Utilization Strategies

Lesson Plans

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by Karen Byers


SUBJECT MATTER: Earth Science: meteorology; physics

TIME ALLOTMENT: 4 or 5 one hour lessons

Opposites attract. That’s lightning! It is an electrical discharge between positive and negative regions of a thunderstorm. It was once only magical, mysterious, and misunderstood. However, we know much more about it today. Yet, for children, it is still magical and mysterious. Students’ will decide what they want to learn about lightning, how to go about finding their answers, and deciding what skills they need to further study some of their questions.

Using Newton’s Apple show #1513 called “Lightning”, this lesson will uncover the causes of lightning and will unravel many more interesting facts about it. Students will learn new vocabulary associated with lightning and electricity. We don’t have the sophisticated equipment that scientists’ have to study lightning, but we can study it on a safer and smaller scale through demonstrations of static electricity. After watching and discussing the show, students will rotate through several stations as they experiment with static electricity, view photos of lightning, movies of lightning from space, solve a lightning math problem, create and edit a question to ask an expert, learn about safety measures to use during a thunderstorm, and check for current weather warnings for thunderstorms. They will read 2 books about Benjamin Franklin. A guest speaker will visit the class. As a culminating activity, the class will make a 6 to 10 minute video using Newton’s Apple as a model. They will research, write, incorporate visuals, edit, practice, and tape their spots.


Students will:

  • Build a knowledge of lightning and static electricity through video, hands-on demonstrations, the Internet, the library, and a guest speaker.
  • Define and understand these vocabulary words: static electricity, charge, electrons, negative charge, positive charge, neutral charge, supersonic, conductor, insulator, attract, repel.
  • Accurately observe and record observations of static electricity.
  • Understand the similarities between lightning and static electricity.
  • Draw and describe the arrangement of charges in a cloud and on the earth during a thunderstorm.
  • Read 2 historical accounts of Benjamin Franklin’s life and role in the understanding of electricity.
  • Calculate the number of lightning strikes in a minute and in an hour.
  • List 2 ways to be prepared for and 2 ways to be safe during a thunderstorm.
  • Complete the “I Wonder” process.
  • Write and edit a question to ask an expert through e-mail.
  • Follow directions and search the Internet for specific facts about lightning, and accurately record the information they find.
  • Clearly communicate several facts through an oral and visual 30-second TV spot.


From the National Science Education Standards, Content Standards: K-4

  • CONTENT STANDARD A, Science as Inquiry As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry Understanding about scientific inquiry
  • CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science As a result of the activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of: Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism
  • CONTENT STANDARD D: Earth and Space Science As a result of their activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of: Changes in earth and sky


Preview the video. Know where your pause points are located. Copy and hole punch the worksheets. Arrange for the guest speaker. Assemble the rest of the materials from the materials section and set up the stations. Preview and bookmark the websites. Load any plug-ins necessary. Read the “Lightning Facts for Teachers to Share” and use these tidbits as you see fit throughout the lessons. Get copies of the books, Ben and Me and What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?
PRIOR KNOWLEDGE Students should be familiar with using bookmarks on the Internet.


Step 1. Begin the lesson with a demonstration about static electricity. Rub a balloon on your hair a few times. Darken the room. Bring a charged balloon near one end of a fluorescent tube and you should see some light flashes. Ask for ideas about what the students observed. Ask for ideas about the subject of this lesson. The subject of the show is lightning. Ask if lightning is related to anything else they know about, does it remind them of anything else? Lightning is one way we can see electricity.

Write the steps of the lesson on the board: video, stations, research, TV spot . Start by filling in the “I Wonder” worksheet. Have students write their “I Wonder” questions on their paper. (What things about lightning and electricity do I wonder about?”) After they have all written something, transfer their questions to the large class “I Wonder” butcher paper chart. Read the other 2 questions on the “I Wonder” worksheet. (How do I go about finding the answers to the questions I wonder about? and, What skills might I need to further study some of these questions?) Brainstorm ideas to answer these questions. They can add to these 3 questions throughout the lesson. Pass out the worksheets and put them in the students’ Science Journals.



