Enjoy Teaching Light with Physics Activities for Kids

Engage, Science
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Teaching light can be loads of fun. Even if you’re on a tight budget. Five simple activities for kids help them understand light concepts. A little light reading drives them home. And some fun videos reinforce it all.

Enjoy Teaching Light Cover

Ms. Sneed Enjoys Teaching Light

Let’s visit Ms. Sneed’s classroom. She’s planning a light unit for the first time. Looking at her standards, she sees that her kids need to understand how light moves and transfers. They’ve studied light before – in first grade – but it’s now time for a refresher.

At the beginning of her light unit, Ms. Sneed decides to use centers. She wants her students to explore and make generalizations. After searching a bit on the Internet, she decides on five basic concepts:

  • How light travels
  • Transparent, translucent, opaque
  • Reflection
  • Refraction
  • Color

Using some simple materials, Ms. Sneed organizes five stations for teaching light. Let’s take a look.

Station 1: How Does Light Travel?

  • Look in a mirror and touch the right side of your face. Which side of the face is touched in the mirror?
  • Write your name on a piece of paper. Now look at it in the mirror. What happens?
  • Set a textbook upright on the table. Shine a flashlight on the book. Now, using three mirrors, find a way to shine the light on the back of the book.

Ms. Sneed’s kids cooperate to make the light shine from one mirror to another. Yep, light sure does travel in a straight line!

Your third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade students will love these hands-on light activities. At the first station, they experiment with flashlights and mirrors to determine how light travels. They they respond on this lab sheet, which asks them to make generalizations.

Are you “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Station 2: Which Materials Are Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque?

  • Shine a flashlight on the wall. Now place various objects in front of the flashlight (plastic wrap, tissue plate, wood, paper plate, etc.) How much light passes through?

Ms. Sneed’s students realize that light travels through clear objects. They also see that density, thickness, and color determine whether an object is translucent or opaque.

In this light activity, students hold different materials against a wall and shine a flashlight on them. On the lab sheet, they list materials that are transparent, translucent, and opaque.

Station 3: Which Materials Reflect Light?

  • Hold objects one foot from a wall. Shine a flashlight on the side of the object facing the wall. Look at the wall to see if any light reflects.

As Ms. Sneed monitors the station, she hears words like smooth, dense, and shiny when kids describe objects that reflect. They use adjectives like soft, rough, and bumpy when discussing those that don’t.

In this hands-on light activity, students shine a flashlight on different materials. They list which reflect and absorb on the corresponding lab sheet.

Station 4: What Is Refraction?

  • Fill a clear plastic cup halfway with water. Place a pencil in the cup. Now look at the cup from the side. Why does the pencil appear to be split in half?
  • Place a penny in an empty opaque cup. Look into the cup then back away until the penny is no longer visible. Slowly pour water into the cup. Why does the penny reappear?
  • Place a drop of water on some wax paper. Why does the drop of water magnify objects placed under it?

The kids scribble down their generalizations. When light travels from a gas (air) into a liquid (water), it is bent, or refracted.

In this set of hands-on light activities, students explore refraction. For example, when they place a pencil in a cup of water, it seems to bend.

Station 5: What Is Color?

  • Shine a flashlight into a prism or onto the surface of a compact disk. Draw a picture of the rainbow you see.
  • Blow a bubble and let it rest on dark paper.

Children quickly realize that white light can be split into a rainbow, or the visible spectrum.

In this set of hands-on light activities, kids explore color. They shine flashlights on prisms, CDs, and bubbles to make rainbows. Then they respond on corresponding lab sheets.

Teaching Light with Learning Links

After the class has discussed their findings, Ms. Sneed shares some light videos with them. She loves reinforcing learning this way.

A Little Light Reading

Ms. Sneed wants her students to do a little reading on the topic of light. She uses this article to extend learning and introduce new vocabulary.

This light reading passage and questions correspond to a set of hands-on science activities for students in third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade.

Extending Learning

The students love the science stations and videos. Ms. Sneed loves the way they’ve learned to make generalizations. As she ponders her next course of action, more ideas fill her head. Yes, she’s been on Pinterest again. Naturally, she gathered some awesome activities. To extend learning, Ms. Sneed will use trade books, bulletin boards, and websites.

Ms. Sneed’s Light Unit

After several years of updating and enhancing the light unit, she developed 5-day and 10-day lesson plans. Visit Teachers pay Teachers to get all of these materials and more.

This complete light unit includes lesson plans, hands-on activities, flashcards, review, assessment, and more.

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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