Simple Classroom Activities on Fermentation

Fermentation is a scientific process humans have used for hundreds of years to make bread and alcohol. If your class is learning about fermentation, you may want to use this opportunity for a hands-on class experiment. Experiments are great for teaching students natural processes because they break up class time and allow for social interaction and curiosity. Some classroom experiments great for teaching students about fermentation are making wine, ethanol or bread, and testing the metabolism of yeast to show students that yeast is a living organism.

  1. Making Wine

    • Making wine in the classroom can be exciting for students because it teaches them the process of fermentation while also making a widely used, consumable product. Of course, your students will not be able to taste the wine, but they can smell the wine the class has made and know that their juice has fermented. This project is easy and can be done a few ways: you can have a single container for the class or you can have each student make their own wine in a small test tube. Wine can be made by mixing grape juice with sugar and water, adding yeast and covering tightly. Students can cover wine with cellophane and a rubber band. Store in a cool, dry place for about a week. Allow students to watch the bubbling and fermenting, and then smell the wine when fermentation is complete.

    Making Ethonol

    • Ethanol is a fuel mixed in with gasoline and is an alternative to fossil fuels. Students most likely will have heard the word tossed around, and may have seen the phrase "10 percent or more ethanol" at the gas pump. This project teaches students that ethanol is made from fermentation. You will need two flasks fitted with corks, glass tubing and rubber tubing. You will also need two test tubes, limewater, a 10 percent glucose solution, dried yeast, cotton wool, a test tube rack and cellotape.

      Add the glucose solution to each flask, add yeast to one flask and fit the cork and tubing over both containers. Wrap the flasks in cotton wool, and tape the wool to the flasks with cellotape. Fill your test tubes with limewater and set them on the test tube rack. Submerge the free ends of your tubing in the limewater. After 12 hours, the tube with the yeast will have formed ethanol, giving off an alcohol smell.

    Making Bread

    • Most students have eaten sandwiches and think of bread as a modern convenience. However, students may not know that leavened bread, or bread fermented with yeast, has been a human staple since ancient Egypt. Yeast is what helps bread rise because of fermentation. The yeast feeds on sugar in the dough, producing gas bubbles, which expand the bread.

      Bread can be made simply with flour, sugar, water and yeast. You can teach students the importance of yeast in bread rising by making dough with yeast and dough without yeast, and showing students the difference between the breads. Bring a crock pot or a bread maker to your class so you can cook the bread in the classroom.

    Is Yeast Alive? Experiment

    • While students may know that yeast is used to make bread and wine, they may not know the process of fermentation or why the process of fermentation happens. This activity is meant to teach students that yeast is a living organism and that fermentation happens when yeast metabolizes sugar and produces carbon dioxide. In this activity, you can teach students that yeast uses and breaks down energy like other living beings.

      You will need four test tubes. Label each test tube one to four. Fill the first test tube with a packet of yeast and warm tap water. Shake and mix it together. Evenly distribute this mixture to each test tube. Add half a packet of sugar to test tubes one and two, and add warm tap water to all test tubes, filling them about 1/4 full. Cover each test tube with a balloon, and shake them to mix them. Observe the balloons. The tubes with the sugar will fill the balloons with carbon dioxide because the yeast is metabolizing the sugar.

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