18 Science Lessons to Teach Circuits
Use these free STEM lessons and activities to help students get hands-on building, testing, and exploring the science of circuits.
The free STEM lessons and activities below guide students in designing, building, testing, and troubleshooting circuits. In these activities, students will learn about series and parallel circuits; open, closed, and short circuits; the importance of conductive and insulating materials; voltage, current, resistance, and Ohm's Law; and more. Students can begin exploring electronics and simple circuits with introductory robots, electric play dough, or paper circuits. As they build understanding of circuitry, students can build circuits using breadboards and create circuits that use sensors, microcontrollers, and more.
The resources below have been grouped as follows:
- Introductory Circuits
- Circuit Exploration with Robots and Drones
- Everyday Circuits and Real-world Solutions
- Combining Circuits and Coding
Note: Science Buddies Lesson Plans contain materials to support educators leading hands-on STEM learning with students. Lesson Plans offer NGSS alignment, contain background materials to boost teacher confidence, even in areas that may be new to them, and include supplemental resources like worksheets, videos, discussion questions, and assessment materials. Activities are simplified explorations that can be used in the classroom or in informal learning environments. Student projects that appear below contain experiments that can be effectively adapted for use by educators for teaching about the topic.
Lesson Plans and Activities to Teach About Circuits and Circuitry
1. LED Stickies
In the LED Stickies activity, students connect coin cell batteries to LEDs to make simple light-up magnets (or popular LED throwies). What they learn about polarity and the importance of connecting the correct LED leg to each terminal of the battery will help as they move on to build more complex circuits. Questions: In doing this activity, students may notice that certain colors of LEDs glow brighter or stay lit longer. Why? (Note: Older kids might be challenged to adapt their LED Stickies to find a way to turn them on and off.)
In the Make a Paper Circuit activity, students explore introductory circuits using copper tape (or aluminum foil), a coin cell battery, and LEDs. These simple circuits help students understand (and visualize) how a circuit provides a closed path for electricity to travel.
In the Electric Play Dough lesson (or Electric Play Dough Project 1: Make Your Play Dough Light Up & Buzz! project), students use conductive dough and insulating dough to learn about circuits. With the two types of dough, they make simple "squishy" circuits that light up an LED and observe firsthand what happens when a circuit is open or closed and the function of insulating and conductive materials. They can experiment with serial and parallel circuits in the Electric Play Dough Project 2: Rig Your Creations With Lots of Lights! project and then use what they have learned to build three-dimensional dough circuits in the Electric Play Dough Project 3: Light Up Your Sculptures! project. This sequence of projects can be done using homemade conductive dough (or Play-Doh®) and insulating dough (or modeling clay) along with specialty materials in the Electric Play Dough Kit. For a short, informal exploration of electric play dough, see the Squishy Circuits: Light Up Your Play Doh® Creations! activity. Questions: When you want to use multiple LEDs, do you need to connect them in series or parallel?
In the Electric Paint: Light Up Your Painting project, students use electric paint to create portions of a circuit. This exploration is similar to making paper circuits using copper tape to form the path between the battery and the object receiving power (like an LED), but with electric paint, the size of the paint strokes (length and/or width) will affect the resistance in the circuit. Can students use this information to light up a painting using batteries, LEDs, and electric paint?
In the Pencil Resistors project, students explore the function of resistors in circuits. Using pencils in varying sizes (and sharpened at both ends) as part of a battery-powered circuit, students can see how the pencils act as resistors and limit the amount of electricity flowing through the circuit. What is the relationship between the brightness of the bulb and the size of the pencil (or amount of resistance)? In the How to Make a Dimmer Switch with a Pencil project, students continue the exploration of resistors by using a single pencil (whittled down to reveal the inner core) to make a variable resistor that works like a dimmer switch.
Note: This project uses specialty materials available in the Basic Circuits Kit.
Circuit Exploration with Robots and Drones
In the Building Junkbots—Robots from Recycled Materials lesson, students create simple circuits using AA batteries and DC motors to power vibrating robots they design and build from recycled and craft materials. (Note: While this robot-building activity can be used with students in other grades, this lesson is NGSS-aligned for grades 6-8.) For other robotics lessons, including introductory bristlebots and vibrobots, see Teach About Robotics with Free STEM Lessons & Activities.
Note: Junkbot robots can be made with specialty parts included in the Bristlebot Kit.
Building a popsicle stick drone is a great way for students to explore circuit building. With a progressive series of mini drone activities, each designed to explore a different aspect of drone flight, students start with a simple DIY mini drone and continue to evolve the circuitry to integrate an Arduino as they explore altitude control, hovering, steering, adding a joystick controller, and motion control with an accelerometer.
With intermediate robotics projects like the BlueBot series, students can build circuits with different sensors to enable specific robot functionality. The A Robot that Follows a Line lesson provides a complete lesson plan for using the BlueBot kit with students to build a robot with infrared (IR) light sensors that can follow a line. (They will learn about the electromagnetic spectrum, too.) The kit can also be used to build circuits for a guard robot, a light-tracking robot, and an obstacle-avoiding robot. (Note: For other robotics lessons, including advanced BlueBot projects that integrate Arduino, see Teach About Robotics with Free STEM Lessons & Activities.)
