSCLES, REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM, and BRAIN (Note: Depending on the class, students may be reluctant to bring up reproductive system changes, and you may need to fill in this category yourself. Also, students probably will not include Brain Development in their own lists. As you add this category and write down some specifics, indicate that recent scientific research on the adolescent brain has revealed interesting information about this topic.)
  5. Across the top of the grid write: "WHAT YOUR BODY NEEDS," and "HOW TO GET WHAT YOU NEED." Break the students into four groups to research how to answer these two questions for each of the grid topics—BONES, MUSCLES, REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM, and BRAIN. Have students within each group break into pairs to research the items already listed under each topic, and to come up with new items. Let students know that after the initial research, each pair will work with the larger topic group to make a class presentation.
  6. Distribute Handout 1. Worksheet for Team Research (PDF) to each pair to complete. Explain that their research should include information about nutrition and exercise. Distribute Handout 2. Guidelines for Specific Adolescent Lifestyle Needs (PDF) as a resource and other Internet resources. (See "Books and Web Sites" section below.)
  7. When student research is complete, ask each topic group to develop a presentation so that the grid on the board can be filled out for the class. (Note: The time needed for students to finish their research and develop their presentations will vary depending on age, skills, availability of computers, etc.)

Lesson 2:

  1. Have one student from each topic group enter their information on the grid and discuss what they learned in their research on this topic.
  2. When all the topics have been entered, discuss issues that arise from the grid. Discussion could address the different needs males and females have during adolescence, the effects the growth spurt has on adolescent lifestyle needs, and issues surrounding brain development. Teacher Reference 2. Brain Research (PDF) could be used as a springboard for discussion.
  3. Mention that there will be a visitor in the class during a follow-up lesson to discuss an aspect of adolescent health with them.

Lesson 3:

  1. Invite a school district nutritionist, personal trainer, coach, or physician with in-depth knowledge of adolescent health needs to facilitate a class discussion. Develop questions with the students prior to the visit, so that the focus is on the interests of the students. Make it clear to the invitee that you are looking for a dialogue rather than a lecture.
  2. Introduce the guest and have her share information about her discipline and discuss careers in the field at all levels: professional, paraprofessional, etc.
  3. Discuss the specific nutritional needs of vegetarians (if this meets the needs/interests of the class).
  4. Discuss the influences of peers, parents, the community, and the media on healthy and unhealthy choices.


Have students write three paragraphs covering what they learned from their own research, what they learned from the completed grid about the biology of adolescence and lifestyle needs, and what was significant to them about the dialogue that took place with the class visitor. Recommend specific questions for students to organize their thoughts.


National Science Education Standards:

  • Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects and phenomena; and some involve making models.
  • The human organism has systems for digestion, respiration, reproduction, circulation, excretion, movement, control, and coordination, and for protection from disease. These systems interact with one another.
  • Regular exercise is important to the maintenance and improvement of health. The benefits of physical fitness include maintaining healthy weight, having energy and strength for routine activities, good muscle tone, bone strength, strong heart/lung systems, and improved mental health. Personal exercise, especially developing cardiovascular endurance, is the foundation of physical fitness.
  • Food provides energy and nutrients for growth and development. Nutrition requirements vary with body weight, age, sex, activity, and body functioning.
  • Women and men of various social and ethnic backgrounds—and with diverse interests, talents, qualities, and motivations—engage in the activities of science, engineering, and related fields such as the health professions. Some scientists work in teams, and some work alone, but all communicate extensively with others.

English Language Arts Standards:

  • Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Possible Extension Activities

  1. Include an in-depth unit on nutrition, including an analysis of the 24-hour diet of an imaginary teen regarding calories, percentage of fat, and analysis of key nutrients.
  2. Introduce 4 types of food pyramid: and select "Traditional Diet Pyramids." Have students work in teams to choose and compare two types of pyramids.
  3. Have students do research on the good and bad fats and have them write a list of snacks/foods with good fats.


  • Lopez, Ralph I., M.D. The Teen Health Book, W.W. Norton, 2002.
  • Restak, Richard, M.D. The Secret Life of the Brain, The Dana Press and Joseph Henry Press, ( 2001. See the chapter, "A World of Their Own: The Adolescent Brain."
  • Tamborlane, William V., Ed.The Yale Guide to Children's Nutrition, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997. (This book has an excellent chapter by Teresa Fung and Walter R. Anyan, "Adolescence: Life in the Fast Lane," P. 64-73.)

Web Sites

General adolescent development:

Nutritional/Lifestyle needs:



  • Judith Bishop, Nutrition Consultant, Portland, Oregon
  • Maria Crassas, Science Teacher, Francis Scott Key Middle School, Silver Spring, Maryland
  • Patti Denny, West Sylvan Middle School, Portland, Oregon
  • Damian Kreske, Biology Teacher, Woodrow Wilson High School, Washington, DC
  • Kelly Olson, Patterson Elementary School, Hillsboro, Oregon
  • Stanley Zak, Personal Trainer, Portland, Oregon