Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom

Food Science: Bread Dough Challenge

Grade Level(s)

9 - 12

Estimated Time

Two 1-hour sessions


Students explore the phenomenon of what makes bread dough rise. Using baker's yeast, students will observe alcoholic fermentation and its connection to cellular respiration as they are challenged to act as food scientists and develop the best recipe for quick-rising bread dough.


Interest Approach: 

Activity 1:

Activity 2:

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)


budding: a form of asexual reproduction where parent cell forms a bubble-like bud that stays attached to the parent cell while it grows and develops; then breaks away to form a new organism

asexual reproduction: a form of reproduction involving a single parent and producing offspring that are exact genetic duplicates

anaerobic: without the use of oxygen

alcoholic fermentation: an anaerobic pathway that converts the pyruvate made in glycolysis to ethanol, produces CO2, and regenerates NAD

cellular respiration: process by which cells release energy from glucose and convert it to ATP

lactic acid fermentation: an anaerbic pathway that converts the pyruvate made in glycolysis to lactic acid, regenerating NAD

food science: a branch of science that uses biology, chemistry, and physics to understand food, its production and preservation, and to develop and improve food products

gluten: a combination of proteins in wheat and other grains that form crosslinks during kneading to make dough elastic

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

Background - Agricultural Connections

This lesson can be nested into a storyline as an episode exploring the phenomenon of bread dough rising. In this episode, students investigate the question, "What makes bread dough rise?" Phenomena-based lessons include storylines which emerge based upon student questions. Other lesson plans in the National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix may be used as episodes to investigate student questions needing science-based explanations. For more information about phenomena storylines visit nextgenstorylines.org.

Cellular respiration can be a difficult topic for students to understand because it cannot be directly observed. In this lesson, students who have studied the basics of aerobic cellular respiration will be introduced to alcoholic fermentation and will conduct a simple experiment to determine how yeast gets energy from sugar. Students who aren’t familiar with using yeast in baking may wonder if it’s alive, which is another great opportunity for discussion.

Yeasts are unicellular fungi that reproduce asexually. The species Saccharomyces cerevisiae is used in bread baking and wine and beer brewing. S. cerevisiae is also used as a model organism in many laboratories because it is easy and inexpensive to culture. It is a facultative anaerobe, meaning that it undergoes both aerobic and anaerobic fermentation. In the absence of oxygen, yeast and other organisms undergo alcoholic fermentation, producing CO2 and ethanol and regenerating the NAD+ needed to continue glycolysis. While this produces less ATP than aerobic respiration, some ATP is still produced.

Yeast cells do more than respire, they go through a form of asexual reproduction called budding. Asexual reproduction involves a single parent and results in offspring that are genetically identical to each other and to the parent. Budding occurs when a parent cell forms a bubble-like bud that stays attached to the parent cell while it grows and develops. Then, it breaks away and forms a new organism.

Students may be interested to learn that yeast is all around us; sourdough bread is made by allowing yeast in the air and in the flour to colonize a mixture of flour and water. The CO2 produced during yeast metabolism is captured in bread dough, causing it to rise. The protein gluten provides a structure for the bubbles of CO2. Kneading is necessary to develop and strengthen the crosslinks between gluten molecules. If dough is not kneaded enough, it won’t be elastic enough to capture the CO2 bubbles, resulting in a flat loaf. Gluten is not found in some grains, such as oats and rice. Students who try to make a dough with gluten-free flour may find that it won’t rise at all.

In Activity 2, students are challenged to act as food scientists to develop a recipe for quick-rising bread dough. Agricultural companies, like General Mills, Land O Lakes, and Cargill, challenge food scientists to utilize raw agricultural products as efficiently as possible to develop consumer-demanded food products.  If Activity 2 must be broken up over two class periods, it might be helpful to have students mix together the dry ingredients of their dough (Step 11) on the first day so they are ready to start immediately on day two.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Show the Time Lapse - Pizza Dough Rising video. 
  2. Ask students, "What is causing this pizza dough to rise?" When students offer "yeast" as an answer, question further. For example, "What is yeast?" or "How does yeast make dough rise?"


This lesson investigates the phenomenon of bread dough rising. Natural phenomena are observable events that occur in the universe that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict.

Phenomenon-Based Episode: What makes bread dough rise?
Disciplinary Core Ideas: 
Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems
National Agricultural Literacy Outcome Theme: Culture, Society, Economy & Geography

QuestionScience and Engineering PracticesStudent Engagement in PracticesExplanation
  1. What makes bread dough rise?
  • Asking Questions and Defining a Problem
Students ask and refine questions that lead to descriptions and explanations about what causes the ziploc bag with yeast, water, and sugar to inflate. Yeast makes bread dough rise. When sugar is introduced to yeast, the sugars are metabolized and carbon dioxide gas and alcohol are released into the bread dough, causing it to rise.
  1. What is yeast?
  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Students obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about alcoholic fermentation by observing yeast as it digests sugar and releases carbon dioxide. Yeast are single-celled fungi. Yeast cells are egg-shaped and can only be seen with a microscope. The yeast used for baking bread is Saccharomyces Cerevisiae.
  1. How do yeast cells get energy?
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
Students carry out investigations to see what factors increase or decrease the rate at which bread dough rises. Yeast cells obtain energy through alcoholic fermentation which is the anaerobic pathway carried out when yeasts digest sugars and release alcohol and carbon dioxide. 
  1. What factors can speed or slow the process of dough rising? 
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Students analyze and interpret data to determine the best recipe and preparation instructions for a quick-rising bread dough. Temperature impacts the speed at which dough will rise. Warm temperatures (without being too hot) speed the process. The amount of sugar in proportion to the yeast and dough is also impactful.

