MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Investigating Sounds: Identifying Vibration, Pitch, and Volume

Investigating Sounds: Identifying Vibration, Pitch, and Volume

Anne Duncan
Northside Elementary
Benson, MN
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In this investigation, students will observe and experiment with how sounds are made. They will use various elementary music instruments as well as tuning forks, combs, rubber bands, books, bottles, etc... They will collect data on how their sounds were made in their Science journals. Following a discussion of their findings, they will generate questions about what they would like to find out about sound. They will then return to their investigations to observe how their original sounds can be changed and record this data in their journals as well. Finally, there will be another discussion to share their information.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to...
1)observe how sound is made and changed.
2)question how sound is made and changed.
3)practice collecting, recording, and presenting data.

Key Concepts:
1) Sound is produced when there is a vibration.
2)Pitch and volume can be changed by changing the vibration.

Vocabulary words:
2) Pitch
3) Volume

Context for Use

This lesson was created for a third grade classroom with 20-25 students in a public school. This is an introductory lesson to our investigations of sound. It will take place in the classroom and will take 1-2 days depending on the amount of time needed for each segment. Since I have not yet used this activity, I am estimating 30-45 minutes for the initial observation, recording, sharing of data, and questioning session and another 30-45 minutes for the second observation, recording, and sharing of data session. You will need objects that make noise. I am using instruments from my music teacher as well as rubber bands, books, rulers, combs, tuning forks, bottles, etc... It is assumed that students will already have some experiences with observing, collecting and recording data, sharing, and developing further questions. Those procedures will not be taught here.

Subject: Physics:Oscillations & Waves
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)

Description and Teaching Materials

- Various instruments from the elementary music teacher
- Rubber bands, books, rulers, combs, tuning forks, bottles, etc... (anything that could make a noise)
- Science journals and pencils
- Large chart paper and markers for teacher

- Focus the students' investigation by posing the question: How are sounds made?
- Create groups of about 3-4 students and give each group a variety of instruments and objects to investigate.
- Ask students to make a T-chart with the headings of "instrument" and "how sound was made" to focus their investigation. Remind them to use all of their senses during their observations.
- Students break into groups to make sounds and record observations.
- Come together as a class to share and discuss findings. Record observations on large chart paper. Introduce the term "vibration" here if a student does not bring it up.
- Allow students time to generated questions about sound from the class discussion in their Science journals. Share and record their questions on large chart paper.
- Focus the next investigation by asking "How can you change the sounds?" Hopefully this has come up during the questioning session.
- Students go back to their groups and instruments/objects to investigate the same objects from their first observation. Add a third column to their T-chart to record what they did and how it changed the original sound. Encourage them to use descriptive words.
- Come together as a class again to share and discuss findings. Record observations on large chart paper. Introduce the terms "pitch" and "volume" here if a student does not bring it up.
- Tell students that we will be investigating sound during the next few days.

Teaching Notes and Tips

- It may be helpful to make a 3-column chart for them.
- Noise will definitely be an issue. Spread students out as much as possible and remind them of their cooperative group work expectations.
- Use a rubrics for evaluation and share this with the students before they begin the investigation.
- In the past I have given students each of the above objects and asked them to do a specific experiment with each. It was very scripted and controlled. I am attempting to release some of that control to the students while also posing a question to make the activity more inquiry based. I have also included the Science journals component so students will have practice recording data as well as using it to ask them to question further. In the past I have relied on verbalizing all of their findings.


I will observe students during the observation phases. I will look at their investigations as well as their behavior. I will also look at the science journals for the details in their observations and the questions they pose. A rubric will be used for each of these areas.


3.II.C.1 Sound Vibrations
3.I.B.1 & 2 Scientific Inquiry

References and Resources