16 Science Experiments to Teach About Electricity
Use these free STEM lessons and activities to teach about electricity, electrodes, electrolytes, current, batteries, generators, and more.
We all interact with electricity dozens of times a day. Every time we flip a switch to turn on a light, we use electricity. Every time we check a cell phone, open a refrigerator, or turn on a computer or TV, we are using something that depends upon electricity in the background. We use electricity without necessarily thinking about where it comes from and how it is created. What is required to create electricity? What causes the static electricity that zaps us when we least expect it? What are charged particles? What is the difference between current and voltage? What is a circuit? What are amperes, ohms, and volts? What do electrolyte solutions have to do with electricity? How do we measure electricity?
The free STEM lessons and activities below help educators teach students about electricity with hands-on exploration that creates observable and meaningful active learning. These resources have been grouped to cover teaching about static electricity, the flow of electricity, and generating electricity.
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 Electricity
1. Creating Static Electricity
What happens when you rub a balloon against your hair or scuff your socks across the carpet? In the Rubbing Up Against Static Electricity project, students use balloons to see how static electricity builds up and how long it lasts. How will rubbing a balloon multiple times affect the static charge?
2. Use an Electroscope
In the Measure Static Electricity With An Electroscope! activity, students learn more about static electricity and investigate using a simple homemade electroscope to detect electric charges. With the electroscope, students can observe how well different household items produce static electricity without getting zapped!
3. Build an Electric Field Detector
Nobody likes getting zapped by the invisible electric fields created by static electricity! In the Avoid the Shock of Shocks! Build Your Own Super-sensitive Electric Field Detector project, students assemble a super-sensitive charge detector to investigate the invisible electric fields created by static electricity. When two materials are rubbed together, which item donates electrons and becomes positively charged? What does the triboelectric series have to do with what happens?
Note: In addition to a breadboard, this project uses a transistor and other specialty parts from the Electronic Sensors Kit.
The Flow of Electricity
4. Conductors and Insulators
In the Which Materials Conduct Electricity? activity (and related Which Materials are the Best Conductors? project), students use parts from a flashlight (or other small device) and build a circuit they can use to test to see whether different materials are conductors or insulators. By putting a material into the circuit to close the circuit, students will be able to observe if the material conducts electricity based on whether or not the light in the circuit lights up. What will happen with aluminum foil compared to a wooden craft stick?
5. Pencil Resistors
In the Pencil Resistors project, students learn about the role of resistors in limiting the amount of electricity that flows through a circuit. Using pencils in varying sizes (and sharpened at both ends) as part of a battery-powered circuit, students can see how current changes with resistance by observing the brightness of a bulb powered by the circuit. 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. In this circuit, a single pencil offers a range of resistance values and can work like a dimmer switch.
Note: This project uses specialty materials available in the Basic Circuits Kit.
6. Electric Play Dough
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 construct simple "squishy" circuits that light up an LED and see firsthand what happens when a circuit is open or closed. They can continue learning about circuits by exploring serial and parallel circuits in the Electric Play Dough Project 2: Rig Your Creations With Lots of Lights! project and then working with creative three-dimensional sculptures using the conductive and insulating doughs 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.
7. Electric Paint
In the Electric Paint: Light Up Your Painting project, students get creative with electricity and use electric paint to make circuits. This exploration is similar in some ways to making paper circuits using copper tape, 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?
8. A Battery from Coins
Can you make a battery out of a stack of coins? In the Charge from Change: Make a Coin Battery activity, students make a homemade battery using construction paper, vinegar, salt and a handful of pennies and metal washers. They'll learn about electrodes and how electrolytes carry charged particles between metals. When the voltaic pile is complete, it can light an LED! For another exploration using a homemade voltaic pile, see A Battery That Makes Cents. In this project, students use a multimeter and experiment to find out how the number of coins relates to the amount of energy produced.
9. Veggie Power
Using fruits and veggies is a great way to explore battery science, but why do fruits and veggies work as part of an electricity-producing circuit? In the How to Turn a Potato Into a Battery project, students build batteries using potatoes (or try other fruits and vegetables) and investigate how much power can be generated and what limitations exist with this kind of alternative energy. In addition, students will explore how the voltage and current of potato batteries change depending on whether the batteries are connected in series or in parallel. (For a related activity, try the lemon battery activity.)
