How to Make a Paper Popper

A paper popper is more than just a cool trick that makes a loud noise. It’s also a dynamic way to show the scientific principles of air pressure and sound in action. In this article, we’ll walk you through step-by-step instructions on how to make a paper popper. We’ll also explore the science behind its surprising sound!

Materials Needed

  • 1 piece of paper (8.5×11 inches or similar size)

You can use printer paper, origami paper, or even notebook paper. Don’t use cardstock or other thick paper – it will make the popper hard to pop!

How to Make a Paper Popper Video Instructions

How to Make a Paper Popper Step-By-Step

Approximate time to complete: 10 minutes

Fold It

  1. Lay the paper flat with the long side facing you.
  2. Fold the paper in half by bringing the top edge to the bottom edge.
  3. Make a crease, then open the paper back up.
  1. Take the top edge of the paper and fold it down to meet the crease.
  2. Take the new top edge and fold it down to meet the crease again. You should end up with a bar on the top half of the paper.
  1. Fold the bar over the crease, then fold it over one more time.
  1. Flip the paper over. The bar should be in the back, but still at the top.
  2. Fold the paper in half by bringing the left edge to the right edge. The bar should end up around the outside.

Open It

  1. Pinch the creased corner of the bar and the corner across from it where the paper is creased.
  2. Pull the bar and the other corner in opposite directions until you see them start to slide apart.
  1. Keep pinching the bar and let go of the other corner.
  2. There will be two corners on the other end of the bar. Pinch those two corners together.
  1. You will end up with two rounded loops that create pockets.
  2. There will be part of the paper that crosses the rectangular bar. Line up the edge of that part of the paper with the top corner of the bar.
  1. Your paper popper is ready to pop!

Pop It

  1. Keep pinching the corners of the bar and raise your arm up.
  2. Snap the paper popper down like you’re throwing a ball.

Post-Activity Discussion Questions & Answers

It should have made a loud sound. You can see the results at the end of the video instructions.

The paper popper should have unfolded.

When you fold a paper popper, you create air pockets inside of the loops. When you snap it down, you quickly force more air into the pockets. The quick movement of air makes a sound as it pushes the paper away and unfolds it.

More About How Paper Poppers Work

Now that you know how to make a paper popper, let’s dive deeper into how they work. You’ve noticed it’s about air getting pushed up into the pockets you create by folding the paper a certain way. But why does that make a sound?

When you make a paper popper, you’re folding it in a way that traps air in small pockets. As you snap the popper open, these pockets of air are suddenly forced out at a high speed. This rapid expulsion of air from the pockets into the surrounding environment creates a pressure wave. This wave moves through the air just like the ripples in a pond when you throw a stone into it.

The sound you hear— the loud “pop”—happens because this pressure wave hits your ears. Your ears and brain interpret these fast changes in air pressure as sound. This process is similar to what happens when you clap your hands or pop a balloon. In each case, a quick movement pushes air away, creating sound waves that we hear as different kinds of noises.

Troubleshooting: What to Do if Your Paper Popper Isn’t Popping

If you’re not getting the pop, here are a few things you can check:

  1. Paper Choice: If your paper is too thick, like cardstock, it might be hard to fold well and won’t pop open easily. If it’s too thin, like tissue paper, it might not hold the fold and be too floppy.
  2. Folding: Double check the instructions to make sure you made all the right folds. If any of your folds are loose, go back and crease them tightly.
  3. Snapping: You might not be snapping it quickly enough. Try holding it above your head and throwing it down like you are trying to send it straight through the floor (without letting go of course).

FAQs About Making Paper Poppers

To make a paper popper using the folding method in this article, you’ll want either 8.5×11 inch or A4 sized paper. You could also make a larger or smaller paper popper as long as the paper has a similar rectangular ratio. If you’re up for a challenge, see how big or small you can make one that actually pops!

Yes! As long as the paper doesn’t rip when you snap it down, you can refold the paper popper over and over again. It won’t unfold completely, so you’ll just need to do the last few steps again.

Definitely! Be careful not to snap them at people or animals, and make sure your area is clear of fragile items that could be knocked over.

Most likely not. There is a misconception that the sound from a paper popper comes from breaking the sound barrier (a sonic boom). That’s not the case though, you’d have to snap it down at a speed of 343 meters per second to do that!

Paper poppers create a loud popping sound by rapidly pushing air out of the folds, which forms a pressure wave that we hear as a pop. They typically do not produce enough decibels to cause hearing damage. However, it’s always a good idea to avoid snapping them very close to someone’s ears.

It depends on the school and what the kid is doing with them. While learning how to make a paper popper can be part of an exciting STEM demonstration, they’re also known to be used as a prank.

If you don’t mind a little silliness, they’re pretty harmless as far as pranks go! If you don’t want to hear any popping outside of the learning experience, we’ve found that setting clear expectations about respect for peers and the environment keeps the pranking to a minimum.

Keep Exploring

Want to learn more about air and sound (two of the scientific phenomena that make the paper popper work)? Check out the following two lessons!

What Is Sound?: This is one of the free Learn Libre lessons! It’ll teach you what sound is and how you can experience it with senses other than hearing. You’ll also learn about the terms we use to describe the science of sound. You can view the lesson here.

Foundations for the Work of Air: This lesson is part of a Learn Libre membership. In it, you’ll learn how air takes up space even when you can’t see or feel it. You’ll discover what air is, where it came from, and how it moves. You can preview it here.


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