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Listen Hear! All About the Ear

Young people will gain a basic understanding of the structure of ears and how they work, and how to care for them in ways that protect hearing and keep them healthy.


9-14 Years Old


What You Need

  • Plastic cups
  • Plastic cling wrap
  • Rubber bands (optional, but they can help hold the cling wrap securely in place)
  • Grains of rice or salt (enough for about 10 pieces per young person)
  • Loud noise makers such as a metal pan lid and metal spoon
  • A blindfold
  • Your Ears Handout


Healthy Families Newsletter

English (pdf)

Spanish (pdf)

To find out how this health safety lesson fits Physical Education and Health Education standards click here.

Lesson Overview

This lesson will introduce young people to the structure of their ears and how they work through a diagram and by building a model ear drum. The youth will play a listening game to learn more about their hearing and how important it is to keep their ears healthy.


Describe the three basic parts of the ear, using the Your Ears Handout as a visual guide (see What You Need). Discuss the care of each part.

The Parts of Your Ear

Outer ear: This is the part you can see. The outer ear is where sounds are collected and moved along the ear canal toward the middle ear. The middle ear is separated from the outer ear by the eardrum.

Middle ear: Vibrations from the eardrum travel through the little bones of the middle ear (ossicles) and are sent to the inner ear. The space in the middle ear is filled with air.

Inner ear: This is where the vibrations from the middle ear create nerve signals. The nerve signals send the messages to your brain that become the sounds you hear.

How to Care for the Parts of Your Ear

Outer ear: This is the only part you should clean.You can wash behind your ears and around the outside. Sometimes shampoo or soap can get stuck behind them so rinse well!

Whatever you do, don’t stick anything larger than your elbow into your ear. Even though earwax can seem kind of icky, it is normal and usually healthy. It should only be cleaned out if your doctor says it’s OK.

If you have pierced ears, be sure to keep them clean with a sterile solution or they can become infected.

Middle ear: This part can become infected. If this happens, your doctor can prescribe a medicine (such as an antibiotic) to help treat the problem.

You should never stick anything in your ear canal because the eardrum can be punctured or torn.

Inner ear: The part can also become infected and would need treatment by your doctor.

Activity: Make a model eardrum

  1. Give each young person or small group the following supplies:
    • a plastic cup. This represents the ear canal.
    • a piece of plastic wrap large enough to stretch over the lid of the cup and stay there securely. This represents the eardrum.
    • a rubber band, if using rubber bands to hold the plastic wrap in place.
  2. Give each young person or small group about 10 grains of rice or salt. This is just a visual aid to help them see what is happening to the “eardrum” (plastic wrap) when exposed to loud noises.

  3. Tell the youth to stretch the plastic wrap tightly over the cup, secure it, and place the grains of rice or salt on top. They now have model eardrums.

  4. Have the young people experiment with noisemakers to see if they can get their model eardrums to vibrate. They will know if it is working because the rice or salt will bounce around. This is a simulation of what happens when sound waves reach your eardrums. They vibrate, causing other parts of your ears to vibrate, sending signals to your brain that are processed as sounds.

  5. After a while ask for volunteers willing to make small holes in their model eardrums. Experiment with that for a while. Notice what happens. Compare those with tears to those still intact. Also compare different size tears.

  6. Discuss the experiment: What did you notice about what happened when we exposed our “eardrums” to different sounds? What happens if we poke a hole or make a tear in one of them? Does it work as well? (No, it does not; it doesn’t vibrate as much. Also, things like the grains of rice or salt can get through.) Try to imagine a hole or a tear in your own eardrum. What do you think would happen to your hearing? What about the health of your ear? (You could have temporary hearing loss or, if the tear didn’t heal, permanent hearing loss. Also, bacteria and other contaminants could get in and lead to infection.) It’s important to remember to never stick anything in your ear to clean it or for any other reason. Doctors are the only people who should put anything in your ears…they know how to do it and can do it without damage.

Activity: What’s that you say?

  1. Form a circle with one person blindfolded in the middle (can be done seated or standing).
  2. Explain that you are going to silently point to people around the circle and that when you point at someone, he or she is to say the name of the person blindfolded in the middle.
  3. The blindfolded person must then try to point in the direction of the voice and identify the name of the person who said his name.
  4. Try this experiment with the blindfolded person using both ears and then again with one hand over one of them to block the sound.
  5. Let any young person who wishes to take a turn in the middle.

After the activity, ask the young people to reflect with the following questions:

  • What is it like to try to identify where and from whom the sound is coming?
  • Do some people have a harder time with this than others? Why do you think that is?
  • Is it easier with one ear? Both ears? (Some people have a dominant ear.)


Conclude the lesson with the following discussion questions.

  • How important is it that we take good care of our ears? Why? (We function best when they are both working. They are sensitive and can be damaged.)

  • Besides keeping them clean, what can we do to protect our ears? (Wear a helmet when riding a bike or board or playing contact sports. Avoid loud noises, especially over long periods of time such as a rock concert. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to shout to hear or be heard it’s too loud. Wear earplugs if doing loud work or being in loud environments.)

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish, which also includes these tips, so that families can continue discussing ear health and safety at home.

Related Health Powered Kids Blog

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Additional Instructor Resources

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