Teaching overview

Learning points

  • Humpback whales use sounds to communicate with one another in the dark ocean.
  • Sounds from shipping and other human activities travel large distances through water, and can reach very loud volumes.
  • Unwanted or harmful sounds are known as noise pollution.
  • Noise pollution can cause problems for ocean life, by causing stress, drowning out other sounds, and interfering with communication.

Curriculum keywords

  • Sound
  • Energy
  • Senses
  • Noise pollution

Spark a discussion

  • What sounds do different animals make? Why do animals make sounds?
  • What sounds can you hear in the classroom? Do sounds ever distract you from your schoolwork?
  • How are sounds made? How do sounds travel?
  • What kinds of sounds do you think you can hear in the ocean?
  • What does “pollution” mean? Can you give some examples of pollution?
  • How does noise pollution put whales and other animals at risk?
  • How can we reduce the level of noise pollution in the oceans? Can you suggest any solutions?
  • What do you think will happen to whales if we don’t reduce noise pollution?
  • Why do you think it is important to protect whales and other living things?

Multimedia toolbox

Animal communication

Show this visual before the film to spark a discussion about the different sounds that animals make and why.

Whale song audio loop

Play this audio loop before the film and ask the children if they can identify what is making the sound and why.

Ear protectors

Show this visual after the film to spark a discussion about different ways to protect against noise pollution.

Noise pollution
Unwanted noise that negatively affects the surroundings.

Noise pollution

Show this visual after the film to reinforce key scientific language.

A unit for measuring the volume or loudness of a sound.


Show this visual after the film to reinforce key scientific language.


Sound insulation

INVESTIGATE how well different materials absorb sound.

Open detailed instructions

Other activity ideas

  • DEMONSTRATE the impact of noise pollution by asking two volunteers to compare the experience of having a conversation in a quiet classroom to having the same conversation in a very noisy classroom.
  • RECORD levels of noise pollution in the classroom and school grounds using data loggers or sound meters, and draw plot your findings on a bar graph.
  • WRITE a persuasive letter to a shipping company explaining why it is important to reduce the amount of noise created during the transportation of goods.
  • EXPLORE sounds and vibrations using ear gongs, tuning forks, string telephones and/or snare drums covered in rice. You could also compare how well sound travels through air and water.
  • RESEARCH noise pollution and create a leaflet explaining the different types, the affect on people and wildlife, and ways we can reduce it.
Print this sheet

Sound insulation

Duration: 90 minutes


  • Earmuffs/protectors (optional)
  • 2 plastic/paper cups (per group)
  • A selection of different testing materials (for example: bubble wrap, foam, cotton wool, modelling clay, tissue paper, a selection of fabrics)
  • Sound meter or data logger with sound sensors (optional)
  • Sticky tape or sticky tack
  • Planning an investigation activity sheet (per group)
  • Paper (to record results)
  • A sheet of graph paper (1 per student)

Key Learning:

This investigation encourages the students to think about possible solutions to the problem of noise pollution, by asking them to test different materials to see how well they insulate sound.

Activity instructions:

  1. Ask the class to imagine they are going to visit somewhere very noisy. How could they protect themselves from the noise?
  2. If no one suggests “earmuffs” or “ear protectors”, you can pass round a pair of earmuffs so the students can try them on. Ask the students to discuss in groups how they think the ear protectors work. Ask: Why is it sometimes important to prevent sounds from travelling? Discuss the students’ ideas.
  3. Tell the class that they are now going to investigate how well different materials absorb sounds. Give each group the resources and the Planning an investigation activity sheet.
  4. Help the groups to plan their investigations. One approach would be to place each material inside the cups and then hold them over a volunteer’s ears, so they can compare the level of sound reduction each time (i.e. whether it is a low, medium or high reduction). Or, if you have access to a sound meter, the groups could measure the actual drop in decibels each time, by placing the materials over the sensor. Note: Remind the students that they can only change one variable each time (i.e. the material); all other variables should stay the same, including the amount and type of noise.
  5. Give the groups time to carry out the investigation and record their results in a table.
  6. When all the groups are finished, ask the students to complete the last section of their Planning an investigation activity sheet, and discuss the results as a class. You can ask the following questions:
    • Which material absorbs sound the best/worst?
    • Can you explain why some materials are good at absorbing sound?
    • How would you describe the materials that absorbed sound the best?
    • Did all the groups get similar results?
  7. Give each student a sheet of graph paper. Ask the students to draw a bar chart to present the collected class data. The x-axis should list the names of the different materials, and the y-axis should indicate if the material absorbed a low, medium or high amount of sound.
  8. Draw conclusions as a class. You can ask the following questions:
    • Do your results match your predictions? Why/why not?
    • Are there any improvements you would make to the investigation?
    • How does this investigation relate to real life examples and issues?
    • How could absorbent materials be used to reduce noise pollution in the oceans?

Background information

  • All sounds are made by vibrations, and travel out from their source in the form of sound waves.
  • Sound waves need a medium to travel through. This can be a solid, a liquid or a gas. The sound moves by causing particles in the medium to vibrate; if there are no particles to transmit the vibrations, the sound cannot travel.
  • Sounds travel four times faster in water than in air because the particles are closer together.
  • Unwanted sounds are known as noise pollution. Examples include the sound of aircraft flying over residential areas, or the noise produced by container ships at sea.
  • Humpback whales and other ocean mammals rely heavily on their sense of hearing. They use sound to communicate, socialise, navigate, find food, and attract mates. Noise pollution can interfere with these behaviours and cause stress, hearing loss and other health problems.
  • Absorbent materials can be used to muffle sounds and reduce unwanted noise and noise pollution. This is known as soundproofing.


A form of energy that can be heard. Sounds are made by vibrations. Sound energy is then carried from its source as sound waves.
Sound wave
A wave that transmits sound. Sound waves travel in all directions.
Noise pollution
Unwanted noise that negatively affects the surroundings. Examples of noise pollution include heavy traffic and noise from aeroplanes taking off and landing.
Decibel (dB)
A unit for measuring the volume or loudness of a sound.

Explore our resources

Complete your lesson with teaching resources on noise pollution from Tigtag.

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Discover free online CPD for primary science from Reach Out CPD.

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