How to Build Simple Circuits for Fourth Grade Electricity Unit

Simple circuits provide an essential step in learning about electricity. 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.

Ms. Sneed Digs Deeper into Electricity

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sat down to plan the next activity in her electricity unit. “The batteries and bulbs lab was a huge success,” she told her colleague, Mr. Frank. “What next?”

“Our curriculum map says series and parallel circuits,” he responded.

“Whoa, my kids are definitely not ready for that yet.” Ms. Sneed tapped her pencil as she thought. “To be honest, they don’t even know about electrons yet.”

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

“And, to quote you, the lesson will do double duty. We’ll can teach both science and reading skills.” Ms. Sneed chuckled. Was she really that predictable?

Before kids build simple circuits, teach them about atoms and electrons.

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As you introduce simple circuits to fourth grade students, provide some background information about current electricity.

“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.”

This simple circuits lab sheet lets kids tinker with batteries, bulbs, and wires. Furthermore, it introduces open and closed circuits to fourth grade students.
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.

Let kids build a simple circuit to demonstrate a closed circuit.
Open Circuits

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

When fourth grade students detach one wire in a simple circuit, they create an open circuit, and no electrons flow.

“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 fourth grade students unscrew the light bulb, an open circuit is created, and no electrons flow.

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 activity 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 insulators and conductors 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 activities. It only required a little more effort, but it made me enjoy teaching much, much 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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