Where’s the Air?

hot-air balloon
This lesson developed by Reach Out!

Recommended Age Groups: Early Elementary, Later Elementary

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is air?
  2. How can I tell that air even exists?







Each person needs:
  1. A clear drinking `glass
  2. A wide-mouth glass gallon container or a big beaker
  3. Piece of paper
  4. Water

Room Preparation

Need ample elbow room. Spills may happen.

Safety Precautions


Procedures and Activity


Begin by asking, “What is air?”
Share ideas and experiences with “air.” Come up with some points such as: we can't see, taste, or smell air. Air is all around us. We need air to live.

Ask, “Does air take up space?”
Hold your hands away from each other. Slowly push them together. Can we feel air in between our hands? Do you feel air being pushed aside as your hands come together?

Can you see air in front and all around you? How do know it is there and takes up any space?

Today we will do an experiment to help us understand air is present and takes up space.


drawing of activity

  1. Fill a gallon container or big beaker about 3/4 full of water.

  2. Crumple up a piece of paper, large enough to stay scrunched into your glass.

  3. Pat the crumpled-up piece of paper into the bottom of the glass.

  4. Turn the glass upside down. Very carefully, lower it into the big container of water. Don’t let it slant sideways.

  5. Carefully observe what is happening inside the small cup. Is water sneaking into the cup? Why or why not? Is the crumpled paper getting all wet? Why or why not?

  6. Carefully lift the glass up and out of the container of water. Take out the crumpled piece of paper. Is it dry or wet? What happened?

Closing - Original Question

Ask again,

  1. What is air?
  2. How can I tell that air even exists?


Share ideas about what happened during the experiment. Listen for evidence that they came to understand that there is air in the glass, whether it is sitting upright on a table or being sunk upside down in the container of water. Proof that air exists is how the piece of crumpled-up paper didn’t even get wet while the cup was underneath water. Air takes up space, even though we can’t see it with our eyes. Water could not get up into the glass, because the glass had air in it.

Extension Ideas

Identify some other topics or questions related to the presence of air and air pressure. Research and share what you find out! Some ideas are: how submarines maintain air for passengers to breathe, how scuba gear works for divers, air and oxygen systems in airplanes, how our lungs work, and learning about life-saving respirators.

Careers Related to Lesson Topic

Prerequisite Vocabulary

The mix of gases in our atmosphere. Air is tasteless, odorless, and invisible.

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