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Hands-on Activity: Smoke and Mirrors

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5 (4-6)

Time Required: 1 hours 45 minutes

(two 50-minute sessions)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Group Size: 4

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Chemistry, Earth and Space, Physical Science, Science and Technology

Two hand-drawn cartoons. On the left, a young girl points to a sign and says, "When I grow up, I want to look just like the supermodel on that smoking billboard." On the right, the grown-up girl has brown fingers, smelly clothes, yellow teeth, cigarette burns, brittle hair and lung cancer and says, "What'd I say?"
When I grow up... and 20 years later.
Copyright © Arts Work, Herberger College of Fine Arts, Arizona State University http://artswork.asu.edu/arts/students/cartoon/les3_4.htm.


Students develop a persuasive peer-to-peer case against smoking, with the goal to understand how language usage can influence perception, attitudes and behavior.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Second-hand smoke from cigarettes is a major cause of indoor air pollution, especially in buildings that are unable to circulate and exchange the air fast enough to keep the air clean. Organizing and presenting a persuasive and convincing argument to the public or government representatives on a topic such as improving indoor air quality is often the job of an engineer.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Learn how second-hand smoke from cigarettes is a major cause of indoor air pollution.
  • Incorporate source materials into their speaking and writing (for example, interviews, news articles, encyclopedia information).
  • Write and speak in the content areas using the technical vocabulary of the subject accurately.
  • Read, respond to and discuss literature that represents points-of-view from places, people, and events that are familiar and unfamiliar.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

5-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. (Grade 5)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Obtain and combine information from books and/or other reliable media to explain phenomena or solutions to a design problem.

Alignment agreement:

Human activities in agriculture, industry, and everyday life have had major effects on the land, vegetation, streams, ocean, air, and even outer space. But individuals and communities are doing things to help protect Earth's resources and environments.

Alignment agreement:

A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions.

Alignment agreement:

Science findings are limited to questions that can be answered with empirical evidence.

Alignment agreement:

  • The development and use of technology poses ethical issues. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Economic, political, and cultural issues are influenced by the development and use of technology. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Develop, communicate, and justify an evidence-based explanation about how ecosystems interact with and impact the global environment (Grade 6) More Details

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Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • paper and pencils
  • (optional) Internet access

Pre-Req Knowledge

General familiarity with the concepts and issues of indoor air pollution and air quality.


You and your team are the owners of Peer-2-Peer, an anti-smoking consulting practice that uses creative methods to spread the word to your generation about the dangers of smoking. Lately you've been really busy.

Persuading Ziggie

Ziggie Burns is a sixth-grade student. His parents suspect he is already smoking or about to start. They have tried to warn Ziggie, but nothing they say seems to have an effect. They figure someone his own age stands a better chance of making an impression. So, they hired you.

The Case of Wanda B. Cool

All of Wanda's favorite celebrities smoke, so she figures it can't be all bad. She has also heard that smoking helps people stay thin. She'd like to become a model when she turns 12 and figures she'll give smoking a try. Wanda's friends are worried about her. You decide to take on the case pro bono.

Your Assignment

Your approach, at Peer-2-Peer, is to make your case by giving presentations (direct factual approach) or by performing skits (indirect dramatic approach) to groups of students. Creativity is your trademark. One team works with Ziggie and the other with Wanda. Decide which approach will work best, the direct factual approach or the indirect dramatic approach. Or, maybe get really creative and ask Wanda or Ziggie to join your group so that they can learn by role-playing.



This activity is based on the award-winning and widely used WebQuest, The Real Scoop on Tobacco (see http://nides.bc.ca/Assignments/Fanclub/tobacco.html or the References section). For this literacy activity, the lesson plan was modified to be gender-inclusive; according to a recent World Health Organization study, girls are now using tobacco almost as much as boys.

Follow the online lesson plan step-by-step if time permits or use the abbreviated approach outlined below. The subject warrants full treatment as time permits, especially for students who are about to graduate to middle school, where peer pressure to smoke increases.


Continue on from the activity begun in the Introduction / Motivation section...

  1. Earn Ziggie's and Wanda's respect by showing them you are sincere and know what you are talking about. Capture and hold their attention. Anticipate their objections and be ready to answer their questions. Learn as much as you can about the dangers of smoking so Ziggie and Wanda believe you are not just handing them a line. Conduct background research on the Internet (see the References section) or by interviewing adults.
  2. In a sense, Wanda and Ziggie are your real "clients" or "customers." You want them to "buy" your message rather than the tobacco company's product. Tobacco companies understand the youth market. To compete successfully against them, learn as much as you can about the techniques they use to target young customers (even though they are not supposed to). (Creative examples include paying for product placement in television shows and general smoking imagery in films.) See kids' parodies of tobacco ads at If Tobacco Ads Really Told the Truth (see http://www.olivija.com/visual-1/), listed in the References section.
  3. Young people generally think they will live forever and cannot be hurt by smoking; they do not respond to anti-smoking scare tactics. From your experience do you think this is true? If so, how will you get the message across to Wanda and Ziggie that smoking can hurt their health?
  4. Remember that each of your "clients" is an individual. Prepare a profile for each client that describes his or her interests, attitudes and likely objections. Create your skit or presentation with those characteristics in mind.


