Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Mystery Scents Activity for Me Gusta (Preferences) Theme

I LOVE TO PROVIDE EXPERIENTIAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR MY ELEMENTARY SPANISH STUDENTS, activities that are authentic and foster real conversation, interaction & reaction on the part of everyone in the room. One such activity that I LOVE to do is Mystery Scents, which I incorporate into my Me gustan las frutas Theme as well as subsequently through my first graders' year. Simple in nature, this activity also allows me to stay in the target language since it is perfectly geared for novice learners! Here's how I run the activity:

Mystery Scents Activity for Me gusta theme preferences in Spanish French

Gather together paper lunch bags and a variety of items that have distinctive scents, such as fruits (lemons, oranges and bananas are particularly great!), coffee, spices, pine cones/pine needles, etc. You can see in the photo above I also used cinnamon sticks and mint leaves; I've also used orchid scented soap during my theme on Venezuela, vanilla/ vanilla beans, coconut, perfume, among other items. Place one item in each bag. You will also need cards that indicate a variety of preferences expressions, such as ours shown in the photo above-for my first graders I only use 'me gusta' and 'no me gusta', but it is easy to add more as kids gain more vocabulary!

Place preference cards on either side of the room. With kids sitting in circle, indicate that they are to sniff the contents of one bag, in silence. (Although they are not perfect at staying silent, I work to keep them as quiet as possible so they don't tell everyone else what they think it is before all have had a chance to take a sniff).
I walk around the circle, letting each kid take a sniff, reminding them to stay silent. Once all have sniffed the contents, I then direct them to either stand near 'me gusta' (I like) or 'no me gusta' (I don't like) in reference to the scent. NOTE: we haven't said what it is yet!
Once all kids are standing near the indication of their preference, I then ask them what they think it is. Sometimes I start with questions like 'Is it a taco?' 'Is it pizza', etc that are obviously NOT what it is, especially if it's a word they are not secure with. If it is a word they know, I would then ask, 'So, what is it?'. If it's not a secure word, but still a cognate, I can usually successfully say, 'Is it café?' and they get it; otherwise I just reveal the item and name it in the target language.
I then instruct them to sit back down and we start another round. Usually, in one 30 minute lesson, I do 2-3 mystery bags (we also do greeting activities, sing a song and/or review before we get to this). I do this activity twice during my Me gustan las frutas theme, while in other themes, I might just bring it back for one lesson with new items geared for that particular theme.

Mystery Scents Activity for Me gusta theme in Spanish class

I do really like to connect the items as much as possible to the theme itself, such as the orchid scented soap I mentioned above for my Venezuela theme. You could also use scented oils or even Glade or air fresheners if you are searching for a particular scent. I prefer items themselves so the kids can look at them and make a connection, but occasionally there is that one perfect scent that you only find as an air freshener! :)

To make it easier for you to do this activity, our Likes and Dislikes Preferences Cards in Spanish are ready to print and use in class, just click here to grab them! And for a set in FRENCH, click here!

Likes Dislikes Preferences Bulletin Board Cards in Spanish

UPDATE! I wanted to do this activity with my 4th graders (usually I do it in first grade most frequently), but since they are older, I decided to add a writing component instead of having them move from one side of the room to the other. Also, since my upper elementary students sit in groups at tables, I had to re-think how to do the activity so there wasn't lots of down time while kids were waiting to sniff the bags. Here's the modification:

Mystery Scents Preference activity in small groups

Using multiple sets of each item (4 bags for each since I have four groups of students in each class), I labeled the bags 1, 2, 3, and 4, then started the first round by putting Bag #1 on all tables, instructing them to wait until all were handed out, then gave the go ahead for each group to sniff their bag's contents. Since they are very intent on trying to figure out what's in the bag, they were allowed to look inside. The key was for them to write their reaction to the SMELL in Box #1 (I like it, I really like etc). I gave them a time limit for writing; then gathered the bags and started the next round.

Preferences Writing Sheet for Mystery Scents Activity in World Language

At the end of the four rounds, I asked kids to tell me which smell they liked the best, 1, 2, 3, or 4, which was a great follow up question! Don't want to make the writing sheet yourself (or don't have time!).. you can download it for FREE by clicking here (it is in four languages, Spanish, French, Russian, and English).


  1. I really like and appreciate your post.Thanks Again. Keep writing.


  2. A lot of work went into this article. Thanks for proving that comments will help with key words.

  3. Replies
    1. That's a great question! I think you could definitely modify it to have it be a guessing station, kids could give their responses in writing and could even guess what's in each bag. If they don't know the word in the target language, they could draw it to keep English at bay.