Seeing Sound

In this lesson students will read about the properties of waves as the relate to sound.  Students will also experience demonstrations of how longitudinal and transverse waves move through a medium.  Students will also be introduced to spectrograms and how they allow for us to study sounds.  They will then apply this knowledge to try and match spectrograms to the correct source.

AuthorsDarrin Matthies; EARTH 2015

Lesson Resources


  1. Start the lesson by playing a few samples of everyday sounds.  Have students identify them.  How did you know what made the sound?  Then tell the students that they will be learning about sound today and how we can describe AND show what we hear.
  2. Introduce students to  (If you are having students read along on their own device, give them a short tour of the website, then direct them to What is Sound? (
  3. Read through what is sound with the students.  Focus on the vocabulary (wave, equilibrium, medium, longitudinal wave, transverse wave, and parallel).  Have students complete the vocabulary template for each word. .Model the difference of transverse and longitudinal waves with the wave modeling spring.  It is important that students can get a visual representation of the difference.
    *If you do not have a modeling spring, you can use a slinky, a jump rope, or a bungee cord.
  4. Guide your students through How do you characterize sounds? ( Intensity/amplitude, frequency, and wave length have extension pages that go more in depth and will assist in developing this new vocabulary.
  5. Play several sounds from the sound gallery of ( ).  Have a discussion about the sound wave properties, such as does the sound have a high or low frequency?  Use this opportunity to familiarize the students with the spectrograph.  You could compare two sounds and discuss which has higher amplitude.  You could also have students describe what they hear and work as a group to translate their observations into the lesson vocabulary.  The objective of this section of the lesson is to apply the vocabulary they have just learned.
  6. Distribute match card sets (You will want to cut them apart Appendix B).  Encourage students to think about what they know about sound and what they have learned in this lesson.  The objective is to match the spectrograph to the correct animal.
    Play each sample that goes with each spectrogram so that students can connect the audio with the visual.  Then let students work individually or in small groups to pair the spectrogram with the correct animal.  Encourage students to explain their reasoning and evidence.
  7. The Reveal- Display each animal then play the corresponding spectrogram.  Students will self-assess their pairings.  Students will write a journal response discussing their results.  What observations have you made about sound?  Spectrograms?  Have students share their journal entry with a partner.

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