One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in making a case to Ziggie and Wanda is that they believe the message that "smoking is cool." Think of ways smoking is made to appear cool. (Examples: Advertisements that associate smoking with doing cool things; peer pressure [cool kids do it]; celebrities who smoke, especially young celebrities who appeal to a young audience; product placements and general smoking imagery in movies and other media.) It is a game of smoke and mirrors. Smoke = cigarettes. Mirrors = the appeal to vanity and image.

How will you counter those images? How will you hold up a mirror that reflects an accurate image of smoking?


If you decide to prepare a factual presentation, use the following three-part, case-study presentation format:

  1. Background of the Problem

Include historical background and definitions, primary causes of the problem, areas or people most affected, etc.

  1. Development of the Case

Include documentation of the problem or damage (statistics, maps, before/after photographs), impact on human beings, environment, plants, animals; and a human-interest story.

  1. Call to Action – What Can You Do?

Develop your argument with the use of background information, supporting evidence, storytelling and a call to action.

If you decide to do a skit, work as a team to prepare your script. Don't just wing it. Include enough factual information to make your case.


anticipate: To feel or realize beforehand; to foresee.

consultant: One who gives expert or professional advice.

mirror: Something that faithfully reflects or gives a true picture of something else.

objection: A statement against a course of action.

peer: A person who has equal standing with another or others, as in rank, class or age: children who are easily influenced by their peers.

persuade: To influence someone to take a course of action or embrace a point-of-view by means of argument, reasoning or appeal.

pro bono: Done without payment, for the public good: a lawyer's pro bono work.

profile: A biographical essay presenting the subject's most noteworthy characteristics and achievements.

smoke and mirrors: Something that deceives or distorts the truth: Your explanation is nothing but smoke and mirrors.


Pre-Activity Assessment

Use call-out questions or a quiz to check students' comprehension of background research.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Use call-out questions during the Thinking discussion to reinforce understanding.

Post-Activity Assessment

Assess student teams on the persuasiveness of their presentation or skit.

Troubleshooting Tips

Plan on one 50-minute class session to introduce concepts, and another 50-minute class session to coach students on their presentations or skits.

Activity Extensions

Write a letter to tobacco companies objecting to the tactics they use to target the youth market. Support your argument with facts from your research and ad analysis.

Write an editorial or letter to the editor of your local newspaper making a statement about an issue related to youth using tobacco. Read some editorials published in newspapers or magazines to get a feel for their style.

Find out about smoking laws in your state and city, such as bans on smoking in restaurants and other public places. Why do you think these laws were enacted? What impact do they have on you and your community? Write to your council members supporting or urging action.

Activity Scaling

  • As a team activity with groups of 2-4 students each, this can easily be scaled to the talents and abilities of the individuals on the team.


American Council for Drug Education. Updated May 2004. ACDE, NY, NY. Accessed September 22, 2004. http://www.acde.org/

Basic Facts about Drugs: Tobacco. American Council for Drug Education, New York, NY. Accessed September 22, 2004. http://www.acde.org/common/Tobacco.htm

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. CTFK, Washington, DC. Accessed September 22, 2004. http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/

Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Accessed July 18, 2004. [Source of vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation.) http://www.dictionary.com

Learning: Teaching Multimedia Skills: Telling Stories in Words and Pictures. YouthLearn Initiative at the Education Development Center, Inc. Accessed September 22, 2004. [An excellent site. Not to be missed. Includes numerous activities and links. "Planning guides and teaching techniques for working with youth and technology."] http://www.youthlearn.org/

Meyers, Robert, H. Visuals: Sometimes a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (If Tobacco Ads Really Told the Truth). Updated June 27, 2003. Olivija's Place, Canyon Springs High School, Moreno Valley, CA. Accessed September 22, 2004. [Kids' parodies of tobacco ads. If this link is broken, try typing the title "If Tobacco Ads Really Told the Truth" into the google.com search box with quotation marks around it.] http://www.olivija.com/visual-1/

Nehls, Ginger. The Real Scoop on Tobacco. Magnolia Elementary School, Upland Unified School District, Community Coalition Technology Project, San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, CA (formerly Instructional Technology Development Consortium [ITDC] Webquest; this lesson plan is the inspiration for this activity). Accessed September 22, 2004. http://nides.bc.ca/Assignments/Fanclub/tobacco.html

Smoking. Yale Cancer Center, Yale-New Haven Medical Center, CT. Accessed September 22, 2004. [Includes examples of Cold Spring School kid's anti-smoking art.] http://yalecancercenter.org/index.aspx

Young girls using tobacco almost as much as boys in many regions of the world. 2003. World Health Organization. Accessed September 22, 2004. [Press Release] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2003/pr64/en/


© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.


Jane Evenson; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise W. Carlson

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: August 8, 2018

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