MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Introduction to Open and Closed Electrical Circuits

Introduction to Open and Closed Electrical Circuits

Eric Christensen, Fourth Grade Teacher at Bamber Valley Elementary School, Rochester, MN.
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Students will act out open and closed circuits as a whole class with some students acting as the "motors" or "light bulbs." It is followed by individual journal writing and a class discussion.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed to introduce students to the concepts of electrical current, open electrical circuits, and closed electrical circuits.

Context for Use

This is a shorter activity requiring 20-30 minutes. Students should have a basic understanding of the atom. Specifically the students should know that the atom has protons, neutrons, and electrons. It can be accompanied with a lesson in which the students build electrical circuits that show open and closed circuits and read about electrical circuits. This activity could be easily be adapted for more advanced concepts by adding in simple/parallel circuits or a more in depth discussion of electrical current.

Subject: Physics:Electricity & Magnetism
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)

Description and Teaching Materials

In order to assess background knowledge, the students will be asked to explain what they know about electrical, open and closed circuits. They will discuss with a partner and can write and/or draw their ideas. Allowing for 3-5 minutes for the partnerships to discuss, the whole class will then share their ideas of electrical, open and closed circuits.

The teacher will write/draw the comments on the front board. The teacher will then draw a simple electrical circuit and explain that electrical current is the bump of electrons and only happens when the entire circuit is closed (turned on). The moment the circuit opens (turns off), the electrons all stop passing the bump.

The students will then create a circle in the classroom, creating a class circuit. A few roles will need to be assigned:
Switch: Best if the teacher assumes this role
Motor (could have several students be motors)
Light bulbs (could have several students be light bulbs)

Once the different roles are assigned, the class should decide the motions for the motor(s) and the light bulb(s) when they are turned on. The students who do not have a role will be the wires connecting the circuit in one large circle. The teacher will explain that when he/she turns the switch on the circuit will be closed, all students as wires will do the wave with their arms, the motor(s) will do their actions, and the light bulbs will do their action. However, when the teacher turns the switch off the circuit will be open, all students as wires should stop moving, the motor(s) will stop moving, and the light bulbs will stop their action. Allow students to do the different parts of the circuit by repeating this circuit a few times.

After the class has acted out an electrical circuit being open and closed, the students will return to their desks and have 3-5 minutes of individual journal time. They will write everything they did, what they learned, and describe what they know about an electrical circuit.

As a class, students will share what they know about circuits. Once everyone has had an opportunity to share and questions have been asked and answered, they will be asked to look at the front board. They will make any necessary changes to their first ideas. Then the class will need to summarize the concepts of electrical circuits, open circuits, and closed circuits into one or two sentences. These summaries will then be written on a science board (or chart paper) that will record all the key concepts for the unit.

Teaching Notes and Tips

It can be helpful to have an idea of how to summarize these concepts to assist the class. Some examples include:
In a closed electrical circuit, the things turn on and work.
In an open electrical circuit, the things do not turn on and do not work.
All parts of the electrical circuit are "on" at the same time when it is closed and all parts of the electrical circuit are "off" at the same time when it is open.

In order to prevent excessive silliness of the students acting out the motors, light bulbs, and/or wires, it should clearly explained what their actions will look like and what it will not look like. The students should be reminded that anytime we act thing out in class is to help us learn and not an opportunity to be silly. Let's all learn something!

In the past, I have done activities to incorrectly describe electrical current as the movement of electrons jumping from the battery to the next atom and around the circuit. This activity more accurately shows that electrical current is the bump of electrons and it begins at the same time around the entire circuit.


While the students are journaling, the teacher can circulate around the room to check what students know and if they need guidance it can be provided. Then, during the sharing of ideas and question time, the teacher can collectively assess the class's knowledge of open and closed electrical circuits.


4.II.C.1 - electrical circuits

References and Resources