Lesson One for Grades 4-6
What Is Asthma?
On Your Mark
Students will be able to:
- Define asthma as a condition that causes difficulty
- Explain that asthma can be controlled to allow
children to be active and healthy.
- Describe asthma as a condition that affects the
airways in the lungs.
- Explain that asthma cannot be caught like a cold or
- Describe the airways in the lungs as the part of
the respiratory system affected by asthma.
- Describe four signs and symptoms of an asthma
episode such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, and chest
tightness or chest pain.
- List four things that can make asthma worse such as
exercise, cigarette or other tobacco smoke, pollens, animals, colds, flu, and
Asthma: A condition that affects the
airways in the lungs causing difficulty with breathing. Asthma cannot be caught
like a cold. Some people develop the symptoms of asthma when they are very
young, and others do not have the signs and symptoms of asthma for many years.
People can control their asthma and live active, healthy lives.
Allergies: A condition resulting in
symptoms such as sneezing, itchy eyes, and stuffy nose. People with allergies
react to pollens, animals, and things in dust that don't cause a reaction in
Disease: A condition or illness with
a specific set of physical signs and symptoms.
Episode: Any event or series of
Symptoms or Signs: Physical changes
or feelings that show a disease or condition exists.
Asthma Episode: An event or series of
asthma symptoms which may include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and
Respiratory System: The parts of the
body involved with breathing. Includes the nose, throat, airways, and the
Classroom Activity: Administer and
collect Pre-test. If instructional time is limited, you may want to omit the
pre/post test. Use the Check for Understanding questions in the lesson
to determine if the objectives have been met. Depending on your students'
reading ability, you may want to administer the test orally.
Focus the Learner
Classroom Activity: Have students
hold their breath for a little while.
"What happens if you hold your breath?" or "What
happens if we do not get air into our bodies?" Responses may include: "We
need air so that our bodies can work" or "Without air we would die."
"When we finish this lesson, you'll be able to
describe asthma. You will also be able to identify the parts of the respiratory
system (or body, if you have not yet introduced body systems) affected by
Classroom Activity: Pass out one
unwrapped straw to each student.
"Let's see how it might feel to have difficulty
breathing. Close your lips around the straw. Slowly and quietly breathe in and
out through the straw. Put your thumbs up if you think it is fairly easy to
breathe this way. Put your thumbs down if you think it's difficult. Most of you
students should find it easy."
"Most of the time we can breathe in and out easily
because our airways are open. Now close your mouth around the straw. With your
finger, pinch the straw mostly closed in the middle. Try breathing in and out
again. Put your thumbs up if it's easier or about the same as before. Put your
thumbs down if it's harder. Most of you students should find it more
"When you pinch the straw, it makes it harder to
breathe. How would it work to breathe through a straw if it were filled with a
thick liquid like a milkshake?" Responses include: "The thick liquid would
make it very difficult to get air through the straw."
Classroom Activity: Display the
transparency Respiratory System and Asthma.
Using the transparency, review the parts of the
respiratory system, pointing out the nose, throat, and the airways in the
lungs. Have students label parts on the left side of the diagram. Review the
right side of the diagram, which illustrates the airways during an asthma
episode. Note the difference in the swelling of the lining of the airways
during an asthma episode.
"How do the airways in the lungs look different on the
right side of the diagram?" Responses should include that the airways are
not as big and this makes it hard to get air in or out of the airway.
"In an asthma episode--some people call it an
attack--the lining of the airways in the lungs get thicker and swollen. The
airways get squeezed by the muscles around the airway. This makes the airways
narrower, just like the straw when you squeezed it. The airways in the lungs
also get filled with a thick liquid called mucus. These changes make it
difficult to breathe. The more the airways are pinched by the muscles, swollen
and filled with mucus, the more difficult it is to breathe. It is something
like the feeling you get when you have been running very, very hard. You have a
hard time breathing in and out and feel like you cannot catch your breath."
"The straw is like the airways in our lungs. Most of
the time, children with asthma can breathe easily because their airways are
open. They can run and play and go to school just like other children. But
sometimes, the airways in their lungs get squeezed like we did with the straw.
The inside of the airways swell and get filled with a thick liquid called
mucus. The child with asthma has difficulty moving the air in and out of the
lungs. This is called an asthma attack or episode."
Check for Understanding
"What part of the respiratory system (or body) is
affected during an asthma episode?" Response should be: the airways in the
"In what way?" Responses may include: the airways
get swollen and filled with mucus, and squeezed. The narrow airways make it
hard to breathe in and out.
"We've learned what asthma is and that an asthma
episode makes breathing more difficult. We also have learned what parts of the
respiratory system are affected by asthma."
Focus the Learner
"What might a child having an asthma episode look like
or sound like?" Responses may include: "They sound like they are coughing"
or "They look like they cannot catch their breath."
"In the next part of the lesson, you'll learn the
signs and symptoms of asthma and what can bring on an asthma episode."
