Circuits and Electric Light

Maine Energy Education Curriculum Project
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This lesson is the second in a unit on electricity. It begins with a whole class discussion of a flashlight and how it works. Students are then challenged to light a bulb using a battery and a wire. They use science notebooks to record their progress. Students share their findings and to begin to construct an explanation of how a circuit works. They learn that an electric current requires a complete loop, called a circuit, in order to flow.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

4-PS3-2 Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include quantitative measurements of energy.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson introduces the concept of electric circuits. The lesson explicitly mentions the battery as the source of the electric current needed to light the bulb. Students learn that they must create a complete circuit in order for electricity to move from place to place. The lesson script does not include a definition of energy transfer, but this should be included during the discussion. Further explorations of sound, light, and heat are needed to complete the performance expectation. The teacher background section of the lesson provides information on energy transfer. This video of MIT graduates struggling to build a simple circuit may help to encourage persistence. (Pause the video before the solution is revealed, and elicit student ideas.)

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
In this lesson students plan and conduct an investigation. Their observations of different circuit configurations are recorded in science notebooks and shared with their classmates in order to explain how electricity moves through a circuit.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The lesson includes a discussion of how energy (electricity) moves from the source (the battery) to the bulb to produce light. This can be a good starting point for further investigations that will more fully address this disciplinary core idea. Probing students to identify that heat is also produced when a bulb is lit will help develop this core idea. As an extension of this activity, students could be provided with motors and buzzers to produce motion and sound. In addition, students could explore making electricity with hand generators or with solar panels to demonstrate converting motion energy or light into electricity.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The concept of energy transfer should be highlighted by the teacher during the discussion portion of the lesson. In this lesson students investigate just one way that energy is transferred (through an electric circuit). Additional lessons to investigate motion, sound, and heat would be needed to fully address this concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson is designed to elicit background knowledge of the students through discussion of their previous experiences with flashlights and batteries. During the discussion, the practice of asking questions should be encouraged. These questions may prompt further investigations later in the unit. The lesson allows students to investigate the phenomenon of electric circuits. Throughout the lesson they are encouraged to record and share their own ideas to construct an explanation. The idea of energy transfer is present although the terminology is not explicitly mentioned in the lesson script.

  • Instructional Supports: The main investigation in this lesson is very engaging for students. The lesson includes scaffolds, such as having students who need language support draw their solutions on the board while a partner describes the drawing. In addition, a suggestion is provided for students who finish early, and there is a list ideas for lesson extensions.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This lesson includes multiple opportunities for students to share their thinking both orally and in writing. The lesson closes with students creating an explanation that describes why circuits did or did not work.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This lesson does not have a technologically interactive component.