Lesson Objectives
By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Define electricity
  • Understand the role of electrons in electricity
  • Know that electricity can be stored
  • Demonstrate the build-up of electrons in the form of static electricity


Engage: Activate Prior Knowledge; Generate Interest

Open class with the demonstration described in the Hands-on Activity, Static Light Bulb (be sure to follow safety procedures as dictated). Ask students what they think caused the sparks of light in the bulb. (Transfer of electrons built up on the balloon to the bulb)

Show students the video segment Electricity in the Real World. This short video shows examples of the many ways we use electricity. Students may not have ever thought about where we get the electricity that we use so often in our lives, and this video provides a good introduction to get them thinking. After the video, create a KWL chart by asking, “What things do you see in this classroom that use electricity?” Also ask, “What else do you know about electricity?” This chart can be referred back to and amended throughout the lessons. These questions will get them observing electricity and thinking about energy.

Next, ask students, “What is electricity?” They may know that it is what is needed to turn things on and off, but they may not know that it is a form of energy caused by the flow of electrons through matter. At this point in the lesson they do not need to know this, but by asking the above question, you will gain an idea about their preexisting knowledge of electricity. You may want to ask additional questions, such as, “Where does it come from? What is an electrical charge?” Add this information to the KWL chart. Do not worry about correcting wrong answers, but do tell students that they should look for the answers to these questions and more throughout the lesson.

Explore: Allowing Students to Experience Content

Post the Essential Questions that constitute what students will be learning. Students may read them or you may wish to read them aloud together.

  • What is electricity?
  • What is the role of electrons in electricity?
  • How can charged particles be contained?

Have students conduct the Exploration, About Electricity to explore the concepts of how static and stored electricity are generated and disbursed. Students should complete the student guide as they work through the Exploration.

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Provide students with the reading passages All Charged Up and Electrophorus Electricus. You may have all students read both passages, or you may want to divide the class into reading groups and have each group read one passage. If so, use your knowledge of students’ reading ability to help you form the reading groups. Have students read the passages and record the main points in their notes (main points: 1) electricity is the movement of electrons, 2) electrons are tiny negatively charged particles, 3) electricity is a form of energy, 4) moving electrons can cause other things to move such as a fan, 4) some objects store electrons such as an eel or a battery). After they have finished reading and taking notes, have the students perform a think-pair-share activity. One partner should take two minutes to share their answers to the Essential Questions. The second partner should then take two minutes to share their answers to the Essential Questions. Have the partners then take one minute to solidify their answers to the questions. Select partners to share their answers with the class. Add any new information to the KWL chart. After this activity, students should already have a fairly complete answer to all of the Essential Questions. (eBook versions of the reading passages are also available. All Charged Up eBook, Electrophorus Electricus eBook)

Explain: Firm Up Understanding; Allow Students to Explain What They Know

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Have students review the interactive glossary terms battery, electric, electron, energy, negative charge, particle, positive charge, static electricity, and stored energy. These terms can fill in any gaps or confusions students might be experiencing, and can also help them do a self-check of their comprehension. After giving students time to explore the terms, have them pair with a partner and informally quiz each other on the meaning of the terms. Make sure students add to their concept charts where appropriate. After students are finished with the glossary terms, review their knowledge of the relationships among the terms. Have students correct or modify their concept charts as necessary. Also have students add any pertinent information to their notes.

Elaborate: Allow Students to Apply What They Know

Virtual Lab: Racing RC Cars (Level One)
Virtual Labs, in addition to being an inquiry instructional tool, 11-16-2011_4-03-27_PM.jpgbe used to assess students’ skills in science investigation. For this concept, the Virtual Lab Racing RC Cars is particularly appropriate because students can relate their knowledge of electricity to motion. Before assigning the lab to students, however, you may need to model the appropriate process. The Teacher Guide for this lab will help you achieve this.

Level One is the most applicable level for this lesson. Level Two likely has too many variables for most elementary levels, and starts to stray from the sub-concepts of this lesson. Before beginning, have students speculate what their results could be. For example, how might a large battery perform differently from a small battery? Ask the same question for motor size. Get students thinking about what stored energy means, and relate it back to the Essential Questions for this lesson. Have them use the Student’s Guide Level 1 to plan their investigation before starting. A Student Record Sheet is included with this guide that students should use to record their data once they begin the investigation.

Have students take some time to evaluate their data from the Virtual Lab. You may want to ask students questions to help them analyze their results, for example: How did changing the size of the battery affect how fast the car could go? Did all cars with big motors go more quickly than all cars with small motors? How did changing the size of the motor affect how far a car could travel? Students should share their results with a partner, and work together to come to some general conclusions. Check for student understanding by discussing student conclusions as a class.

After completing the virtual lab, Have students complete the Hands On Activity: Make It Light.

Project Ideas
To help your students apply their understanding of electricity, you may wish to have them complete some or all of the following projects. The time required to complete each project will vary; some may require students to work outside the classroom.
  • Have students keep a journal of the way they use electricity in their lives. They should record both batteries and electrical currents from wall sockets. Instruct them to write a paragraph describing the importance of electricity in their lives.
  • Have students conduct simple experiments to determine if everyday objects are conductors or insulators of electricity. To do this, you will need breadboards for students to build circuits on, a battery, a small light bulb, wires with clips, and washers to hold the wires in place. If you or your students have never built simple circuits with breadboards, you should conduct a bit of research before proceeding so that you can provide students with a detailed explanation of setting up a circuit. Once students have successfully built a circuit, encourage them to test a variety of materials to see what will make the light bulb light up. After testing many different objects, encourage students to make generalizations about conductors and insulators. Have students write up their results in a short report.
  • Instruct students to conduct research on historical electricity experiments, such as Ben Franklin’s key experiment or the invention of the light bulb. Students present their findings in a poster to display in the class. Challenge students to include ways their assigned experiment impacts our lives today.
  • Have students explore scientists who discovered some of the important characteristics and uses of electricity. Some good resources are: Edison: The Wizard of Menlo Park, , Understanding the Connection of Electricity and Magnetism, Benjamin Franklin: The Years of Experimentation, and Ben Franklin: Go Fly a Kite. Students may also search the Discovery Education site for other resources.

Evaluate: Check for Understanding

Have students complete the Brief Constructed Response (BCR) item titled About Electricity. You may also wish to assign the online concept assessment and use the results in the student reports to guide you in assigning any remediation to students.

Review Sheet: Students may review the information in this section using the About Electricity Review Sheet.