"The physical changes and feelings that show that
someone has a disease or condition are called signs and symptoms. For example,
how can you tell if you're getting a cold?" Responses may include coughing,
sneezing, or runny nose.
"We call these the signs and symptoms of a cold. They
tell us that we have a cold. Most diseases and conditions have signs and
symptoms. There are also signs and symptoms for asthma. The signs and symptoms
happen when the person is having an asthma episode. What is one sign or symptom
of asthma?" Responses may include coughing, being short of breath, wheezing
or noisy breathing, tightness or pain in the chest, gasping, trouble talking or
walking because they have trouble breathing.
"The main symptoms of asthma are coughing, wheezing,
and shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. They do not happen all at
once. Some people may have only one sign such as coughing."
"Some symptoms may not be seen by others, but the
person with the asthma episode would feel them. An example is chest tightness
which might feel like having a heavy weight on the chest."
"Children with asthma do not always have difficulty
breathing. Some children have very mild asthma. They are only bothered every
now and then, sometimes only once a week or only a few times a year. Other
children have very serious asthma. They can be bothered a lot or even most of
the time unless they take medicine. A few children with asthma are bothered by
their asthma much of the time even when they take their medicine. But most children with asthma can play and go to school just like children
without asthma if they, their family, and a doctor work together and take care
of their asthma."
"How do you think people get asthma?" Possible
responses might include: you have a bad gene, you catch it from someone, your
lungs are hurt somehow.
"Scientist don't know exactly how people get asthma.
They do know that most people with asthma were born with the chance to get it
at some time in their life. Some people develop the signs and symptoms of
asthma when they are very young; others do not develop symptoms until they are
older. Asthma is not something that is passed from one person to another. You
cannot catch it like a cold or infection. People with asthma have sensitive
airways. Their airways can be very sensitive to ordinary things in the air.
Have you ever walked into a room being painted? Do you remember the strong
smell? Have you ever been near someone smoking? How did that feel?" Responses include: made me cough, hurt my eyes, made my chest hurt.
"People with asthma may get these feelings such as
coughing and wheezing more easily than people who don't have asthma. Also, the
airways in their lungs are more sensitive to some things that usually don't
bother people without asthma. When they are around these things, their asthma
gets worse and their airways get even more sensitive. Their airways get pinched
and clogged. They have a hard time breathing in and out. Their asthma gets
worse and their airways get even more sensitive. There are lots of different
things that can make asthma worse."
Classroom Activity: If time allows,
break into small groups at this point. Instructions to the group: "Many of you
probably know someone with asthma. Think about the things that make that person
have trouble with his/her asthma. In each work group, choose a recorder and
brainstorm a list of things which can make asthma worse." Use the What
Makes Asthma Worse cards to check the brainstorm lists.
Alternatively, continue the lesson as a teacher
presentation. Use the What Makes Asthma Worse cards to illustrate the
"The ordinary things that bother most people with
asthma include: dust from pillows, beds, couches, carpets; other things that
bother people with asthma are cigarette smoke; allergies to furry or feathered
animals such as cats, dogs, hamsters, or birds; allergies to tree and grass
pollen; allergies to cockroaches; colds or flu; running or playing hard; cold
air; changes in the weather; strong smells; chemical fumes; and laughing or
Background Note: Anyone, even if they
do not have asthma, may experience a very temporary shortness of breath after
heavy exercise. Point out to students that this shortness of breath is
different from the shortness of breath in an asthma episode. Even after heavy
exercise a child without asthma recovers easily and has no other symptoms.
Usually, the child with asthma will need treatment to recover from symptoms. Be
sure that students understand that just because people have difficulty
breathing during exercise or experience coughing does not necessarily mean that
they are having an asthma episode.
Episodes can sometimes be brought on by the physical
effects of strong emotions such as laughing, crying or strong emotional
distress. However, it is important to know that asthma is not caused by
emotional factors such as a troubled parent-child relationship. Some people
think asthma is "all in one's head." This is wrong. It is a disease in the
Additional Activity: Have a magazine
picture hunt for things that make asthma worse. Students can work individually
or in teams to identify and share pictures. Another additional activity is the Classroom Scene: Find The Things That Make Asthma Worse page. Pass the
page out, have the students complete the page and then discuss it.
Classroom Activity: Divide students
into small groups. Have each group brainstorm a list of things that make asthma
worse. From the total group, develop a list that students can use to check at
home for things that can make asthma worse. Have each student suggest
"solutions" for problems they find at home.
"Today we learned: asthma is a condition that some
people are born with which affects the airways in the lungs. During an asthma
episode, the airways can be pinched and clogged, making it harder for a person
to breathe. They have signs and symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and
tightness of the chest. We also learned that dust, cigarette smoke, exercise,
cold air, colds, and allergies can bring on an asthma episode. Tomorrow you
will learn what someone with asthma can do to stay healthy and how you can be
helpful to someone with asthma."
Additional Language Arts Activity: Use the vocabulary words as spelling words. Have students use them in a
sentence and write a story about a person with asthma using the lead phrase,
"My best friend just found out he/she has asthma..."
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