Consumer Reports Jr.

Literacy Math Science
Time 1 hour
Age 10 & up
Group Size 4 or more
Tags Consumer, Data, Experiment,   more...
Marketing Measurement Measurements Observation Product Teamwork Testing

Get your money's worth!

Children are inundated with advertisements practically as soon as they are born. Many of these advertisements can be tricky…or even misleading. If we would like our children to grow up to be savvy consumers, we need to help them develop independent thinking skills, and have them practice being thoughtful about the choices that they make. This activity encourages children to compare different brands of products, design scientific tests to compare those products, and determine which of them is the best buy.


When purchasing the facial tissue, be certain to get a range of brands, both some that children have likely heard of (Kleenex; Puff; Scotties; etc.); and some inexpensive brands (such as store brands). If you can find it, you might also try a brand made with recycled paper (such as Seventh Generation). Try to purchase only non-lotion versions. As an alternative, you can ask parents if they are willing to bring in a box of tissues, specifying which brands you would like. Make sure you record the price of each brand, how many tissues are in a box and calculate the cost per tissue. Paper towels also work well for this activity, and will display a more dramatic difference among the brands…but because they are stronger, you will need more weights to test them with.

Consumer Reports Jr.

Suggested Materials

  • 3-4 different brands of facial tissue or paper towels (see Preparation)
  • 12 ounce plastic cups
  • Thin rubber bands, wide enough to fit around the cups
  • Metal washers
  • Measuring spoons and small measuring cups

Optional Materials

  • Eyedroppers

Make it Matter

Opening Discussion

Tell your students that you have just come from a meeting and a very important decision needs to be made—your afterschool is considering a new brand of facial tissue. Tell them that you would like them to help you make the decision about what brand to buy.

The Challenge

Can you design tests to determine which brand of facial tissue is the best buy?


Make it Happen

Doing the Activity

  1. Divide your class into teams of 3 for this activity.
  2. Ask the larger group to list the important attributes of facial tissue (softness; strength; doesn’t leak onto my hands; box design; size of tissues; etc.). Record the list on a piece of chart paper or a dry erase board.
  3. Single out “Strength” and “Doesn’t Leak” (also could be called “Absorbency”) (if they were not listed, you can suggest them), and tell your students that you would like them to invent some tests for these categories. Assign some teams to design “Strength” experiments and some to design “Absorbency” experiments. Show them the materials that you have gathered, and have them begin testing. Their challenge is to design experiments using the materials and tools you have provided.
  4. Tell them that you have 3 (or 4) brands of tissues to test, and show them the tissues BUT DO NOT TELL THEM WHICH BRANDS THEY ARE TESTING. Point out that you have not told them the brands and ask them why they think you haven’t. If they don’t mention it, tell them that it is important that they not know so that they will treat each brand equally in their tests and not try to get their favorite brand to “win”. You are eliminating what is called “experimenter bias”.
  5. It may be tough to distinguish among the different brands—do what you can to keep them straight. If it is not too hard to tell them apart, you can tape 1 tissue from each of the 3 or 4 brands to a piece of chart paper, and label them ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’. Students can refer to this sheet. If the tissues look very similar, you may choose to hand the brands out one at a time and have teams all first test brand ‘A’ and record their results before you hand out ‘B’, then ‘C’ and ‘D’.
  6. While teams are designing their tests, your job is a critical one—older children may be able to design these tests fairly easily, but younger children will need your guidance. Feel free to ask them questions that will lead them to different experiments. See “Suggestions” below for some ideas. Your other role is to make sure that teams are working well together—this activity requires a good deal of cooperation…one person really cannot do it all. Encourage teams to have a role for every member (Holder; Washer Stacker; Recorder; Measurer; Water Dropper; etc.).

Make it Click

Let’s Talk About It

After each team has designed their experiments and has begun testing, take a break and bring the group together to talk about what they have done so far. Have each team report about what they are testing and how they are conducting their test. As they describe their tests, ask them questions that help them think about how carefully they are testing. Are they stacking the washers or tossing them on? Are they dripping the water onto the tissues in the same spot on each tissue? Ask them why it might be important that they test each brand exactly the same way they tested the others.


