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Body Systems, Citizenship, Movement & Play


3rd, 4th, 5th


Social Studies, Civics, Health


60 minutes

Regional Focus

North America, United States, USA - Northeast, New Jersey


Google Docs, Google Slides

Catch Your Breath

Created By Teacher:
Last Updated:
Oct 3, 2022



This lesson builds on students’ understanding of the cardiorespiratory system, showcases how climate change impacts cardiorespiratory health, and concludes with students exploring ways they can expand their actionable responses to climate change. 

Step 1 - Inquire: Students warm up, look over the diagram of the cardiorespiratory system, and consider the questions “What might cause harm to my cardiorespiratory system?” and “How does the quality of the air I breathe impact my lungs and my health?”

Step 2 - Investigate: Students play the "Catch Your Breath Game" and analyze how air quality impacts the cardiorespiratory system.

Step 3 - Inspire: Students consider how New Jersey organizations and stakeholders can work collaboratively to minimize impacts of air pollution and climate change on their own health and the health of future generations.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
Teaching Tips


  • This lesson incorporates play and fun into learning about air quality and how it relates to the cardiorespiratory system.
  • Students will draw direct connections between health and climate.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Teachers should have access to a play space large enough to accommodate the “Catch Your Breath Game."
  • Teachers should have access to balls or objects that students can throw or catch.
  • Teachers should be familiar with facilitating a Socratic seminar style discussion.


  • Students can write an analysis on why they think the game is called “Catch Your Breath.”
  • Teachers can assign the groups to strategically place students who need support in certain areas with students who can provide that support.
  • Teachers can print out the cardiorespiratory system diagram for students who would benefit from a hard copy.
  • Other resources related to this lesson include this video about a nonprofit detecting deforestation and this resource to determine the tree equity score of your city or neighborhood.
Scientist Notes

This lesson teaches students about what is in the air we breathe, how trees are important to keeping the air clean, air pollution, and how to solve some of the big global problems. Links to local New Jersey organizations are provided. The TedEd video also links to more resources about air pollution. This lesson also includes some movement and a game to help students visualize how pollutants can be removed for the air. The videos contain accurate and thought-provoking information. This resource is recommended for teaching.

