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  • Writer's pictureJoshua S. Farquharson

Reading Glass and Disposable Thermometers: Simple Techniques and Practice Activities to Improve Your Skills Quickly

Audience: Healthcare Students | Level: Beginner

A hand holding a glass thermometer along with examples of disposable thermometers.


Are you eager to learn how to read different types of thermometers? Do you want to understand the significance of color-changing lines and dots on various thermometers? If so, you're in the right place! This guide will equip you with the skills to accurately read thermometers—a crucial ability for healthcare students.

Why Thermometer Reading Skills Matter

Accurate temperature measurement is vital for diagnosing and treating illnesses. Misreporting temperatures can lead to incorrect diagnoses and treatments, jeopardizing health. Therefore, you must measure body temperature accurately so you can respond with timely solutions to help restore a patient's health or prevent a medical emergency.

What You’ll Learn

Here are the new skills you’ll gain after completing this guide:

  • Recognize the Importance of Body Temperature. Understand why temperature is a key vital sign and what it indicates about health.

  • Identify Different Types of Thermometers. Explore various thermometer options, including both digital and non-digital types.

  • Master Reading Various Thermometers. Gain proficiency in reading glass thermometers, liquid crystal thermometers, and single-use disposable thermometers.

Tips for Successfully Completing this Guide

  • Use Headphones: Preferably in-ear headphones, for the videos and simulation activities.

  • Keep Supplies Handy: Have a pencil and paper ready for notes.

  • Find a Quiet Space: Minimize distractions to concentrate better.

  • Take Short Breaks: Five-minute breaks after each lesson can help you absorb information.

  • Use a desktop computer or large display device: Access the content on a desktop or large display for the best experience.

Remember, go at your own pace and build your skills with the activities. Practice as often as necessary to master the skills. You are going to do great!


Understanding Body Temperature

A Primary Vital Sign

Body temperature is one of the four primary vital signs, alongside respiratory rate, blood pressure, and heart rate (pulse). These indicators are crucial for assessing a person's health.

Temperature Measurement

Thermometers measure body temperature in degrees Celsius (°C) or Fahrenheit (°F). The average normal body temperature is around 98.6°F (37°C). Temperatures below 95°F (35°C) or above 104°F (40°C) can be dangerous and require immediate attention.

Parent placing hand on child's forehead to check for temperature.

Exploring Different Types of Thermometers

Thermometer selection depends on many variables, such as what's available, level of convenience, screening (rapid results) versus monitoring (continuous results), patient contact versus non-contact, measuring core temperature (internal organs) versus surface temperature (skin), and other factors.

Healthcare professionals use various thermometers, each suited to different situations:

  • Single-Use (Disposable) Temperature Indicator Strips

  • Mercury-Free Glass Thermometers

  • Tympanic (Ear) Electronic Thermometers

  • Oral Thermometers

  • Temporal (Forehead) Thermometers

  • Remote and App-Based Thermometers

  • Pacifier Thermometers

  • Digital Thermometers

Collage illustrating various types of thermometers.

Alternatives to Digital Thermometers

Since reading the temperature on a digital thermometer is straightforward, we will focus on reading alternative types of thermometers to determine a patient's body temperature, including: 

  • Glass Thermometers

  • Single-Use Temperature Indicator Strips

  • Liquid Crystal Thermometers

Examples of alternatives to digital thermometers.


How to Read Different Thermometers

Watch: How to Read Glass Thermometers

Watch the video to learn the correct technique for reading glass thermometers.


Watch: How to Read Single-Use Disposable Thermometers Type 1

Watch the video to learn how to use a type of single-use disposable thermometer known as a temperature indicator strip.


Watch: How to Read Single-Use Disposable Thermometers Type 2

Watch the video to learn how to use another type of single-use disposable thermometer also known as a temperature indicator strip.


Reading Liquid Crystal Thermometers (LCTs):

A Liquid Crystal Thermometer (LCT) contains thermochromic liquid crystals, also known as Cholesteric Liquid Crystals, that change color at various temperature points to display the patient's body temperature. Health care workers commonly place LCTs on the patient's forehead for quick screening of body temperature, or the LCTs may be core-adjusted and used for continuously monitoring the body temperature of anesthetized patients.

Review Liquid Crystal Thermometers

Once the LCT is on the patient's body surface, such as the forehead, you will watch for the colored lines or boxes to appear and stabilize. Once the colors stop moving, it is time to read the LCT. Depending on the brand and type of LCT, the colors, values, and information on the thermometer may differ, so always refer to the manufacturer's instructions to ensure accuracy. Like digital thermometers, liquid crystal thermometers are relatively simple to read.

Instructions: Review the examples in the interaction below to discover how to read different types of LCTs.

Practice Activity: Play the TempTime Game

Test your new skills with the TempTime Game to ensure you can accurately read different thermometers.

Skills Assessment

Now you're ready to test your skills!

Instructions: Complete each question and select SUBMIT to confirm your answer. Be confident. You're going to do great!

Tip: Complete this activity on a desktop computer or large display device.



You've completed this guide. Mastering thermometer reading is a fundamental skill for any healthcare student. With practice and the guidance provided in this guide, you'll be able to measure body temperatures confidently and accurately. Thank you for participating!

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