Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Benjamin Franklin and Electricity

Paul Baldauf PhD


This is an interdisciplinary lesson combining exercises in Language Arts and Science, and includes discussions and written assignments on one of the seminal figures in science, Benjamin Franklin, and continues with simple experiments in electricity.


The student reads text and determines the main idea or essential message, identifies relevant supporting details and facts, and arranges events in chronological order.

The student drafts and revises writing in cursive that-focuses on the topic;-has a logical organizational pattern, including a beginning, middle, conclusion, and transitional devices;-has ample development of supporting ideas;-demonstrates a command of language including precision in word choice;-generally has correct subject/verb agreement;-generally has correct verb and noun forms;-with few exceptions, has sentences that are complete, except when fragments are usedpurposefully;-uses a variety of sentence structures; and-generally follows the conventions of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.

The student recognizes various forms of energy (e.g., heat, light, and electricity).


Written Assignment:
-Computers with Internet
-Pencil or pen
-Paper for writing assignment

Experiment in Electricity:
For the instructor
-Large two-post battery (9 V)
-Two thin gauge insulated copper wires with alligator clips attached
-One small light bulb or diode in holder
-Standard volt meter

For each group of students:
-One balloon for each student
-One small transistor battery
-Two strips of thin wire insulated with alligator clips at one or both ends
-A small light bulb in holder or diode


Prepare computers for students to conduct Internet research. If there are not enough computers in the classroom for online research, reserve time in the media room. Learn to operate the voltmeter. Obtain biography of Benjamin Franklin. (See Weblinks.)


Day One
1. Ask the students, “Do any of you know when electricity was first discovered?” (The earliest experiments with electricity were conducted in the 1600 and 1700's.) Help students to see that electricity is a form of energy, along with light and heat.

2. Ask the students, “What was Franklin's most famous experiment with electricity?” (In 1752, Franklin flew a kite during a storm with a key attached to the silk kite string. When he placed his hand near the key, he observed a spark leap to his hand.)

3. Give the students a brief biography on Ben Franklin. (See Weblinks.)

4. Ask the students, “What other accomplishments has Ben Franklin made besides electricity?” (First subscription library, first postal service, first volunteer fire department, lightning rod)

5. Have the students conduct an online research on Ben Franklin and write a brief biographical report on him. See assessment for evaluation guide. Share this grading information with students. (If there are not enough computers in the classroom, escort students to media center for research.)

6. Have the students brainstorm on how Franklin’s accomplishments have impacted us today. Write down the different ideas on the board.

7. Instruct students to take out a sheet of paper and write a four- paragraph essay on “How Our Lives Would Change Without Electricity in the Year 2001.” The students should be creative and follow grammar rules, punctuation, etc. Students must focus on detail. Review the criteria listed in the assessment section of this lesson carefully with students. Offer feedback and assistance to those who need it.
8. Collect the assignment at the end of the period and explain the home-learning assignment. Students will go home and make a list of all of the appliances, tools, objects that operate by

Day Two
1) Explain that electric charge occurs when electrons are added or removed from an object. That charge may be static, as it is when we rub a rubber object (such as a balloon) against cloth. Or it may move from one place to another as it does through a wire. Moving electric charge forms electricity.

2) Divide students into groups. Ask the members of the groups to blow up their balloons and rub them against their clothes until a charge is formed. The students are told that the balloons can now pick up small objects or stick to larger objects. They are given a few minutes to try various things that might stick (i.e. small pieces of paper, hair, stick balloon to underside of table, etc.)

3) Explain that this is static electricity. Then to demonstrate current, the teacher connects a small light or diode to the battery and lights it.

4) Give each group a lemon and the strips of copper and zinc. Explain that this forms a battery that generates a small electric current. Allow each group to make the battery by inserting the metal strips into the lemon, then attach wires with alligator clips. In order for the bulb to light, it must be an extremely low-voltage bulb or diode. If the bulb or diode does not light, use a volt meter at its lowest setting to measure the current for each group.

5) Assess Day 1 and 2 activities using the assessment instructions provided below, including the test in the attached file.


Use the "What is Your Knowledge of Electricity" document in the associated file to assess the knowledge of electricity. The assessment involves drawing and explaining basic concepts of static charge and current.

Assess the brief biographical writing assignment. Assess the four-paragraph essay with this criteria to indicate that the student understands that electricity is a form of energy. Also, emphasize the importance of summarization in the writing of the biographic reports. Students should always use their own words, even when getting information from secondary sources, such as Webpages or encyclopedias.

Circulate and formatively assess students as they use the technology tools. Provide assistance for students who are experiencing difficulty and monitor accordingly.


In addition to the home learning assignment discussed in Procedures, the teacher could ask the students to conduct the following experiments:
1) wearing tennis shoes, scuff shoes across the carpet, then touch a doorknob to produce a spark.
2) take acrylic or permanent press clothes out of the dryer and carry to a darkened room. Pull the clothes apart and watch for sparks.

Be sure to explain to students that electricity can be dangerous and that they should not experiment with appliances or the electrical wall outlets.

Web Links

Web supplement for Benjamin Franklin and Electricity
Ben Franklin

Web supplement for Benjamin Franklin and Electricity
Lemon Battery Experiment

Web supplement for Benjamin Franklin and Electricity
Think Quest

Attached Files

What is your knowledge of electricity?     File Extension: pdf

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