MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Conductor or Insulator?

Conductor or Insulator?

Kris Hagemeyer
Pike Lake Elementary
Proctor, MN
Author Profile


In this investigation the students, while working in pairs, will predict, experiment, and observe whether materials are insulators or conductors. They will complete a chart showing their results and journal about their observations. They will look at how the results compared to their predictions.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for 4th graders to predict, experiment, and observe as they look at different items throughout the classroom. The children will be predicting, observing, questioning, drawing, writing, and experimenting during this process. Key vocabulary words: conductor, insulator, and complete circuit

Context for Use

This activity is designed for partners and a whole group discussion. It is designed for an entire class and could be done in a typical classroom. Time: The student will have a prior knowledge of complete circuits from previous lessons. For this lesson they will be working with a partner. After the lab/experiment they will be sharing their results with the whole class. We will have a closing discussion on insulators and conductors. This will take approximately 50 minutes. Materials: science journal for each student, D cell battery, miniature light bulb, wire, misc. items from the classroom.

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

Description and Teaching Materials

The students will have a prior knowledge of complete circuits. So we will start out the lesson with a review of complete circuits and why they work. Then we will do an inquiry into what materials in our everyday lives would keep the electricity flowing if we included them in the circuit. Any student who has a thought to share will be allowed. We will discuss why or why not they think an item would work in the circuit. As the discussion concludes they will come up with definitions for the words "conductor" and "insulator." Then they will partner up with another person, pick up the materials listed above, and begin the lab/experiment. The first thing they will do is build their circuit, and then find an item from the classroom to test. In their science journals they will make a chart with four columns. I will have an example on the board of the chart. The columns will be: item, prediction, conductor, and insulator. They will be filling the chart out for each item they test. They should also allow room to write down other observations such as how bright the light bulb was. Each group will continue to test as many items as time allows. I will be observing the groups, and once I see that each group has tested at least ten items, I will have them find their seats for a sharing and discussion of their results. Each group will share one or two items and the predictions and results. I will be writing them up on the white board under the two categories. After each group has had a chance to share, we will have an inquiry discussion about what they see in each category. What makes a conductor, and what makes an insulator? We will have a closing discussion about how this is important to us as we live our daily lives.
Quiz for "Conductor or Insulator?" (Microsoft Word 41kB Aug3 09)

Teaching Notes and Tips

I believe this plan would work for 3rd-5th graders. As mentioned a couple of times above, the students do need a good understanding of complete circuits. If you have students who have a hard time building a complete circuit, it would be a good idea to do a thorough review and pair them up with someone who has a good understanding. I would also remind the students to make their predictions before they actually test the item.


Students will be assessed on notes, observations, and the chart recorded in their journals. Students will also be assessed by teacher observations during the experiment. There will be a short quiz the next day.


References and Resources