Classroom Activities Involving the Skeletal System

Life-like models of the skeleton are useful in classroom activities.
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Younger kids are naturally curious about the human body. Questions about what gives the body shape and what helps the body move can be a catalyst for informative, interesting lessons about the human skeletal system. As older kids begin to experience growth spurts or incur bone injuries during sports and other activities, understanding the skeletal system can allow them to be more at ease with their bodies.

1 Puzzled by Bones

Students in the early primary grades can be introduced to the human skeleton using pictures and diagrams. After they have mastered the basic information, teachers should engage them in hands-on activities. An effective whole-class activity to teach the skeletal system is putting together a life-sized foam skeleton floor puzzle. Students can sit or stand in a circle, and take turns choosing a piece to add to the puzzle. After picking their piece, students should give the name of the bone they have chosen and fit it into the correct location. As a small group or individual activity, students can cut and paste skeleton diagrams, with the number of pieces and complexity depending on grade level.

2 Singing about Bones

Older elementary students can practice identifying and locating the major bones of the skeletal system through a three-part activity. After students gain a basic understanding of the bones of the skeletal system, teachers should present students with a worksheet that requires them to label the main bones such as the skull, sternum and rib cage, pelvis, tarsals and metatarsals. After successfully labeling the handout, students can create their own skeleton costumes using black trash bags, dark pants and long-sleeved shirts and reflective tape. Students should use pieces of the tape to represent the bones of the body and extremities. For the final part of this activity, students should learn the song “Dem Dry Bones” and use the costumes they made previously to perform the song while pointing out each bone as they sing about it.

3 Bend a Bone Experiment

As part of a unit on the skeletal system, middle schoolers should learn about the vitamins and minerals that help bones grow strong and develop properly. After students become familiar with the concept of bone growth and understand how nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D assist in the process, teachers can engage them in an activity that demonstrates the importance of having an adequate amount of calcium in bones. For this activity, students can work in pairs or small groups. Teachers should provide each group with two large, clean chicken bones, two jars with lids that are large enough to hold each bone, vinegar and water. Provide time for students to examine the bones. Next, students should prepare the experiment by placing one bone in a jar with vinegar and the other in a jar with water. After a three-day period, students should remove the bones and compare them. The bone that was sitting in vinegar will be soft, since vinegar is an acid that is strong enough to dissolve calcium.

4 Build a Book about Bones

High school students who are learning about the skeletal system in depth can benefit from an activity that requires them to relay what they've learned in the form of a children's book. By developing a book for kids that teaches about the skeletal system, high school students are given increased exposure to the topic themselves. This activity can be done in pairs, individually or in small groups. Teachers should provide students with ample library and computer lab time for students to do additional research and produce their books. Once students have finished the project, teachers should ask groups to present their kids' books to the class for peer review. This activity can also be extended by adding a field trip to an elementary school where groups can take turns reading their finished projects to kids.

Based in Gainesville, Carissa Lawrence is an experienced teacher who has been writing education related articles since 2013. Lawrence holds a master's degree in early childhood education from the University of Florida.