Everyday Circuits and Real-world Solutions
9. Night Light
In the Make a Night-Light activity, students design and build a night light that comes on when the room dims and goes off when the room brightens. This intermediate circuit uses a potentiometer and a photoresistor to detect light and enable the night light's on and off functionality.
In the Make an Awesome Paper Lantern activity, students design their own paper lanterns. These lanterns can be lit with tea lights or by creating a circuit similar to the night light activity above. (Make connections! This engineering design activity is part of our Lunar New Year collection.)
E-textiles, or "wearable circuits," are circuits integrated into clothing (or other fabric items, like bookbags) using conductive thread. In the LED Dance Glove: Get the Party Started with Your Own Interactive Light Show project, students make wearable circuits and turn an ordinary glove into a fun light-up LED dance glove. (These light-up gloves can be used to create mesmerizing light displays!) The LED Traffic Glove: Build a Safety Device to Direct Traffic project extends the exploration of wearable circuits with a more complex traffic-control circuit that incorporates a switch so that the glove can show red or green lights, depending on the situation. (Be inspired! Wearable circuits are a creative and unique way to experiment with electronics and circuit building. Students can use the dance glove directions to create other e-textiles light-up projects. Making custom patches that can be added to jackets or bookbags is just one example. Our team made these several times! See designing a light-up heart patch, skeleton kitty light-up patch, 4th of July patch.)
In the Make a Heart Rate Monitor project, students explore biomedical circuitry when they design, build, and program a custom heart rate monitor using an Arduino. Depending on the design they choose, students might make a bedside heart rate monitor device or construct a wearable device using conductive thread as part of the circuitry.
In the Green Technology: Build an Electronic Soil Moisture Sensor to Conserve Water project, students build a circuit that can help monitor water levels. They then are challenged to use the engineering design process to think about how the circuit could be protected for real-world use. (Be inspired! This holiday tree water monitor uses this same type of sensor-based circuit and doubles as a tree ornament!)
In the Environmental Monitoring lesson, students think about human impact on the environment and work in groups to develop circuits that can measure specific environmental variables. Circuits built as part of this lesson include circuits that could be used to detect the presence or absence of water (or other conductive liquid); measure the pH, CO2, color, or turbidity of a liquid sample; or measure the brightness of a light source. As part of their exploration, students build and test a light sensor circuit, a conductivity meter, or a moisture detector.
In the Protecting Nature with Technology lesson, high school students investigate the use of sensors to quantify human impact on the environment and explore ways to use this information to protect the environment and reduce human impact. Students design and build an electronic circuit that can measure a chosen environmental variable, like water quality, light pollution, or water levels.
Combining Circuits and Coding
With the Raspberry Pi Projects kit, kids build their own Raspberry Pi computer and then explore circuit building and computer programming with a series of eight activities that blend coding and electronics. With this kit, students use Scratch, a graphical programming language, to write programs that interact with circuits they build to create interactive games and toys, including a drum set, a musical keyboard, a carnival-style game, light-up art, and more!
The Raspberry Pi Projects Kit also works with more advanced programming languages like Python, so after students do the guided activities, they can continue to use the Raspberry Pi Kit for new coding adventures with projects like Build an Adaptive Game Controller for a Raspberry Pi. For extra inspiration, see how this student used the Raspberry Pi kit to create a light-up star and this student lit up a Halloween decoration.
Note: For classrooms or families that already have a Raspberry Pi, a Circuit Building Kit for Raspberry Pi is available.
Students ready for more complex circuitry projects can experiment with adding an Arduino microcontroller to the circuit and programming it to bring even more functionality to their projects. The following robotics projects use the BlueBot kit and an Arduino to create more sophisticated robots:
- Build an Autonomous Arduino Robot with Bump Sensors
- Keep Your Arduino Robot From Falling Off a Cliff
- Build a Solar-Tracking Robot
- Build an Arduino Robot
After building a basic popsicle stick drone, students can explore specific aspects of drone science by adding and programming an Arduino:
- DIY Mini Drone: Arduino™ Altitude Control
- Program Drone Steering with an Arduino®
- Drone Control with an Analog Joystick
- DIY Mini Drone: Motion Control
Teaching About Circuits and Circuitry in K-12
There is crossover between teaching about electricity, circuits, magnetism, and electromagnetism. You can view teaching materials, experiments, and lessons for these topics in the following collections:
- 16 Science Experiments to Teach About Electricity
- 11 Lessons to Teach Magnetism
- 8 Experiments to Teach Electromagnetism
The following word bank contains words that may be covered when teaching about circuits using the lessons and activities in this resource.
- Ampere (amp)
- Closed circuit
- Electrical circuit
- Light-emitting diode (LED)
- Ohm's Law
- Open circuit
- Paper circuit
- Parallel circuit
- Series circuit
- Short circuit
Collections like this help educators find themed activities in a specific subject area or discover activities and lessons that meet a curriculum need. We hope these collections make it convenient for teachers to browse related lessons and activities. For other collections, see the Teaching Science Units and Thematic Collections lists. We encourage you to browse the complete STEM Activities for Kids and Lesson Plans areas, too. Filters are available to help you narrow your search.
Arduino is a registered trademark of Arduino LLC.
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