Newton’s Apple #1513, Lightning

Where did Benjamin Franklin get most of his amazing ideas? This fictional book gives us the inside story.Was it from a mouse? Ben and Me by Robert Lawson

A look at the incredible life of Benjamin Franklin: inventor, ambassador, printer, almanac maker, politician, and so much more. What’s the Big Idea Ben Franklin? By Jean Fritz.


A glossary of electrical terms http://www.mos.org/sln

This site gives immediate access to all current weather warnings in the U.S.

Photos of lightning. http://strikingimages.com

Facts and fiction, things to know, what did I learn http://www.fema.gov/kids/

Movies of lightning from space http://wwwghcc.msfc.nasa.gov/

Ask an Expert,


Step 2. Viewing the video. The video is 7 minutes long. Preview the FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION worksheet. Explain that you’ll pause during the video so the students can answer the questions. you will pause to give

START and watch the introduction until the question is asked,” Why is the golfer’s hair is standing on end?” PAUSE and listen to student predictions.

START and then PAUSE after the words, “Creating thunder”. Give the students time to describe and write how thunder is made. Define supersonic. PLAY until after the sock scene when you see the finger with the electrons and the nose with the positive charges. PAUSE. Answer the worksheet questions. Check for understanding.

PLAY through the explanation of how the charges line up in the cloud and on the earth. PAUSE Draw the representation on the worksheet. PLAY through the explanation of how air changes from an insulator to a conductor. PAUSE, discuss and define these words on the worksheet. PLAY until the end.

STOP and complete the worksheet. Vocabulary and key concepts:

  • Supersonic- a condition that occurs when the speed of an object is greater than the speed of sound.
  • Charge – the buildup of electricity that causes objects to push or pull.
  • Electrons – tiny particles orbiting the outside of atoms. They carry a negative charge.
  • Negative charge – a buildup of electrons.
  • Positive Charge – an absence of electrons. Positive charges and Negative Charges are opposites. If they exist equally in an object then a neutral charge exists.
  • Conductor – a substance through which electrical charges can easily flow.
    Examples are: wool, hair, salt water, and metals.
  • Insulator – a material through which electric charges cannot move.
    Examples are: rubber, wool, and glass.
  • Neutral charge – when the negative charge and the positive charges are equal.
  • Static Electricity – the buildup or imbalance of the same charges.
  • Attract – the pull of one object to another
  • Repel – the push of one object away from another

Step 3. Explain the procedure and worksheets for rotating through the 5 stations. (rules, group size, time limit, clean up etc). Students will need their science journals and a pencil. The static electricity demonstrations will work better on a dry day. You decide when the students will read the books about Benjamin Franklin.

Step 4. Invite a guest speaker to the class. A meteorologist, a physicist, or an emergency disaster expert are some examples. Have the students write their questions for the speaker ahead of time a storm?



Step 5. Making a class “Newton’s Apple” show about lightning. Using Newton’s Apple as a model, students will use information from the video, the stations, the library, the guest speaker or the Internet to produce a 30 second TV spot to add the show. Provide research time in the library and in the classroom. As a class, decide which topics you want to include and which groups will research them. Name the show. Include summaries of each book. The job of the students who write the summaries is to sell the book to other readers. Working in groups, the students will research, write, edit, practice and tape their 30-second TV spot. (You may decide to increase the time.) They will also make their own visuals and may decide to wear costumes. Watch and enjoy the show.


“How many strikes an hour?” problem

Language Arts:
Read Ben and Me by Robert Lawson and What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? By Jean Fritz. Find lightning myths. Here are several. The Greeks feared the lightning hurled by Zeus. In Viking mythology Thor produced lightning as his hammer struck an anvil while he rode his chariot across the clouds. Native Americans thought lightning was due to the flashing feathers of a bird and his flapping wings made thunder.

Creative Writing:
Writing and performing the TV spots.

Design the visuals for the TV spot

Community Connections:
Guest Expert

For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource at PBS Online! You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites! Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!

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