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Teaching Students About the Circulatory and Respiratory Systems

By Janelle Martel

Circulation and respiration can often be hard to understand from a textbook. Luckily, there are several good activities you can use to increase student understanding of the circulation and respiration systems.

Start by Creating a Model

This activity allows the students to represent the blood in the circulatory system, giving them a better understanding of the mechanics. To set Cardiovascular System up for this activity, place chairs and/or tables around the classroom to represent the lungs, capillaries, left half of the heart, and right half of the heart. Clear labels placed on these would be helpful. Next, red balloons labeled +O2 and blue balloons labeled -O2 are needed.

Each student should get one balloon to start, so that there is an even number (or as close as possible) of red and blue balloons. Students should then be guided through the classroom circulatory system, exchanging balloons at the proper places. If desired, this activity can be repeated a second time but more quickly to represent a faster heartbeat.

Allow Students to Interact with Animations

There are several good animations of the circulatory and respiratory system available. KScience has animations on the Blood System and the Heart. When you press play on the blood system webpage, the animations begin to show how blood flows through the heart, lungs, liver, gut, kidney and legs. The close-up of the heart demonstrates how blood enters the heart and is pumped out. Labels can also be added as an option, to show the veins, arteries, and valves, among others. Both of these clearly show how blood moves and can be easier to understand than a picture.

McGraw Hill has an excellent video on the cardiac and respiratory systems. FunTrivia has a whole list of trivia and quizzes on the cardiovascular system. After students have completed the presentations, they are invited to participate in a "quiz show". This game allows students to choose a character to represent them in the game and then earn points by correctly answering multiple choice questions as quickly as possible.

Explore Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

Exploring blood pressure and heart rate are activities that provide more information and interest in the circulatory system. Explaining how blood pressure is taken, and perhaps showing some examples, is a great starting place. Students should be able to understand why blood pressure is important and can explore what might be the problems associated with having high or low blood pressure.

Students can then split into groups to measure each other's heart rate. It would be a great idea for each group to draw a graph of their heart rates. The class can then interpret the results of these graphs, and determine what happens when their heart rate increases.

Other Ideas

Students can also learn more about the respiratory and circulatory systems by doing a Lung Performance activity and completing worksheets and other activities on body systems. Learning is better retained when you engage the students in activities that seem like play, and these resources provide the help you need to ignite each student's spark of creativity.