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Electrical Circuits

Teacher Guide by Oliver Smith

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Electrical Circuits Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Electrical Circuits Include:

Electrical energy is a major part of modern day life, but is so often misunderstood. We’ve all sat during a thunderstorm and wondered at the deadly power of lightning. We all know not to touch sockets with wet hands, but do we understand why our hands should be dry? Electricity controls many major functions of our bodies, especially in the brain and nervous system, and is also an extremely versatile resource used in homes and businesses all over the world. Knowledge of electrical circuits forms the foundation of understanding of how electricity functions and affects our lives everyday.

Electrical Circuits Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Circuit Components and Their Uses


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Common circuit symbols exist as a near universal language in electrical engineering and can save a lot of confusion. Having standard circuit symbols allows circuit diagrams to be drawn and understood around the world. Students will be able to interpret and make a range of circuits after learning these symbols. Students will also be able to accurately draw circuits using these symbols.


Circuit Component Symbols Example

Wire Wires are used to connect different components together. They are made of metal and allow current to flow through them.
Battery A battery provides the push to move the charge around the circuit.
Resistor A resistor is a component that reduces the current in a circuit.
Variable Resistor A variable resistor is a resistor which can have its resistance changed.
Lamp A lamp is a component with a filament that glows when a current is passed through it. Lamps can be used to see things in the dark.
Switch A switch is a component that can break the circuit allowing other components to be turned on and off. A light switch is an example of a switch.
Voltmeter A voltmeter is used to measure the potential difference or amount of push between two parts in a circuit.
Ammeter An ammeter is used to measure the size of a current in a circuit.
Motor A motor spins when it is connected to a circuit. It could be used to make a toy car move.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a T-Chart that matches components of an electrical circuit with their symbols and uses.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Find the circuit symbols by searching "circuits" or "science".
  3. Put each of the circuit symbols in the cells on the left.
  4. Identify each symbol by replacing "TERM".
  5. In the right hand column, create a visualization and write a sentence to describe what the component can be used for.
  6. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Electricity Keywords


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Have your students put key vocabulary into practice. One of the things students can find really difficult is using scientific vocabulary correctly and in the appropriate context. Using a visual representation as well as a written one can really help students understand abstract concepts.


Example Electrical Circuit Vocabulary


Voltage The difference in electrical energy between two points in a circuit measured in Volts. It is also known as potential difference.
Resistance A measure of how difficult it is for current to flow in a circuit, measured in Ohms.
Current A measure of how much charge is flowing in the circuit, measured in Amps.
Conductor A material that lets electricity pass through it easily, like a metal.
Insulator A material that does NOT let electricity pass through it easily, like wood.

Other terms include:

  • circuit
  • closed circuit
  • open circuit
  • battery
  • filament
  • brightness
  • switch
  • ammeter
  • volt (V)
  • ampere or amp (A)
  • ohm (Ω)

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of key scientific vocabulary by creating visualizations.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose five vocabulary words and type them in the title boxes.
  3. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  4. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  5. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  6. Save and submit your storyboard.Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Milestones in the History of Electricity


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Have students show their understanding of how ideas of electricity have changed over time using this timeline activity. This is a great way to look at how the scientific method works in the real world. You can use this activity to highlight how science needs scientists to collaboratively work together to share findings to further human understanding. You can also highlight how scientific discoveries can directly benefit the human race and lead to important inventions.


Suggested Scientists and Inventors

Thales of Miletus (624-546 BC)

Thales of Miletus was one of the earliest Greek scientists. Reports show that scientists like Thales carried out simple experiments into electricity and magnetism. One reported experiment detailed how amber (fossilized tree sap) could attract feathers and grass seeds after it had been rubbed by animal fur. We would later describe this phenomenon as static electricity.


Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

As well as being one of the founder fathers of the USA, Franklin was a great scientist and inventor. His most famous experiment involved him risking his life to fly a kite during a lightning storm to show that lightning was electricity. He was also the first person to use the terms positive and negative when describing electricity. His experiments in electricity led to the invention of the lightning rod.


Luigi Galvani (1737-1798)

Galvani was an Italian physician, physicist, biologist and philosopher. He was also an early pioneer of the study of bioelectricity. Galvani found that frogs' legs would move when different types of metal were connected to them. His work inspired his colleague Alessandro Volta to make the first battery.


Alessandro Volta (1745-1827)

Building on Galvani’s work, Volta made the first battery known as a voltaic pile. He made this by layering zinc and copper, separated by paper soaked in a salt solution. The unit for potential difference, the volt, is named after him.


Michael Faraday (1791-1867)

Faraday was an English scientist who discovered electromagnetic induction by passing a magnetic through a coil of wire. He paved the way for the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell to write his famous equations of electromagnetism. Albert Einstein was said to have a picture of Faraday in his office. The unit of capacitance, the Farad, is named after him.