Make it Better

Build On What They Talked About

Have teams go back to their experiments to finish their testing. Stress the importance of recording their results. Once all tests are done and teams have their results, ask them to assign a score to each tissue brand for each test. The top performer for each test gets a ‘1’, second place gets a ‘2’, third place gets a ‘3’ and 4th place gets a ‘4’. If any brands tie, teams should AVERAGE the two scores…for example, if two brands tie for the best results for strength, one of them would have gotten a 1 and the other a 2…averaging the two yields a 1.5, so they should each be scored with a 1.5. Tying for 1st = 1.5; tying for 2nd = 2.5; tying for last = 3.5. Ask each team to share their scores and record them on a chart. Your chart might look something like this:

Brand A3,3,3,4 = 3.25
Brand B4,4,4,3 = 3.75
Brand C2,2,2,1.5 = 1.875
Brand D1,1,1,1.5 = 1.125

Notice that each of the team’s scores are recorded in the “Strength” column, then the average is calculated. You can ask kids how to find the average of a group of numbers (add them together then divide by how many numbers there were), and maybe even ask them to determine the average themselves. In the chart above, tissue ‘D’ is the winner (the lowest score), followed by ‘C’, then ‘A’ and then ‘B’ scored the worst. Do the same for “Absorbency”, then ask your students if they think that cost is important. Write the word “Cost” in the third column of your chart, and the word “Total” in the 4th column. You can ask the teams to calculate the cost per tissue of the 4 different brands (Cost Per Tissue = total cost divided by number of tissues per box), or you can simply write down the cost. Again, assign each brand a score from 1-4, with 1 being the lowest cost, 4 being the most expensive per tissue.

In the “Total” column, find an average for each brand’s score—add up the scores for Strength, Absorbency and Cost and divide by 3. The brand with the lowest score is the winner!

Ask your kids to name all of the different tissue brands they have heard of, and record them on a piece of chart paper as they list them. Tell your students which 3 or 4 brands you bought and ask them to guess which is which, based on their tests. Reveal the winning brand. Were they surprised by the results?


  • Work with teams as they think about designing their experiments. Some teams will develop tests right away, but some will need guidance. The longer they struggle, the more you’ll have to ask leading questions. Ask them what absorbency means. If they respond “how much water something can hold”, ask them how they might measure that. If teams are struggling to develop a test, you can say something like “What would happen if we put water in a cup and dropped the tissue in, then carefully pulled it out?” For strength, ask them if a strong tissue would tear easily or if it would be harder to tear. “Is there any way we could measure how much strength it takes to tear the tissue?” “Is there anything heavy we could place on it?”
  • Kids have come up with lots of different solutions to testing the strength and absorbency of facial tissues in this activity. Here are a few suggestions:
    1. Strength – Place a tissue over the mouth of a cup, use a rubber band to secure it on the cup and stack the washers on top of the tissue until it breaks. Record the number of washers held before breaking. OR Have one or two kids hold the tissue while another child stacks washers on top of it. Record the number of washers held before breaking.
    2. Absorbency – Measure a certain amount of water into a cup (1/4 cup should do). Drop a tissue into the cup, let it sit for 30 seconds, then lift it out. Hold it over the cup and let water drip off until it stops dripping. Measure the amount of water left in the cup, subtract it from the amount originally in the cup and that is the amount of water held by the tissue. OR Place a tissue over the mouth of a cup, use a rubber band to secure it on the cup and drip drops of water onto the tissue until the water drips through. Record the number of drops dropped before the water dripped through. The higher the number of drops, the more absorbent the tissue is.
  • This is a VERY basic introduction to scientific testing, and it is nearly impossible to achieve the kind of rigorous “fair tests” that might be achieved in a laboratory. Still, this activity is a great opportunity to have conversations with children about how to make these tests as fair and accurate as possible, recognizing that they can’t be quite perfect. Encourage children to test one attribute (also known as a variable) at a time, and to conduct tests 3 times in order to ensure accuracy.
  • If you want to add even more math into this activity, and determine conclusively which brand is best, you can use a weighted assessment chart, also known as a “Pugh matrix”, in which the attributes that are most important (like Cost and Strength) count for more than other attributes which might be less important (like Design of the Box, Scent, etc.). With a Pugh matrix, you can include more attribute columns, and assign the same 1-4 scores (some of these attributes (like box design and softness) will rely on people’s judgement, rather than a scientific score, because they are not possible to test for). Once all attributes have been chosen and scores given, you should ask the group to assign a number from 1-10 to each ATTRIBUTE COLUMN based on how IMPORTANT that attribute is to them. For instance, Strength and Absorbency might each get a 9 or 10, while Box Design and Size might get a 2 or 3. These numbers will give you weighted scores when you multiply each score that the brands received for Strength, Absorbency, Box Design, etc. by the number assigned to that attribute. For example, if brand ‘B’ scored a 3 on Strength, a 2 on Absorbency and a 2 on Cost; and the group decided that Strength and Absorbency each scored a 9 in importance and that cost scored an 8, the new scores for brand ‘B’ is 27 for strength (3 X 9); 18 for Absorbency (2 X 9); and 16 for Cost (2 X 8). Adding up THESE scores will give you an even more accurate assessment of the different brands based on your specific needs.Try the next activity — Consumer Reports Jr. – Taking it Further, in which kids brainstorm a list of other products to test…and then test them!Check out the GEMS curriculum “Paper Towel Testing” for a similar activity designed for the in-school classroom.
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