Contributor Thomas Young
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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 an activity where students make a model "landline" and investigate how sound travels.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Early Elementary
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

1-PS4-4 Use tools and materials to design and build a device that uses light or sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance.

Clarification Statement: Examples of devices could include a light source to send signals, paper cup and string “telephones,” and a pattern of drum beats.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include technological details for how communication devices work.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Paper cups are used for this investigation but plastic or styrofoam cups could also be used to predict, describe, and compare the sound made.

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
By developing the cup phones, the students solve the problem of how to communicate over a long distance. Students could modify their originally created cup phones and use longer or shorter string to see if the sound would be changed across scenarios with contrasting materials and distances.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Have students attempt making different sounds other than their voices through the cups. They could clap their hands, snap their fingers, whistle, etc.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students could investigate different materials for the cups and string to make the phones and collect and keep data about which design solution is best to use for communicating over a long distance. The data should be shared with the whole class.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson builds understanding of multiple grade-appropriate elements of the science and engineering practices (SEPs), disciplinary core ideas (DCIs), and crosscutting concepts (CCCs) to aid student sense-making of phenomena.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson has students engaged, offering justifying, interpreting, and representing their claims to peers and the teacher through feedback orally and in written form (science journal). The lesson does not offer ideas for differentiated instruction with students, however, pictures and/or graphics of the cup phones could be added when the instructions are given to build the phones to aid comprehension.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Student journals, teacher questioning group sharing of journals, and an exit slip are offered for formative assessment.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There is a video that can be shown to students after they have made their phones.