  • Comprehensive Health & Physical Education
    • Personal and Mental Health
      • 2.1.5.CHSS.2: Describe how business, non-profit organizations, and individuals can work cooperatively to address health problems that are affected by global issues, including climate change.
    • Physical Wellness
      • 2.2.5.MSC.1: Demonstrate body management skills and control when moving in relation to others, objects, and boundaries in personal and general space (e.g., coordination, balance, flexibility, agility).
    • Safety
      • 2.3.5.HCDM.1: Identify conditions that may keep the human body from working properly, and the ways in which the body responds.
10 minutes
  • Students enter the play space (gym, open space, classroom) and meet with the teacher to check heart rate, breathing, and oxygen levels before and after an exercise.
    • Baseline Heart Rate Check: Students enter the gym and do a breathing and heart rate check.
    • Exercise: Students can choose to dance, run laps, or complete a 3-minute tabata in a smaller space.
    • After Exercise Heart Rate Check: Students do another breathing and heart rate check and make a comparison. 
    • Students share questions they have about their heart rate with each other.
  • Students get into small groups of three to six to “stretch and guess” as they look over the cardiorespiratory system diagram.
  • Students discuss and generate ideas for the following questions:
    • How are air, oxygen, and nature (especially trees) all connected?
    • How does your cardiorespiratory system change when you shift from resting to exercising? Be as specific as possible. Do you know why?
    • What might impair or make it more difficult for the cardiorespiratory system to work as well as it should?
  • As a class, students discuss answers to the questions above in a Socratic seminar style. This will serve as a way of codifying the understanding thus far.
  • Teacher responds to the answers the students provided.
    • Issues regarding healthy eating and exercising to benefit the cardiorespiratory system should be addressed and noted as contributing factors.
    • The focus of this particular lesson is on air quality, and the teacher may need to direct the investigation toward this direction.
  • Teacher reminds the students how the cardiorespiratory system works. Humans inhale or collect oxygen from the air into the lungs where the oxygen and air is picked up by the arteries of the vascular system, pumped by the heart, and delivered to cells throughout the body. In reverse, the cardiorespiratory system collects cell waste of CO2 and returns it in the veins of the vascular system. The CO2 is exhaled out of the body through the lungs. The students should have prior knowledge about this cyclical system.
25 minutes
  • Students watch a video about air quality and the cardiorespiratory system and a video about trees’ role in air quality.
    • As they watch, students think about how the videos relate to the cardiorespiratory system.
    • Students write additional questions or curiosities they have.
  • Students play the “Catch Your Breath Game.”
    • Teacher places several balls or objects throughout a large circular playing area.
    • Students get into groups of two to three and line up (relay style) around the outside.
    • Teacher tells the students that the circle playing area is the atmosphere, and the objects are CO2 and air pollutants that are reducing air quality. The class’s job is to remove as many of the objects from the atmosphere as possible in a predetermined time limit.
    • Every time a tree catches a CO2 or air pollutant, it is removed from the atmosphere.
    • On the word go, the first person in the line of the small group runs into the atmosphere and chooses a CO2 or air pollutant. This student turns and throws the ball or object back to the next person in the line who is in a hula hoop or on a spot signifying the roots of the tree. (Students should not be running all over to catch the CO2 and air pollutants, as trees do not move.)
    • If the CO2 or air pollutant is caught up by the tree (student in the hoop or on the spot), the object does not return to the atmosphere and is placed by the team outside of the atmosphere.
    • If the CO2 or air pollutant is not caught, the student who was trying to catch it picks it up and returns it to the atmosphere and becomes the new thrower. The new student who is throwing does not have to throw that same CO2 or air pollutant that was returned. They can choose any CO2 or air pollutant that they want to throw.
    • The previous thrower goes to the back of the line so that another person can be a tree.
  • Teachers can decide to play this game cooperatively or competitively in several rounds or a single round. The predetermined time can be altered depending on the skill level, and modifications can also be made around where the tree is rooted and from where in the atmosphere the CO2 and air pollutant can be thrown.
  • Teachers should review safety issues about spatial awareness while running through the atmosphere, good throwing and catching techniques, and other points to "honor the game" particular to each class's needs.
  • Once the game is finished, students stand or sit around the outside of the atmosphere circle. Students discuss the impacts of CO2 and air pollutants on the Earth and on the human cardiorespiratory system. The open conversation could begin with one of the following questions:
    • “What do you think we can do to help with the CO2 and air pollutants in the atmosphere?”
    • “What can you do to help reduce CO2 and air pollution?”
    • “What actions can you take and what organizations might help you with this challenge?”
    • “Why are trees so important to us?”

25 minutes
  • Students watch this video about solving complex global problems through collaboration.
    • Pause at 1:30 into the video. Teacher says, “We are about to learn three challenges that address global problems. Pay attention to what each challenge is and what we can do to overcome it.”
    • Pause at 2:02 into the video. 
      • Teacher asks, “What is the first challenge?” and students respond, “Failing to listen."
      • Teacher asks, “How do we overcome this?” and students respond, “Find people who are already working on these problems, listen to them, and show our support.”
    • Pause at 2:17 into the video.
      • Teacher asks, “What is the second challenge?” and students respond, “We tend to work in silos.”
      • Teacher asks, “How do we overcome this?” and students respond, “We can make it easier for organizations, governments, and people to come together and drive impact.”
    • Pause at 2:37 into the video.
      • Teacher asks, “What is the third challenge?” and students respond, “We think too short term.” 
      • Teacher asks, “How do we overcome this?” and students respond, “Because the issues we are working on are so enormously complex, we have to be thinking more long term.”
  • Students read about organizations that are working to improve environmental health in New Jersey.
  • Students brainstorm at least two local organizations or stakeholders that could collaborate to improve air quality in New Jersey.
  • Using the three key drivers of social impact from the video, students contact at least one of the local New Jersey organizations, outlining a proposed strategy for a collaborative effort to reduce air pollution in New Jersey.


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