Electricity...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore electricity with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
simple circuit showing an illuminated bulb
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching electricity to your class!
To teach a tricky concept, such as electricity, we recommend you keep it simple, hands-on and relevant to your pupil’s everyday experiences.
1. Get talking!
Begin with an open discussion about objects that use electricity. This initial discussion will:
introduce the concept of things needing electrical energy
provide an opportunity to talk about staying safe with electricity
begin to develop a word bank of key vocabulary
Electrical appliances and Power Up are nice activities to spark their thinking.
2. Exploration is the next step
Give children a mixture of components. Let them try creating simple series circuits using different combinations of electrical components. While they are exploring, make sure you are asking them questions and prompting them to make predictions about what they think will happen. It can be useful to provide children with a bulb without the holder so that they have to work out where the wires need to connect and the complete circuit is more clearly visible.
Children will begin to understand that electricity requires:
a power source
an unbroken connection
materials that are good conductors
Curly coil and Battery bonanza will help introduce children to the different components within a circuit. Inside out, Electrifying metals and Interesting insulators are good for starting a discussion about which materials are good conductors and good insulators.
3. Try simple investigations with a series circuit
Provide opportunities for children to apply their growing knowledge by conducting simple investigations. For example, what happens when they add an extra motor, use a battery with a higher voltage, change the length of the wires etc.?
Scientific skills that you can focus on include:
observing and giving reasons for the changes they see
identifying similarities and differences
using scientific evidence to support their ideas
Children should demonstrate their understanding of how an electrical circuit works by drawing an accurate diagram, including using the correct symbols for older children.
Simple series circuits can quickly become too easy for children. So, try designing something that runs on electricity or solves an electrical problem. Linked to a DT project, for instance, they could design a fan to help keep cool in the summer or a light by which they could read their favourite book after lights out, or an alarm to warn them of an approaching adult if they’re reading under the covers!!
Soak up some rays and Super spinning wire are useful videos for inspiring them to apply their learning.
4. An energy stick can support a deeper understanding
Although the above activities teach children how a circuit works, they don’t necessarily support children to understand what is happening in the circuit. This is where an energy stick is really useful (and cheap to purchase). It is also really fun!
The children all hold hands in a circle and when the two metal ends of the energy stick are touched the (human) circuit is complete and the stick lights up and makes a noise. You can use the instantaneous response of the energy stick to discuss how the energy must already be present in the parts of the circuit (including themselves!), rather than taking time to travel from one end to the other.
Again, linking this to other everyday examples (e.g. switching on the classroom lights, turning on the TV etc.) will help to strengthen their understanding.
5. Use a concept cartoon
A concept cartoon is a great way to engage your class and stimulate discussion of their ideas. You can use it at any time, but it is particularly useful for finding out what children know at the beginning of a topic or assessing their understanding near the end.
(Taken from Science Concept Cartoons® Set 1 Revised Edition (2014) and Science Concept Cartoons® Set 2 (2015). © Millgate House Education Ltd www.millgatehouse.co.uk)
This concept cartoon presents a range of viewpoints about how an electrical circuit works, including common misconceptions and the scientifically correct response. Get your pupils to consider what they think about the different opinions. It will help them to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking.
You can even design your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your children or to assess a particular piece of understanding. Or why not let your children have a go at creating their own?
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: Kateryna Omelianchenko via Shutterstock SL