Basics of the Respiratory System

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12709

What is the purpose of breathing? Where does all that air go? Why does your chest get bigger when you breathe in? Learning about this amazing human air conditioning system is a breath of fresh air!


Life Science

learning style
Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What would your house feel like during hot months without an air conditioner? What would your body feel like without your nose?

Your air conditioner works similarly to your respiratory system, distributing materials internally after collecting air from the external world.

Your respiratory system takes in air and removes the oxygen for use by the body. The image below shows the major components of the respiratory system:

respiratory system

The respiratory system relies on the lungs, a major organ located in the center of the chest to process air and extract oxygen. Your two lungs are located inside your rib cage for protection.

  • Did you know that your left lung is smaller than your right lung? It allows extra space for the heart!

Directly under your lungs is your diaphragm, a muscle that contracts and releases to allow you to breathe.

Your respiratory system relies on your nasal cavity and mouth to take in air. The air is passed through the larynx and trachea on to the lungs. The larynx is the structure that allows you to speak. It is made up of small ridges, or vocal cords, that vibrate to create sound. This is how you sing, yell, and whisper.

vocal cords

The trachea is also called the windpipe. Feel your neck; can you feel the ridges? That is the trachea! It allows air to flow freely between the mouth and the lungs. Notice the epiglottis, right above the vocal cords? This is a small flap of tissue that opens and closes to allow food and water to pass when you swallow.

Your lungs hold very special structures that help the body process air. At the base of the trachea, there are two tubes called "bronchi." These lead into the left and right lung and branch off into smaller, tiny tubes, called "bronchioles." You have around 30,000 bronchioles in each lung!


These bronchioles lead to alveoli, small air sacs covered in capillaries (blood vessels).

Your respiratory system is made up of organs, tissues, and cells that are responsible for intaking air and extracting useful oxygen. It starts with the nose and mouth, which take in air that moves through the larynx and trachea. The trachea meets the large bronchi tubes that branch into many small tubes making up each lung. These bronchioles end with alveoli, or small air sacs located in the lungs.

As you learn about the respiratory structure, start creating a map for the pathway of air.

  • How might air move freely through this system?

Middle school students, discuss what you have learned with a parent or teacher. High school students, draw a quick sketch of the respiratory system in your notebook, and add labels for clarity.

In the Got It? section, you will practice identifying the important structures within the respiratory system.

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