Enjoy Teaching Light Energy with Activities for Kids

Teaching light energy 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.

Ms. Sneed Prepares for Teaching Light Energy

Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her teaching partner. “Let’s continue planning our physical science activities,” she said. “Next up, teaching light energy.”

Mr. Frank clicked around on his laptop. Soon, he found the Next Generation Science Standards. “Looks like our students studied light in first grade, but now it’s time to extend their learning. Here’s our directive:

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

“Hmm,” Ms. Sneed said, “looks like we’ll be teaching lots of forms of energy. In addition to light, kids need to learn about sound, heat, and electric currents. If possible, I’d like to use science stations. Like our other units, they can explore with hands-on activities and make generalizations.”

Once again, Mr. Frank clicked around on his laptop “Hey, check out this light unit.”

As he turned the screen toward Ms. Sneed, he scrolled through the preview. “This resource includes five stations, or labs, on these topics:

“Looks good, right?”

Mr. Frank nodded. “Actually, I’d say it’s just what we’re looking for.”

Station 1: Teaching Light Energy and How It Travels

“In the first station,” Mr. Frank said, “kids will explore how light travels. Obviously activities should bring them to the conclusion that light travels in a straight line.”

Ms. Sneed looked a little more closely at the page. “First, kids look in a mirror and touch the right sides of their faces. Then they figure out which side of the face appears to be touched in the mirror. This establishes the idea of a mirror image.

“Second, they write their names on slips of paper. When hold it in front of the mirror, the writing appears backward.”

“Third, they work together. After setting a textbook upright on the table, they shine a flashlight on the book. Now, using three mirrors, they find a way to shine the light on the back of the book. Wow, this will be a fun challenge.”

“Not only that,” said Mr. Frank, “it will definitely show them that light travels in a straight line!”

Ms. Sneed nodded. “For this station,” she said, we’ll need mirrors, paper, a pencil, and some textbooks. Actually, I have all of those materials in my science cabinet.”

When teaching light energy, begin with how it travels. Kids in third, fourth, or fifth grade use mirrors to establish that it travels in a straight line.
Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Station 2: Teaching Light Energy – Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque Objects

Mr. Frank scrolled to the next activity. “In this lab,” he said, “kids determine which materials are transparent, translucent, and opaque.

“First, they shine a flashlight on the wall. Next, they place various objects in front of the flashlight (plastic wrap, tissue plate, wood, paper plate, etc.) On their lab sheets, they write the name of each in the correct column: transparent, translucent, or opaque.”

“Aha,” said Ms. Sneed. “They’ll realize that light travels through clear objects. They also see that density, thickness, and color determine whether an object is translucent or opaque.

“And once again, the materials for teaching light are simple. Sure, we may need to buy a few flashlights, but the rest of the supplies can easily be found in our classrooms.”

To help kids discriminate between transparent, translucent, and opaque objects, ask them to shine a flashlight on the wall. Then they will place different materials between the flashlight and wall to see if any light shines through.

Station 3: Teaching Reflection of Light Energy

On cue, Mr. Frank scrolled to the next activity. “This is really similar to the previous lab,” he said. “However, at this station, they will hold each object one foot from the wall. Then they’ll shine a flashlight on the side of the object facing the wall. Finally, they look at the wall to see if any light reflects. Once again, they’ll test everyday materials.”

“And once again,” said Ms. Sneed, “they’ll record their findings on a table.”

“I see that the students will use words to describe objects that reflect light. What do you think they’ll say?”

“In my opinion, kids might use words like smooth, dense, and shiny. Furthermore, I’ll bet they’ll use adjectives like soft, rough, and bumpy when discussing those that don’t.”

Mr. Frank nodded. “I really like these activities for teaching light energy.”

To teach kids about reflection, ask them to shine a flashlight on different materials and see if the light bounces back.

Station 4: Teaching Refraction of Light Energy

“At the fourth station,” Ms. Sneed continued, “kids use three more hands-on activities to explore light energy.

“First, they fill a clear plastic cup halfway with water. Then they place a pencil in the cup. Now they look at the cup from the side. Ah yes, the pencil will appear to be split in half! Simple yet profound!

“Second, they place a penny in an empty opaque cup. Next, they look into the cup then back away until the penny is no longer visible. Finally, another student slowly pours water into the cup. Another surprise – the penny will appear.

“Third, kids place a drop of water on some wax paper. Obviously, the drop of water will magnify objects placed under it.”

“More great activities for teaching light,” Mr. Frank commented. “With just a few simple materials, they will understand that refraction. You know, when light travels from a gas (air) into a liquid (water), it is bent, or refracted.”

When teaching light energy, make sure to include refraction. A little water and a few great activities make the point.

Station 5: What Is Color?

“The next station explores color,” said Ms. Sneed.

As the two teachers studied the lab sheet, Mr. Frank grinned. “In this lab, kids make rainbows. Wow, teaching light this way will be fun!”

Ms. Sneed nodded and smiled. “Yep. First, they shine a flashlight into a prism or onto the surface of a compact disk. Then they draw a picture of the rainbow they see.

“Second, they blow bubbles and let them rest on dark paper. On the surface of the bubble, a rainbow again appears. Although they won’t know the scientific terminology, our kids will quickly realize that white light can be split into the visible spectrum.”

“I’m so glad that it recommends using a compact disk,” said Mr. Frank. “I can never get a rainbow to form using a prism. But shining light on a CD will do the trick.”

Learning about color is fun with a CD and bubbles!

Teaching Light Energy with Media

“After teaching light energy with the stations,” Mr. Frank said, “the class will discuss their findings. Then we can share some light videos with them.”


“Yep, the file included videos that relate to each concept.”


“Then,” Mr. Frank continued, “to culminate the unit, kids will do a little reading on the topic of light.” He pointed to the page on the screen. “This article will extend learning and introduce new vocabulary. Additionally, it will let us integrate reading and science.”

After kids explore with hands-on light activities, ask them to do a little reading.

The Light Unit

“In addition to the labs and reading,” said Ms. Sneed, “we’ll finish teaching light energy with review, and an assessment. Thankfully, they’re included.”

Mr. Frank scrolled a little farther in the file. “And look! Extension activities are included. Kids can do a chromatography experiment, make white light, and play around with shadows.”

Ms. Sneed pulled out her plan book and filled in her light lesson plans. “This is going to be awesome,” she said. “If we use only the stations, reading, videos, and assessment, we should be able to do it in five days. But with all of those extra activities, I’d really like to extend it to two weeks.”

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