Electrical energy and circuits are always a big hit with students. They get so much joy from experimenting to see which arrangements work and which ones don’t; plus, interacting with batteries, wires, and electrical devices feels like playing to them. Use this enthusiasm to your advantage by providing lots of hands-on experiences and practice, as well as giving them access to notes for review in their interactive notebooks. Here are some ideas for teaching (and reviewing) electrical energy and types of circuits.
Make an abstract concept like moving electrons more visible to students by having them use their bodies to create models. This is a great way to incorporate movement into your lessons. Read our post about the benefits of including movement in the classroom and get some fun ideas.
Modeling the flow of electrons through a circuit
Give each student a pony bead and have them stand in a circle. Students should be close together with very little space between them. Have students pass the pony beads from their right hand into their left hand and then from their left hand into the right hand of the person to their left. At any given time, each student should only have ONE pony bead.
Have students practice this until they can have a steady, constant movement of pony beads around the circle and start a discussion about electricity and electric current. Find out what students already know about how electricity flows through a circuit. Lead the conversation to the movement of electrons creating current and converting the stored energy in the battery to electricity.
Remove one or two students but do not let the remaining students spread out to fill the space. Have them try to pass the pony bead again but tell them they cannot step or reach to fill the space.
They will not be able to pass the bead because their circle is broken and they cannot get the bead past the gap. Lead a discussion tying this body modeling exercise to the movement of electrons in open and closed circuits.
Modeling different types of circuits
I bought my energy sticks at the CAST conference in Dallas a few years ago but you can find them online pretty easily. Energy balls work well, too.
Divide your students into 2-3 groups with at least 8-10 students in each group. If you have already introduced the concept of series and parallel circuits, students will be able to model these a little faster. If you haven’t, you may have to provide a bit more guidance but students should still be successful.
Demonstrate that holding both ends of the energy stick at the same time causes it to make noise. Tell the students that, by holding hands, their bodies represent the wires for electrical current to flow through. The energy stick contains the battery and electrical devices. A switch can be modeled by one set of students letting go of each other’s hands. Instruct the students to arrange themselves to model the following circuits.
- series circuit
- parallel circuit; when the switch is open the device (energy stick) still works
- parallel circuit; when the switch is open the device stops working
Below are sample models for series and parallel circuits. There are other configurations that would also work.
Stations and Activities for Review
Students need the opportunity to interact with the content in multiple situations. Provide these opportunities with a variety of task cards, peer discussions, and practice test questions. Some examples of resources we love to use are listed below.
Vocabulary instruction is a key component of science lessons. Students must be comfortable with content vocabulary in order to understand what they are being asked to do during classroom labs and assessments. I love to use vocabulary puzzles with students. Students use the blank versions to write notes and keep them as a study tool in their interactive notebooks and then completed puzzles are fantastic for review centers during the unit and before state testing.
We love using these rigorous review questions. The open-response format strengthens critical thinking skills and encourages back-and-forth conversations with peers. You can use the print or digital format to meet the needs of your classroom. The print version offers the opportunity for you to hear students verbalize their content knowledge. The digital version is great for warm-ups, exit tickets, and assessments.
Notes for Interactive Notebooks
Students should have illustrated notes that show what IS and what IS NOT a circuit. Have students experiment with the arrangement of a D-cell battery, a bulb, and a single wire to see which arrangements will result in the bulb lighting. They should draw both the successful and the unsuccessful attempts.
The vocabulary terms series circuit and parallel circuit are not included in the 5th-grade TEKS. However, students are expected to identify working and non-working circuits. The images used on previous state tests have included both series and parallel circuits so it is necessary to teach students to understand the flow of energy in both types of circuits.
Practice Building Electrical Circuits
In addition to modeling types of circuits using their bodies, students need to build circuits using batteries, wires, switches, and various electrical devices. This is probably their favorite thing to do. They need to build circuits that work and ones that don’t.
Want me to email you a free set of circuit task cards shown above?
I would love to hear from you! What special activities work for you when teaching about electrical energy and circuits? Message me on Instagram @twoteachingtaylors or email me at email@example.com.