How to stop a rhino in its tracks

Since a number of other ScienceBloggers have posted lists of science websites for kids (Science sites for kids by Karmen; Online sources for hands-on chemistry for kids by Janet; Cool science sites for kids by Zuska; and Brain science is child’s play by Sandra), I thought I’d share this cool practical activity for a lesson about microbes.

The activity is designed for schoolchildren at Key Stage 3 (11-year-olds); I gave it a go during my short time as a secondary school science teacher, and thought it was quite effective.


To demonstrate how colds can spread from person to person by both direct and indirect contact and how hand washing can reduced the spread.


  • Body glitter: the gel acts as the mucus and the glitter as the rhinovirus
  • Access to soap and water
  • Pencil
  • Ruler 


Divide the class into three groups A, B, & C. These groups need to remain separate during the practical activity. 

Take one person from each group and place a blob of glitter gel, about the size of a ten pence piece, into the left hand palm of each of their hands. Get each of the three pupils to pretend to sneeze into their hands. (At this point if you had a cold and had really sneezed into your hands they would be covered with infectious droplets of mucus containing the rhinovirus.) Get the three pupils to rub their hands together (as they often do to ‘remove’ the droplets). Each of the three pupils should show their hands to the class so they can see how the microbes have been spread all over their hands.

Each pupil should go back to his or her own group.

The pupils from each group should form a line standing in pairs.

Group A 

The person with the glitter on their hands should shake hands with the first pair of pupils at the start of their line. This pair should go on to shake hands with the next pair in their line. Repeat until they get to the end of the line.

Group B

The person with the glitter on their hands should handle the ruler and pencil. The ruler should be passed down one line from pupil to pupil and the pencil down the other until they reach the end of the line.

Group C

The person with the glitter on their hands should go and wash them using soap and water. Then repeat activity as for Group A.

Each group should examine their hands and describe what they see.

After they have completed the activity, bring the pupils back together to discuss their results.

Extension activities

Ask the pupils to use secondary sources to find which other diseases may be transmitted by failure to wash hands adequately.

Ask pupils to produce a poster, for their peer group, which can be displayed in the hall showing when they should wash their hands.

From the Educational Resources for Schools at the Society for General Microbiology. The activity is available as a PDF which includes additional information about the common cold.