UCMP Lessons  

Sniff and Guess

Author: Sharon Janulaw

Overview: Students use the sense of smell to identify the contents of the Mystery Odor Cans. They record what they think is in the Odor Can.

Lesson Concepts:

Grade Span: K–2


Advance Preparation:

— Prepare approximately 10 Mystery Odor Cans by placing one food or seasoning in each container and then putting a cotton ball in each container.
— Number the containers and keep a record for yourself of what you put in each.
— Prepare the recording sheet and make copies for students.

Time: 40 minutes

Grouping: Whole class and small groups of four to six students

Teacher Background:

It is essential for children to learn that rational thought and the scientific enterprise are based upon observations, both direct and indirect. Observations using our senses and extensions of our senses are the starting points for knowledge that reaps benefits for our daily lives and contributes to scientific understanding.

Explore this link for additional information on the topics covered in this lesson:

Teaching Tips:

Prepare the Mystery Odor Cans and replace the lids until you are going to use them. When students are going to use the cans, take off the lids and cover the containers by placing a material square over the container and securing it with a rubber band. This will ensure that students only use their sense of smell and will also keep the substances from spilling out of the containers.

Kindergartners may need an adult to write the words on their recording sheets. If you have kindergartners whisper their answers to the adult, this will allow individuals to do their own identification of odors.


  1. Spray a substance such as banana extract into a container while the students watch. Tell them to raise their hand when they can smell and identify the odor. Discuss our ability to use the sense of smell to discover things in our world. Ask students to think about a time when they knew what their mother was cooking without seeing it. How did they know? Students can share what they consider pleasant odors in their environment.
  2. Tell students that they will be detectives and try to discover the substances in Mystery Odor Cans by using the sense of smell. They will record what they think they smell on the recording sheet. After everyone has had a chance to identify the odors, you will tell what you put in the containers.
  3. Place the containers with their lids off and the material securely covering the tops at a table. Have students select a container, smell the odor and record what they think the odor is next to the number on their sheet that corresponds to the number on the container. Tell students to repeat this procedure with each container.
  4. After everyone has recorded their guesses about the contents of the Mystery Odor Cans, discuss with the whole group how easy or difficult they thought it was to identify odors. Say a number and have several volunteers identify what the odor was before you identify it. You can have students mark their recording sheets to show which they identified correctly. You can again ask how easy or difficult they thought the task was.


Make pairs of smell cans. Number the cans and make an answer key for yourself. Have student match the smells that are the same and record the numbers of the ones that they think match. Have the answer key available so that they can check their answers.

Updated October 31, 2003

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