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Brain Power: Grades 6-9


  1. The Brain Power! magazine provides a timeline of some of the major events in the history of alcohol. Develop a similar timeline for tobacco. The timeline should trace people’s growing understanding of the impact of tobacco on public health in the United States, from the founding of the colonies to the present day. What are some current topics in the news related to tobacco, smoking, and nicotine?
  2. The Brain Power! magazine includes a cartoon that illustrates how nicotine affects neurotransmitters in the brain. Have students develop a cartoon that shows the effects of alcohol on the brain.
  3. Lead the class in completing the following experiment to demonstrate the harmful effects of nicotine and alcohol.


  • 4 household plants of the same kind
  • Alcohol
  • Paper and pencil
  • Marker
  • Coffee
  • Ruler
  • Water
  • 2 clear plastic cups
  • Cigarettes

Never let children handle alcohol or tobacco products.

Conducting the experiment:

What would happen if plants drank alcohol or coffee, or smoked cigarettes? Have students think about how the items will be used in this experiment and record their observations on how the plants look. If you have a camera, take pictures of the plants before you begin the experiment.


Write down student predictions about how each plant will react over the course of 3 weeks if each is fed with one of the following substances: water, coffee, tobacco water, or alcohol.

Drawing of potted plants labeled water, coffee, tobacco water, and alcohol


  1. Label each plant with the substance with which it will be fed (Figure 1).
  2. Drawing of cup with line on it to indicate level
    With a ruler, measure 1 inch from the bottom of the clear plastic cups and draw a line. To feed the plants, fill the cups only to the line so that each plant receives the same amount of food (Figure 2). Only teachers should handle the alcohol and tobacco.
  3. Label one of the cups “Tobacco.” This cup will be used for the tobacco water only.
  4. Every 3 days for 3 weeks, do the following:
    1. The night before, fill the tobacco cup to the line with water; remove the paper from one cigarette, and put the tobacco in the cup. Let it soak overnight.
    2. The next day, place the plants on a table.
    3. Measure each plant at its highest point (the tallest leaf) with a ruler. Record each plant’s height and appearance (color, overall health, and number and health of its leaves).
    4. Have students record their observations, and draw a picture of each plant.
    5. Gather the tobacco water, fresh water, coffee, and alcohol. Make sure they are at room temperature.
    6. Pour the tobacco water in the plant labeled tobacco.
    7. Pour one of the other substances (water, coffee, or alcohol) into the other plastic cup to the line.
    8. Pour the substance into the plant labeled for that substance.
    9. Rinse the cup between each feeding.
    10. Repeat steps g, h, and i until each plant has been fed.
    11. Keep the plants in a sunny area between feedings.


At the end of 3 weeks, examine and measure each plant. Have students record their observations. Compare the measurements and drawings of each plant from the first day with the measurements and appearance of each plant after 3 weeks of feedings and have students record the differences. If you took pictures of the plants prior to the experiment, compare the pictures to the way the plants look now.

Questions for Students

What effect did each substance have on the plant? What happened? Did some of the plants grow more than others? Did any of the plants die? What conclusions can you draw from the appearance of the plants? Discuss the results of the experiment. If these substances hurt, or maybe even killed, the plants, what would happen if a person used nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine?

As students complete the activities in the module, observe whether they have mastered the following:

  1. Can students describe the effects of nicotine on the brain? Can they explain how these changes often result in addiction?
  2. Can students describe the effects of alcohol in the brain? Can they explain how these changes may result in addiction?
  3. Can students list withdrawal symptoms of nicotine and alcohol? Do they understand the connection between these symptoms and how the brain changes as a result of the use of these substances?
  4. Can students provide a scientific justification for the laws against the use of nicotine and alcohol by young people?
  5. Did students participate in class activities and discussion? Did they engage in the topic?

This page was last updated June 2007

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Cite this article

NIDA. (2007, June 1). Brain Power: Grades 6-9. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/brain-power/brain-power-grades-6-9

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