Act Out Electricity!

  1. Get students together in a circle. Assign one student to be the battery. Give him/her the paper sign and put the buckets of balls on either side of him/her. Explain that balls with plus signs are protons, balls with negative signs are electrons, one bucket represents the positive terminal of the battery, another bucket represents the negative terminal of the battery. Explain that the bucket with the protons will not be touched since the electrons will be the ones that move (electron flow).
  2. The first student will grab a ball from the electron bucket and pass it on.  Have the students continue passing as long as all students follow the rule that you can only pass the electron if the next student doesn’t already have one.
  3. Each electron continues around the circle until the last student drops it into the proton bucket. Explain that all electrons move (current formed) due to attraction to protons, and that is why all the electrons end up in the proton bucket at the end.
  4. Once all electrons are exhausted explain that each student in this circuit acted as wire (wire is a path for electrons to move through).  Also explain that a circuit with only a battery and wire is a short circuit.
  5. Explain why short circuits are dangerous, and therefore circuits need resistors. Introduce the first sign and assign 1-3 students the role of a resistor. The resistor must count 3-5 seconds when the electron reaches them before passing it on to the next student.  This will help illustrate that resistors reduce current flow (like a pinched garden hose).
  6. Do the demonstration again, this time including the resistor(s) in the circuit.
  7. Next iteration, add the switch.
  8. Start off with the open switch and attempt the activity.  Keep resistor rolls in to keep practicing the role of a resistor.  Once the electron reaches the student acting as the open switch stop the class. Ask the students if the electrons will keep moving or not.  Discuss why.
  9. Restart the circuit again this time with a closed switch.  Ask why switches might be used in a circuit.
  10. Introduce the last component: the lamp.  When the electrons reach the student acting as a lamp let them recreate what would happen (maybe jump up to show brightness or hold the electron above their head for a moment).
  11. Change the circuit around however you like! Give students the opportunity to be different components. Ask the students to make predictions.

Extensions or Modifications:

  • Bring in signs of different parts: diodes, fans, etc.
  • Transition to using real parts. Allow the kids to freely explore with squishy circuits, snap circuits, etc.

Previous Activity (if applicable)

Umbrella Unit/Curriculum (if applicable)

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2 comments on this post.
  1. Patricia J. O'Connor:

    This activity was really useful as a precursor to doing anything with electricity/circuits. Since electricity is hard to conceptualize for the students, this activity helped them “see” what was going on inside a circuit. We were able to refer back to it when we moved on to snap circuits and it really stuck with the kids. They were all excited to be the different parts of the circuit, so we made sure we switched up the people for all of the parts every time we added a part.

  2. Rachel E. Kramer:

    This activity worked great! The kids were really enthusiastic about being different parts of the circuit, and it definitely helped them visualize how a circuit works. We acted out each individual circuit, first with no resistor, then with a resistor, then with a resistor and lightbulb, and then we added a switch to the whole circuit. Lastly, we introduced a parallel circuit. We didn’t use the word parallel circuit yet but we talked about which path the electrons would take and why. I’m really looking forward to doing squishy circuits next week and seeing how the students apply what they learned this week to the circuits. We had planned to do the activity for 30 minutes and we were a bit rushed at the end and didn’t get to do a very good wrap-up. So the activity can also more than 30 minutes if you plan to do all the circuit components.

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