 Activity 1: What makes bread dough rise?

  1. Introduce yeast by passing around small Ziploc bags of yeast or displaying one at the front of the room. Ask students if they know what it is and what it is used for. If no one knows, explain that it is yeast and that our primary use for it is in cooking.
  2. Provide a class demonstration of how yeast works using the following steps:
    1. Fill 3 quart or sandwich sized ziploc bags with 1 tablespoon of yeast per bag.
    2. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to bag two and 3 tablespoons of sugar to bag three. (Bag 1 will serve as the control and will not have any sugar.)
    3. Place 1/2 cup of warm water in each bag and mix the contents thoroughly with your fingers.
    4. Push the air out of the bag and seal tightly.
    5. Place bags in a central area for observation.
  3. While the yeast is rising, give each student one copy of the Food Science: Bread Dough Challenge handout and project the corresponding PowerPoint.
    • Tip: It will take approximately 20 minutes for the ziploc bags to fully inflate. However, exact time will vary depending on the temperature of your classroom. The next steps may be interchanged as needed for class flow.
  4. Using PowerPoint slides 2-5, discuss the answers to the four questions contained on the first page of the handout.
  5. Return to your observation of the ziploc bags. Discuss why the first bag did not inflate and why bags two and three did. Compare bags two and three. Did more sugar yield more expansion of the bag? If not, discuss possible reasons why.
    • Safety Note: Be sure to open the ziploc bags before they pop.
  6. Using the second page of the handout, draw on students' prior knowledge and have them answer the questions about how various organisms obtain energy.

Three Dimensional Learning Proficiency: Crosscutting Concepts
Students link different domains of science fields into a coherent and scientifically-based view of the world

Cause and Effect: Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. Deciphering causal relationships, and the mechanisms by which they are mediated, is a major activity of science and engineering.

Activity 2: Bread Dough Challenge

  1. Ask students if they can name any food products that are made using yeast and alcoholic fermentation. Examples include bread, beer, and wine.
  2. Tell students that one of the challenges to making bread (at home or on the industrial scale) is the time that it takes to allow the dough to rise. Food scientists use engineering, biology, and chemistry to evaluate and improve food products from the farm to the kitchen.
  3. Tell students that they are on a team of food scientists at a bread company. They will be working together to discover the best recipe and preparation procedures to produce quick rising bread. To test as many variables as possible, the class will be divided into small groups.
  4. Divide your class into 8-12 groups and assign each group 1 Bread Dough Challenge Variable. You can use any of the variables provided, or have students think of their own. Preselect the optional variables based on your class size and/or lab supplies available.
  5. Explain to the class that one group will use the original recipe found in their Food Science: Bread Dough Challenge handout. This will serve as the experiment's "control." The remaining groups will change one variable and the remaining dough samples will be compared at the end.
    • Tip: As students determine their variables and how they will manipulate them for the experiment, allow them to pursue the wrong direction to provide an authentic learning experience and the opportunity to explain the outcome using science. For example, knowing that yeast needs sugar to grow, a student may greatly increase the amount of sugar in the recipe. If the yeast is not increased, this sample will not rise faster. It may not rise as much or even at all depending on the ratio. Refer to information about the molar concentration of sucrose for an explanation. 
  6. Provide lab supplies, answer student questions, and tell students where to take their dough once it is mixed. Have students fold their variable card in half to make a tent label to identify their dough.
  7. Using a dry erase marker, have each group place a starting line on their jar at the level of the dough. 
  8. Allow at least 30 minutes for the bread dough to rise. Instruct students to place a second line at the level of the dough after 30 minutes. 
  9. While students wait, have them read the Yeast & Baking Lessons webpage from Red Star® yeast.
  10. Place all dough jars for students to observe. After observation time is over, allow students time to complete the last page of their handout which will contain their final recommendation to the bread company.


Help students avoid the misconception that yeast simply "grows" or becomes larger. Be sure they recognize what is happening on the cellular level which is budding, a form of asexual reproduction. Illustrate with a video.


Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!


Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources


This lesson was originally written by Ann Butkowski for Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom. It was updated and revised in 2019 by the National Center for Agricultural Literacy.

Phenomenon chart adapted from work by Susan German.
German, S. (2017, December). Creating conceptual storylines. Science Scope, 41(4), 26-28.
German, S. (2018, January). The steps of a conceptual storyline. Science Scope, 41(5), 32-34.


  1. https://mobile-cuisine.com/did-you-know/bread-fun-facts/
  2. https://wiki.kidzsearch.com/wiki/Yeast
  3. http://www.ilove2bake.co.za/learn-more-about-yeast-6-8-interesting-facts/
  4. https://redstaryeast.com/science-yeast/what-is-yeast/


Ann Butkowski and Andrea Gardner

Organization Affiliation

Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom and National Center for Agricultural Literacy