Conductivity Lessons

"Conduct" some simple experiments with these great lesson plans on conductors and insulators!

By Jennifer Sinsel

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conductors and insulators lessons

It's amazing how often students will do a "science experiment" without even realizing it. When I was a middle school choir student, my classmates and I used to entertain ourselves by becoming human conductors. We would all stand in a line holding hands while the person on the end touched a metal piece on the school’s electric piano. As the person on the other end touched his hand to a metal chair, we all received an instantaneous ZAP! It was great fun (albeit a bit painful!), but our science teacher actually used the experience as a lesson on conductors and insulators.

A conductor is something that allows heat or electricity to flow freely through it.  An insulator is something that restricts the flow of heat or electricity. To see these concepts in action, try this simple experiment: Heat a cup of water until the water is boiling. Place a metal spoon and a plastic spoon in the water.  After one minute, carefully touch both spoons. Which one is the better conductor, the metal spoon or the plastic one?

Your students can “conduct” a simple experiment to find out which materials are conductors and which are insulators. You can get a 1.2-volt light bulb, a matching light bulb base, a D-cell battery, three pieces of copper wire with the insulation stripped off the ends, and a variety of materials to test (nail, string, paper clip, coins, aluminum pop tab, crayon, fruit, plastic fork, etc).  Tape the end of one wire to the positive end of the battery, and another wire to the negative end. Attach the other end of the negative wire to the light bulb base. Attach the third wire to the light bulb base, leaving the other end free to wrap around the material being tested.  The wire leading from the positive end of the battery will also be free to attach to the material you are testing, which will complete the circuit. If the bulb lights up, the material is a conductor. Additionally, a better conductor will create a brighter light. For more ideas involving conductors and insulators, check out the following lesson plans.

Conductor and Insulator Lessons:

What is the Best Insulator: Air, Styrofoam, Foil, or Cotton?

In this lesson students do experiments to determine which substances will stop water from freezing, and once frozen, stop it from melting. After students have conducted the experiment, they write down the results, and discuss what they found.

Go with the Flow

This lesson has students learn about the difference between conductors and insulators. Students use a conductivity tester to differentiate between objects that are conductors, and those that are insulators. They also build their own basic circuit switch.

Let it Shine

Students learn about Ben Franklin in this lesson and learn about electricity. They create simple circuits, and talk about conductors and insulators. They also determine which objects are insulators, and which are conductors.


Elementary Science Guide

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Jennifer Sinsel