Electrical Circuits

Our world is powered by electricity, so understanding how it works is more important than ever. Show your students just how a circuit works with a hands-on experiment. In this experiment, students will use a battery and light bulb to demonstrate the process of creating and using a circuit. This activity comes from The American Chemical Society who created a great how-to guide for building your own circuit.

Grade(s): 9-12


Circuits are pathways through which electricity can travel in a device. Every device or machine that runs on electric needs circuits in order to work. Circuits can be as simple as a single pathway to light up a flashlight, or it can be complicated enough to power a smartphone. On a fundamental level, circuits have a simple mechanism that is easy to understand.

First, you should know that there are two basic kinds of circuits. Series circuits only have one pathway for electricity to flow. The amount of electricity flowing through the circuit is consistent and the rate of energy does not fluctuate or change. Parallel circuits have multiple paths for electricity to follow. These pathways can be horizontal or vertical, and will have the same voltage across their ends. Some circuits can be series-parallel and have components of both kinds of circuits.

Image result for simple circuit

Circuits have a few important components they need in order to work. All circuits must have a source of electricity, a load (what is being powered), and two wires to carry electricity between the two. In order to power the load, electrons move from the source of electricity, through the load, and back to the source again. Simple enough, right? Well, many electronic devices today require circuits so vastly complicated that even I don’t know how they work.

What You’ll Need

In order to show your students how a circuit works, there are only a few things you will need:

  • Flashlight battery (1.5 volts D cell)
  • Flashlight bulb
  • Insulated wire
  • Tape

What to Do

I’m going to take the directions of the activity straight from the guide made by The American Chemical Society. I recommend you check out their guide for more details!

  1. Tape one end of your wire to the negative (flat end) end of the battery. Be sure that the metal part of the wire is firmly attached to the battery.
  2. Place the base of the bulb on the positive end (with the little bump) of the battery.
  3. While holding the bulb in place, touch the unattached end of the wire to the side of the bulb base. If your bulb lights, you have made a complete electric circuit.
  4. If the bulb does not light, check to be sure the wire is taped securely to the negative end of the battery. You could even hold it tightly to the battery to be sure it is making good contact.
  5. Look at the picture and at your own complete circuit with the battery, wire, and bulb. Think about how the path of the electricity in your circuit is just like the path
    of the electricity shown in the picture.

Connecting Concepts (NGSS)

Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that an electric current can produce a magnetic field and that a changing magnetic field can produce an electric current.

Disciplinary Core Ideas:

PS2.B: Types of Interactions

  • Newton’s law of universal gravitation and Coulomb’s law provide the mathematical models to describe and predict the effects of gravitational and electrostatic forces between distant objects. (HS-PS2-4)
  • Forces at a distance are explained by fields (gravitational, electric, and magnetic) permeating space that can transfer energy through space. Magnets or electric currents cause magnetic fields; electric charges or changing magnetic fields cause electric fields.

PS3.A: Definitions of Energy

  • “Electrical energy” may mean energy stored in a battery or energy transmitted by electric currents. (secondary)

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