Godalming, UK

Godalming was the first town the world to have a public electricity supply in 1881. A generator was connecting to a watermill on the River Wey. Wires ran through gutters and were connected to bulbs and lamps around the town


Important People in the History of Electricity

  • William Gilbert (1544-1603)
  • Thomas Seebeck (1770-1831)
  • Joseph Priestley (1773-1804)
  • Henry Cavendish (1731-1810)
  • Charles de Coulomb (1736-1806)
  • André-Marie Ampère (1775-1836)
  • Humphry Davy (1778-1829)
  • Georg Ohm (1789-1854)
  • Daniell Cell (1790-1845)
  • Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875)
  • Joseph Swan (1828-1914)
  • James Wimshurst (1832-1903)
  • Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
  • Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)
  • Joseph John Thomson (1856-1940)
  • Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)
  • Willem Einthoven (1860-1927)
  • Robert Van De Graaff (1901-1967)

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of how and why ideas of electricity have changed over time by creating a visual timeline.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose six people or moments in the history of science that you think are the most important in our understanding of electricity.
  3. Write a title and the year for these six moments using the timeline.
  4. Illustrate the moment with a cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
  5. Write a couple of sentences to describe the moment and why it is important.
  6. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Electrical Circuit Models


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In Science we often use models to explain things that are sometimes difficult to understand. Nearly all students have encountered electricity in their lives outside of school and from this have started to build up their own (often incorrect) ideas about how it all works. Some students don’t realize you need two wires to connect a bulb in their simple circuits because they are used to seeing only a single cord connecting a lamp to the outlet. Using models can be a great way to overcome these challenges and misconceptions as they allow students to imagine what is happening inside the wires.

An example model of the flow of electrons in a wire is saying electrons are like water flowing down the river. Students will be able to imagine rivers much more easily than the abstract idea of electron flow.

Although quite challenging, this activity can be a really engaging, creative way for students to demonstrate their understanding of the abstract topic of electricity. Students will be able to let their imaginations run wild by creating their own models of electricity!

Have students compare their models to real circuits, either in the description boxes of the storyboard or as a class discussion. Ask students to use their models to describe current, voltage, and resistance.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

In Science we often use models to explain things that are sometimes difficult to understand. In this activity you are going to use your imagination to create your own model detailing how electrical circuits work.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Create a storyboard that shows how a circuit works by using something else as an example.
  3. Write a description underneath to describe how it works.
  4. Say which parts represent the wires, bulb and battery.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Electricity Discussion Storyboard


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Discussion storyboards are a great way to get your students talking about their ideas in Science. They allow students to critique and evaluate different viewpoints without upsetting other students. This activity can be used at the start of the topic to elicit any misconceptions students may have.

At first, show students a discussion storyboard like the one below. Ask them to look at the problem on the discussion storyboard. It shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. Students should think about whom they think is the most correct and be prepared to explain why that person is correct.

Here are some other ideas to use these discussion storyboards in your lessons.

  1. Students add another cell on the end of the example you’ve given them to explain whom they think is correct and why.
  2. Students create their own discussion storyboards to share with peers on the current topic.

Note that the template in this assignment is blank. After clicking "Copy Assignment", add your desired problem and solutions to match the needs of your students.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Read the discussion storyboard that shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. You are going to give your opinion on whom you think is correct and explain why.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Add another cell at the end of the row.
  3. Use text and images to explain whom you think is correct and why.
  4. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Teacher Background Information on Electrical Circuits

The nature of electricity has baffled scientists for millennia and was only really understood in the last 200 years. The Ancient Greeks first noted the phenomenon of grass seeds sticking to amber (fossilized tree sap) after the amber was rubbed with animal fur. This is something we would later discover as static electricity. The term electricity comes from the Latin word for amber, electrum. The term was first used by Sir Thomas Browne in the 1600s after William Gilbert’s studies into the attractive properties of amber where he used the term "electricus".

In the late 19th century, the first public electricity network was made in Godalming, England. A Siemens generator was connected to a local water mill and wires ran through the town to connect various lights. Now we live in a new age when we cannot imagine life without electricity. Limits are being put on our resources and scientists are looking for newer, greener and more inventive ways to generate electricity.

The simplest of electrical systems we normally start teaching our students is a battery connected to a bulb using two wires. The battery provides a potential difference which makes the charge in the wires move around the circuit. When that charge flows we call it an electric current. In order for the current to flow we need something to make the charge move, like a battery, and a complete path for the charges to flow around. If the electric circuit is not complete, an open circuit, the current won’t flow.

The three major variables in elementary circuits are current, voltage (potential difference) and resistance. This is summarized by Ohm’s law, voltage = current x resistance. Voltage is measured in volts, current in Amps and resistance in Ohms. You can measure current using an ammeter that is placed in series in a circuit. To measure voltage you need to connect a voltmeter in parallel in the circuit.

If we increase the potential difference, by adding more batteries for example, then the current flowing in the circuit will also increase. Resistance is a measure of how difficult it is for the current to flow in a circuit. If we add more bulbs, the total resistance in a circuit increases. If we increase the resistance it is harder to for electrons to move, so the current decreases.

An understanding of electricity is essential for students to develop as scientifically literate citizens. This can be a challenging topic for students to fully understand, as there are many abstract concepts to grasp. Students often have many misconceptions as electricity is quite abstract and difficult to visualize. Students will also review and learn how to draw the most common circuit components which will allow them to accurately and quickly draw easy-to-understand diagrams of an electrical circuit.


Essential Questions for Electrical Circuits

  1. What is electricity?
  2. What is an electrical circuit?
  3. What is an open circuit?
  4. What would life be like without electricity?
  5. What was the most influential discovery in the history of electricity?

Additional Electrical Circuit Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Have students write a paragraph detailing what they think is the most influential discovery or invention in the field of electricity.
  2. Have students create a storyboard that describes what the world would be like without electricity.
  3. Get your students to make a poster storyboard detailing how to keep yourself safe around electricity.

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