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Sound Waves Science Lesson with “Chicken Clucking”

Apologia Marketing|November 29, 2016

What is Sound?
Sound starts as a vibration of the molecules in the air, called sound waves. If the sound wave makes it into a person’s ear, it will vibrate the structures of the inner ear, which will be interpreted by the brain as sound!

If sound is caused by a sound wave, why are there different sounds?
Have you ever played in the tub creating little waves that move about and bigger waves that splash out of the tub? Well, sound waves are similar. A violin vibrates the air differently from a moving train, which is different from a person talking. In fact, each person’s voice vibrates the air differently and that is why you can tell whether it is your mother, your father, or your brother calling you to dinner!
We can mimic certain sounds. Here is a fun activity to do just that:

Watch the video and print the complete science activity and lesson with extra discussion questions and scientific explanation by clicking here.

Creating Sound Waves

You will need:
1 plastic cup
1 paper clip
22” piece of yarn
Sharp object to make a hole in bottom of cup (and adult supervision if you are young)

Taking It Further Options:
 1 22” piece of nylon string
1 22” piece of twisted cotton cord
1- 22” piece of cotton string
Extra paper clips
You Will Do:

  1. Cut a piece of yarn 22”
  2. Tie the yarn to the long side of the paper clip. Make sure it is securely tied because you will be pulling hard on the yarn.
  3. Punch hole in bottom, middle of plastic cup
  4. Thread the open end of the yarn through the hole and pull the yarn through the hole until the paper clip rests on the bottom of the cup
  5. Cut a piece of paper towel approximately 3” by 6” wide.
  6. Dampen the piece of paper towel. Do not get it soaking wet.
  7. Move everything but cup out of the way.
  8. Hold the cup in one hand and the yarn with the damp paper towel in your other hand.
  9. Use the damp paper towel to pull down on the yarn to make a chicken clucking sound!

Take It Further Directions:

  1. Tie a paper clip to the open end of the yarn.
  2. Pull the string through so it rests on the paper clip on the inside bottom of the cup. Is the sound different? Is it louder? Is the sound more directed?
  3. Next, vary the type of string. Try a nylon string, a twisted cotton string, and twine. How do the sounds vary with each type of string?
  4. Can you come up with other ideas to try?

Discussion Points:

  1. Because air is invisible, it is sometimes hard to remember that it is made up of matter. Other than sound, when might we also realize that air has matter?
    1. Feel the wind, see leaves blowing around on trees, watch clouds move in sky.
  2. Sound waves are “3D”. They expand in all directions. When we create a water wave, the wave ripples out in a circular motion on the surface of the water. With sound waves, those waves are moving up, down, forward, and backward. How can you tell this is happening?
    1. Well, if sound waves only went in one direction, you wouldn’t be able to hear someone if they were in front of you and facing away from you when they talked. The world would be a different type of experience if we only “caught” sound waves directly in our paths. There would be less bird chirping, airplanes passing overhead, and conversation.
  3. Sound waves will continue to move in all directions until something blocks them.
    1. You can probably tell how close you are to a speaker playing music. You hear the music in the room; you can hear the music if you go downstairs, but it is not as loud; you might even hear the music if you go outside. If you stand outside of a window and open it, however, the music will get louder again. The distance and the window blocked the sound.
  4. Why were we able to create a sound like a chicken?
    1. Sound is just a sound wave moving through the air. If you can create a sound wave that is similar to that of any vibrating object, you can sound like it. And, you can have a lot of fun mimicking sounds. We bet you can sound like an alarm going off or a speeding car. With some practice, you might even be able to sound like your mom or dad!

Print the complete science activity and lesson with extra discussion questions and scientific explanation by clicking here.


Woman's headshotRachael Yunis is the Director of Apologia Science. She has advanced degrees in molecular genetics/developmental biology and biomedical ethics, over ten years’ experience in molecular genetic research, and publication in multiple peer-reviewed scientific journals. Rachael is co-author of the Apologia textbook, Advanced Biology, 2nd edition: The Human Body and creator of Apologia’s Field Trip Journal. She has worked as an ethicist and science writer for the American Medical Association, the Alzheimer’s Association, and other national publications such as Association News. She has been a volunteer member of local hospital ethics committees, is a speaker on science, ethics, and homeschooling topics, is an on-call foster parent to infants waiting to be adopted into their forever families, and works globally to support orphaned children. Together with her husband, Sam, a PhD. in mechanical and aerospace engineering and NASA engineer, they have always homeschooled their children and been active in their Virginia homeschool community. Their oldest two now attend Virginia Tech, pursuing degrees in astrophysics and AI computer science.