These lesson plans for health class illustrate how our behaviors, for good or ill, affect our minds and bodies. The learning outcomes provide clarity and guidance that will empower young people to make informed and positive decisions.
This foundational body of knowledge will give your students tools they can use for life. But when it comes to teaching health and physical education, you face fierce competition. Outside those classroom walls waits a world full of opportunities to make ourselves feel good in the short term. Mix in some downright toxic untruths, and the crucial lessons you work tirelessly to impart might get erased.
Luckily, these health class lesson plans will help your students rise above the ruckus.
The Importance of Health Class
Society sometimes operates like a store lined wall-to-wall with shelves full of bad decisions. Despite public information about how these choices impact our physical and emotional well-being, unhealthy decisions remain seductive enough to negate all warnings to the contrary. And that won’t change anytime soon.
That’s why health class is so darn paramount — you’re the first and sometimes only defense.
OK, we used some loaded terms. Bad decisions, unhealthy decisions. These choices could involve ravenous sugar consumption or sticking a fork in a light socket. That’s why we aim to cast a wide net with the classroom tools featured below. This umbrella covers addiction and habitual behaviors in all their many forms — alcohol and prescription and illicit drugs, overeating and poor dietary choices, and even endless smartphone scrolling.
No matter what sits inside Pandora’s Box, these lesson plans provide your students with heightened awareness and the power to scrutinize. And, as a teacher, you know that critical thinking is perhaps the most powerful tool in humanity’s cerebral toolbox.
Health Lesson Plan 1: My Senses
It sounds elementary, we know. We prefer to think of the My Senses classroom activity as foundational. After all, for our youngest and most impressionable students, understanding the five senses represents an essential step toward enlightened decision-making.
Designed predominately for kindergarteners by Mary L. Nisewander, this lesson focuses “on young children as individuals, and how they respond to the stimuli in their world around them. It discusses the senses, and introduces the parts of the body that are sense organs and develops the concept that using the senses helps people learn about the world around them.”
Learning about the senses could involve using sight to guesstimate how many marbles a jar contains, smelling or touching a mystery object to ascertain what it is, or listening to similar sounds to identify the factors that differentiate one item from another.
Remember that store full of temptations we mentioned in the section above? Developing honed senses is the first step in helping your kids circumnavigate those pitfalls.
Health Lesson Plan 2: Menu Examination
Data from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control makes it clear that knowing what we put into our bodies impacts our health and longevity. In fact, 12.7% of 2- to 5-year-olds, 20.7% of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 22.2% of 12- to 19-year-olds meet the criteria for obesity. That means roughly 14.7 million young people face this obstacle.
Examining menus means teaching your students how to make informed, healthier decisions about the food they consume. While some restaurants position themselves as healthy alternatives to your common grease dives, it remains paramount to know what foods contain and what those ingredients do to a body if consumed at regular intervals.
Let’s take a look at a menu famous for its ever-growing plethora of culinary choices. We’re talking, of course, about the Cheesecake Factory. That gold-wallpapered family dining establishment with the menu that weighs nine pounds and rivals the length of a Tolstoy novel. In those laminated pages, you will find a cheeseburger that clocks in at 1,620 calories and a plate of chicken potstickers containing 420 calories.
Which is the better option? And why? For maximum nutrition, would you need to add grilled asparagus (130 calories) to the leaner meal? And do we all realize that the heftier sandwich does not account for French fries, which add a heaping 1,060 extra energy units to an already calorie-heavy lunch? And where do other factors such as protein and fiber come into play?
Health Lesson Plan 3: The Handshake Test
Nutrition and exercise are not the sole measures of health. Sometimes, Mother Nature herself causes illness.
You can use this lesson to explain the transmission of germs from one host to another. If we’re being honest, you can also use this one in sex ed (the learning objective is a very similar principle). Either way, the Handshake Test shows you how organisms that cause illness move seamlessly from one body to the next.
Those of us who watched Nickelodeon might remember Gak, that delightful slime that came in a rainbow of neon colors. If it didn’t end up in the carpet fibers (sorry, Mom!), then that persistent and slimy residue stayed on our hands until we washed them. Well, that’s a perfect way to teach kids about how to combat the spread of disease-spreading agents.
The lesson is deceptively simple. Have your kids shake hands, specifically with a substance similar to Gak coating their palms. Yes, the Nickelodeon-branded goo isn’t widely available anymore, but there are a number of alternatives, including the onomatopoeically named Flarp. This lesson will teach kids not only the ubiquity and transmissibility of germs, but also the importance of frequent and thorough handwashing.
Health Lesson Plan 4: Calorie Math
What happens when you add one Arby’s Rueben (641 calories) to a Burger King Triple Whopper (1,471 calories)? You get 2,112 calories, which surpasses the intake most anyone outside of Olympian swimmers and body builders require in a day.
Here’s a fun scenario. Since a pound of fat forms about 3,500 calories, how many restaurant items would it take to add that weight to a body? This fast food chart provides students with the information required to complete that eye-opening math problem. Their answers could be any number of combinations from 6.2 McDonald’s Big Macs (561 calories each) to 4.2 Wendy’s Baconators (839 calories each).
If you want to make this lesson more challenging, you can include exercise in the equation. While mileage varies depending on a person’s weight and terrain conditions, running generally burns 100 calories per mile, meaning you’d have to jaunt almost four miles to burn off a small bean burrito from Taco Bell (386 calories).
It’s important for your students to understand that even broccoli has calories, and the function of calories is to provide energy throughout the day. In other words, we need these units to live.
Health Lesson Plan 5: Exercise and the Brain
This lesson shows your students how exercise goes beyond the benefits of physical fitness. To be sure, exercise contributes a great deal toward preventing weight-adjacent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. But it’s also about improving brain health.
Multiple studies have reported heightened academic performance that coincides with physical activity. This lesson plan for health class involves asking your kids to keep track of their exercise and compare that with their academic performance. In a diverse and inclusive classroom, where there are children of varying abilities, you’ll need to make amendments as they are appropriate.
In a nutshell, this worksheet has your students measure their exercise with brain games and homework performance. They’ll see how their confidence and scores improve with only 10 minutes of body movement.