Note: This project uses the Veggie Power Battery Kit.
10. A Saltwater Battery
Not all batteries are created the same! In the How to Make a Battery with Metal, Air, and Saltwater chemistry project, students learn about metal-air batteries and make a zinc-air battery, also called a saltwater battery. This battery still uses electrodes and an electrolyte solution, so how does it differ from other types of batteries?
Note: This project uses electronics components available in the Veggie Power Battery Kit. Other required materials are listed separately on the Materials tab.
11. Shaking Up Energy
In the Human-Powered Energy project, students explore magnetic induction, the process in which the magnetic field of a magnet moved near a conductor creates a current in the conductor. A generator uses this principle to generate electricity. In the project, students build a small electrical generator with magnets and a wire coil that creates electricity when it is (vigorously!) shaken. In the project, students experiment to see what the relationship is between the number of magnets and the number of LEDs the generator can power.
Note: This project uses the Shaking Up Some Energy Kit.
12. Build a Generator
In the Shed Light on Electric Generators: Do More Coils Generate More Electricity? project, students build an electric generator and study how the number of coils affects the amount of electricity produced. They will also learn what alternating current (AC) is and see how the changing direction of the magnets works to create AC. The Power Move: Manipulating Magnets to Improve Generator Output project continues the exploration by investigating the orientation of the permanent magnets in the generator.
Note: This project uses the Electric Motor Generator Kit.
13. Alternative Power with a Microbial Fuel Cell
Can you use mud to generate electricity? In the Turn Mud into Energy With a Microbial Fuel Cell project, students investigate this question and the potential for using microbial fuel cells as an alternative power source. (Note: There are several additional projects which further investigate the role of bacteria in fuel cells and explore other questions about microbial fuel cells, including the value of additives like salt or urine.
Note: This project uses the Microbial Fuel Cell Kit.
14. Solar Power
In the How Does Solar Cell Output Vary with Incident Light Intensity? project, students experiment to discover the relationship between light intensity and power output from a solar cell.
The Electricity, Magnetism, & Electromagnetism Tutorial resource is a good place to start when teaching about electricity and related concepts like electromagnetism. This resource contains sections specifically dedicated to static electricity, current electricity, and the difference between direct and alternating current (DC and AC).
Tip! Google Classroom teachers can use the Google Classroom button to assign this resource to students.)
Teaching About Electricity in K-12
Educators teach about electricity throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Starting with early exploration of electric interactions, students build understanding of electricity as they learn about charged particles and static electricity, basic circuits, current, voltage, and resistance. With hands-on lessons and activities, students can learn about the flow of electricity, identify and observe the importance of conductors and insulators, review the triboelectric series, see the effect of resistance firsthand, explore Ohm's law, and interact with and measure differences between series and parallel circuits when powering a set of LEDs, for example. Simple homemade electroscopes can be used to reveal electric fields, and circuits can be constructed to further demonstrate the presence of invisible electric fields, and with multimeters, students can explore amperes, ohms, and volts.
To learn about creating electricity, students can build basic batteries by experimenting with different kinds of electrodes and electrolytes. From coin-powered voltaic pile batteries to experiments with fruit- and vegetable batteries, students can examine the chemical makeup of a battery. These explorations can be extended by studying generators, the role of electromagnetism, Faraday's law and magnetic induction, and alternative sources of electricity creation, including saltwater batteries, microbial fuel cells, ocean turbines, and solar power. These continued explorations are important in helping position learning about electricity in a real-world context as part of talking about sustainability, non-renewable resources, and alternative energy resources.
Note: 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:
The following word bank contains words that may be covered when teaching about electricity using the lessons and activities in this resource.
- alternating current (AC)
- Ampere, amp
- charged particle
- electric field
- electrolyte solution
- Faraday's law
- magnetic induction
- microbial fuel cell
- negatively charged
- neutral charge equilibrium
- non-renewable resources
- Ohm's law
- oscillating turbine
- positively charged
- renewable energy
- renewable resources
- saltwater battery
- solar energy (solar power)
- static discharge
- static electricity
- vegetable power
- wind power
- zinc-air battery
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.
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