Our Sense of Sight: Color Vision

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In this activity, learners investigate color vision as well as plan and conduct their own experiments. In "CLASS EXPERIMENT," learners discover that afterimages occur because of properties of cells in the retina and because of the way nerve pathways carry color information to the brain. They learn basic facts about photoreceptors, nerve connections, and opponent colors. In "TRY YOUR OWN EXPERIMENT," learners design experiments, investigating, for example, how skillful people are at distinguishing gradations of color and how color helps us discern objects in a scene. This lesson plan includes background information and guides for educators and learners.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Disposable camera with flash
  • Several large brightly colored items—some garish, some pleasant (e.g., clothing, household items)
  • Large (8 X 10 or 11 X14 inch) color print and a black and white copy of this print (this can be a print by a well-known artist, a contemporary poster, a picture from a magazine, etc.)
  • Black adhesive dot, about 2 cm in diameter
  • Bright red adhesive dot, about 2 cm in diameter
  • Other colors of adhesive dots as available, 4 to 6 colors if possible
  • Several white unlined index cards, each 5 x 7 inches
  • Timer
  • Several series of paint chips from a paint supply store; try to get at least two identical sets (You may need to ask for out-of-date chips in order that you need not return them)
  • Eight to ten small beakers, clear plastic cups, or flasks, about 200 milliliter volume (more if more than one group wants to do this test)
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Magazines with colorful pictures
  • Collection of pieces of colored paper, with several shades of each color
  • Where's Waldo? Book
  • Large box of crayons (64 or more)


  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
      • Cell Structure and Function
    • Human Body
      • The Brain and Nervous System
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Vision
      • Perception
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
      • Probability
    • Measurement
    • Reasoning and Proof
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
    • Light and Optics
      • Lenses and Mirrors
      • Sunlight and Color
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts
  • Literature


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Murray Ph.D., Marjorie A.


  • All rights reserved, Eric H. Chudler, 2009