Teaching Simple Circuits – Open and Closed Circuit Lesson Plan

Teaching simple circuits, as well as the concepts of open and closed, provide a critical step in electricity lesson plans. Don’t skip straight to series and parallel circuits. Instead, let kids tinker with batteries, bulbs and wires. They’ll discover the difference between open and closed circuits.

Teaching Simple Circuits - Open and Closed Circuit Lesson Plans Cover

Ms. Sneed Creates Open and Closed Circuit Lesson Plans

Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her teaching partner. “Let’s continue planning our electricity unit.

“The batteries and bulbs lab was a huge success,” said Mr. Frank. “What next?”

“Our curriculum map says series and parallel circuits.”

“Whoa, my kids are definitely not ready for that yet.” Mr. Frank tapped his pencil, deep in thought. “To be honest, they don’t even know about electrons yet.”

He opened his tablet and began to search. “Here. In this electricity unit, two informational texts explain electrons and current electricity. That should bridge the gap.”

When teaching simple circuits, present basic information about atoms and current electricity.
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“Let’s discuss these tomorrow,” said Mr. Frank. “Then we can get busy with series and parallel circuits.”

Ms. Sneed frowned. “Not so fast. I’d like to introduce simple circuits first. My kiddos need to get their hands on battery holders, bulb holders, and wires. That way, they’ll have the basic skills before we get to more complex circuitry.”

“Hmm,” Mr. Frank responded. “I didn’t think of that. Scaffolding, eh?” He shook his head from side to side. Ms. Sneed sure did a great job moving kids slowly and steadily to thorough understanding. “Yeah, I think you’re right. We could also introduce terms like open circuit, closed circuit, and switch.”

Ms. Sneed Teaches Simple Circuits

Soon, the teachers had created a lab sheet. “To encourage inquiry, I won’t tell my students how to build the simple circuit,” Ms. Sneed said. “Instead, I’ll just give them the materials and see where it takes us.”

“Me too,” responded Mr. Frank. “It’s a great way to improve the effectiveness of our science lab.”

Use a self-directed lab in your open and closed circuits lesson plan. Kids build a simple circuit then manipulate it.

Closed Circuits

A few days later, Ms. Sneed addressed her class. “Today you will build simple circuits.”

The students cheered. Yes, they loved their science labs.

“Instead of spending a bunch of time explaining, I’ll just let you follow the lab sheet.” Quickly she began distributing them.

“We’ll use our usual science groups. As I call your number, go and get the materials. Number ones, grab a bulb and a bulb holder. Twos, get two wires. Threes, bring two batteries back to your group. And fours, get a battery holder.”

Ms. Sneed said no more. Fortunately, her science lab groups worked like well-oiled machines. Students got their materials. And then they got busy.

Before too long, she saw that most groups had constructed simple circuits. She circulated as they drew diagrams.

First, ask kids to build a simple circuit that's closed. Emphasize that closed lets electrons flow, so the bulb is on. Activities like this make great open and closed circuit lesson plans.

Open Circuits

As they began exploring open circuits, Ms. Sneed observed just what she expected. Students had detached one wire.

Now ask kids to disconnect one wire. The circuit is open, no electrons flow, and the bulb is off.

“Hey, Ms. Sneed,” called one group. “Come and see what we’ve done.” She walked over and looked at their circuit.

“We took out the bulb, and the electrons stopped flowing. Look, removing the bulb also creates an open circuit.”

“Great thinking!” Ms. Sneed smiled. She hadn’t even considered that. Her students were forever surprising her.

When the bulb is unscrewed, the circuit is open, and no electrons flow. Ask kids to look inside the bulb holder to see that the two metal connectors don't touch one another.

When she noticed the kids finishing up, Ms. Sneed walked to the light switch. She flicked it, and the classroom lights turned off. Suddenly, students stopped in their tracks and looked around.

“Open or closed?” Ms. Sneed asked.

Some kids looked puzzled, but others tentatively said, “Open.”

Then Ms. Sneed pushed up on the switch, and the lights went on again. “Open or closed?”

This time, students answered more certainly: “Closed.”

Ms. Sneed continued flicking the light switch a few more times, and the chant continued. “Open, closed, open, closed.”

Their teacher smiled. “Such easy reinforcement,” she thought.

How Inquiry Creates a More Effective Simple Circuits Activity

The next day, Mr. Frank talked to Ms. Sneed during lunch. “At first, I admit that I thought this open and closed circuit lesson plan might be too easy for my kids,” he said. “But as they built the circuit, I saw that you were right. This little lab gave them necessary experience using bulb holders, battery holders, and wires. Furthermore, the simple concepts filled a gap between early understanding and the next step.”

Ms. Sneed looked intently at Mr. Frank. “It’s so easy to skip ahead,” she said. “But moving kids slowly with effective science teaching strategies makes a lot of difference. Are you ready to plan an activity for conductors and insulators after school?”

Mr. Frank nodded. “Sure am. So many teachers around here just follow the textbook,” he said. “But I’m glad we take the time to use hands-on physical science activities. It only required a little more effort, but it made me enjoy teaching simple circuits much more.”

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