Lesson Objectives
By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:
  • Describe static electricity
  • Identify what causes static electricity
  • Describe the effects of static electricity


Engage: Activate Prior Knowledge; Generate Interest

Gather students around a table with small pieces of confetti on it. Blow up a balloon, and rub it on a piece of wool cloth, such as a wool hat, sock, or sweater. Ask the students what they think will happen if you hold the balloon close to the confetti. Once the students have discussed for a few minutes, show the students that the balloon will pick up the confetti, or even make the confetti (if it’s small enough) follow the balloon around the table. Charge the balloon with the sweater again and demonstrate how a charged balloon can make a student’s hair stand up. Ask students if they know why the confetti sticks to the balloon, and why the balloon makes hair stand up. Once they have discussed this for a few minutes, ask students the following questions:

  • Have you ever heard of static electricity?
  • If so, how would you describe it?
  • How have you experienced it?
  • What are some of the effects of static electricity that you have experienced?

Tell students they will be watching a video about static electricity.
Ask them to pay attention to examples of static electricity in the video. As a class, watch: Static.

Once students have watched the video, have them brainstorm some ideas of examples of static electricity. (Some examples students might come up with are getting a shock when walking across a carpet and touching metal, rubbing a balloon on a shirt and touching it to hair, shocking someone after scuffing feet on the carpet, etc.)

Show students the animations for friction and static electricity.
Ask students what they think the arrows represent in the friction animation.
Ask students what they think the negative signs in the circles in the static animation.

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Explore: Allowing Students to Experience Content

Write the following vocabulary words on the board: friction, static electricity.

Tell students:
  • Friction is the action of rubbing one item against another (like rubbing the balloon against the sweater).
  • Static electricity is an electric charge that has built up on an object.

Explain to students they are now going to conduct their own with static electricity. Transition into Hands-On Activity: Static Cereal.

Students will complete the Hands-On Activity: Static Cereal. 11-15-2011_8-57-34_PM.jpg

After groups complete the Hands-On Activity, ask students if they think a balloon would have the same effect on the cereal as the comb did. Why or why not? (Students should understand that it would, as they learned earlier that balloons are good conductors of static electricity.)

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

Display the glossary term static electricity.
Have students dictate to teacher and/or write sentence using the term static electricity.

Read the passages Making Static Electricity (eBook version) and A Morning Zap! (eBook version) and watch the DE video Static Electricity. Discuss the material as a class.

Ask students what they have learned so far about static electricity. Is there anything that surprised them about static electricity? Can they explain how it is created? What are some examples of the effects of static electricity?


Elaborate: Allow Students to Apply What They Know

Explain to students that they are now scientists investigating static electricity. Have them break into small groups and brainstorm ideas to test the effects of static electricity. If students have difficulty coming up with their own ideas, some possible experiments could be:

  • Will a comb pick up confetti better when you charge it with a wool sweater or a cotton sweater?
  • Does a balloon or a comb provide a better charge for making someone’s hair stand up?
  • Will a charged plastic ballpoint pen do a better job of picking up salt or pepper?
  • How long will a charged balloon stay on a wall? Does the size of the balloon matter? Does the wall being wet or dry matter?

Write the following vocabulary word on the board: hypothesis.

Tell students: A hypothesis is an educated guess someone makes to help them guide an investigation.


Have students follow these steps while performing their experiments, explaining that this is the basic scientific method that scientists use:

  1. Ask a question. (Will a balloon stay on a wet wall or a dry wall better?)
  2. Construct a hypothesis. (I think a dry wall, because we learned that static electricity works better in dry environments.)
  3. Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment. (Spray a wall with a water bottle; charge two balloons; stick one to the wet wall, and one to a dry wall; count how long each stays on the wall.)
  4. Record and analyze your data, then draw a conclusion. (The balloon on the wet wall stayed up for 1 minute, and the balloon on the dry wall stayed up for 5 minutes, so my hypothesis was correct.)
  5. Communicate your results. (Report to the class what you learned, or draw a chart/graph/table showing the results.)

Project Ideas: To help 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 projects may require students to work outside the classroom.

  • Students put on a “magic” show for younger grades what they have learned about static electricity. When their show is done, they can also help teach younger students about static electricity and how to use it to do their own “magic” tricks.
  • Students read an age-appropriate book about static electricity to learn more about the topic and report back to the class. They might use their reading and research to develop further experiments related to static electricity.
  • If there is a science museum with an electricity exhibit nearby, a field trip would be a good opportunity for students expand their understanding about static electricity.

Evaluate: Check for Understanding

Have students complete the Brief Constructed Response or Selected Response about static electricity.

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