Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Properties of Waves

Carol Houck


Students observe and investigate wave properties.


The student writes text, notes, outlines, comments, and observations that demonstrate comprehension of content and experiences from a variety of media.

The student selects and uses appropriate formats for writing, including narrative, persuasive, and expository formats, according to the intended audience, purpose, and occasion.

The student describes and compares the properties of particles and waves.

The student identifies forms of energy and explains that they can be measured and compared.

The student knows the properties of waves (e.g., frequency, wavelength, and amplitude); that each wave consists of a number of crests and troughs; and the effects of different media on waves.

The student knows that vibrations in materials set up wave disturbances that spread away from the source (e.g., sound and earthquake waves).

The student knows that accurate record keeping, openness, and replication are essential to maintaining an investigator's credibility with other scientists and society.

The student recognizes that patterns exist within and across systems.


Per group:
-Pie plate
-Tuning fork


1. A discussion of wave characteristics may be necessary prior to this activity.
2. Photocopy the Wave Experiment and Newspaper Article Rubric for each student. (See attached file.)


-Students will observe and investigate wave properties.
-Students will know various physical characteristics of waves.
-Students will understand that waves propagate outward, away from the source.
-Students will compare and contrast various types of waves.
-Students will understand the process of earthquakes.
-Students will utilize reading and writing skills to enhance concept materials.

1. Divide the class into groups of two or three.

Part One: The Tuning Fork
2. Have students closely observe what happens when a vibrating tuning fork is dipped into water. Students should be instructed on how to properly strike a tuning fork. Striking the fork on a hard surface will destroy the set frequency of the fork. Students should address the following questions.
a. What is a tuning fork?
b. What is a tuning fork used for?
c. What is the number stamped on your fork?
d. What does that number mean?
e. What is frequency?
f. What is wavelength?
h. What happened when the fork touched the water?
i. Describe the waves that formed, where they began, and where they ended.
j. Describe what the waves looked like.

3. Students should exchange forks with another group. Have students closely observe what happens when the vibrating tuning fork is dipped into water. Students should address the following questions.
a. How does this tuning fork differ from the first tuning fork?
b. How is this tuning fork the same as the first tuning fork?
c. Did you notice a difference in the waves?
d. Should you notice a difference in the waves?
e. What might account for the difference you did or didn't see?
Discuss class answers and address misconceptions.

Part Two: Pool of Water
4. Students fill the pie pan with water half full.

5. Students place a toothpick in the center of the water in the pie pan.

6. Students drop the marble into the pie plate and make observations. Students should observe the direction the waves move and what happens to the toothpick. Students should address the following questions.
a. Compare these waves to the waves generated by the tuning fork. How are the waves the same; how are they different?
b. What may account for the difference in the waves?
c. How was the toothpick affected by the wave?
d. Would changing the object dropped in the pan change the wave?

7. Students may repeat the experiment several times using different objects to observe wave characteristics.

8. Ask students to relate the pie plate experiment to earthquakes around the world. Address the following questions.
a. How is an earthquake like the pie plate experiment?
b. How is an earthquake different from the pie plate experiment?
c. What causes an earthquake to begin?
d. What is the focus or epicenter of an earthquake?
e. Why do places far away from the epicenter feel the effects of an earthquake?

9. Tidal waves are often associated with earthquakes. Ask students to write a short newspaper article that explains this observation. Review the rubric (see attached file) with the class. Students will write their articles individually based on the information presented in class and from research.

10. Assess student understanding.

The newspaper article students write should try to explain the phenomenon of a tidal wave in scientific terms. The energy of the wave moves outward from the source as seen by the movement of the water in the experiment. The water particles, just like the floating object (i.e., toothpick), travel in a circular pattern, moving down as the trough of the wave passes, and up as the crest of the wave passes, but not toward the edge. The source of the disturbance should be identified as the motion of the sphere dropping into the water. Students should make the newspaper article interesting to read and based on scientific facts.


The Wave Experiment and Newspaper Article Rubric can be used to assess this activity.

The following questions may be used to assess student understanding.

1. Tidal waves often occur with earthquakes. What explanation may account for this observation?
a. Tidal waves are the same as earthquakes, tidal waves are another name for them.
b. Tidal waves are created from the vibrations from the earthquake.
c. Tidal waves are created from lava flowing during an earthquake.
d. Tidal waves are caused by earthquake vibrations in the air.

(answer b: Just like the tuning fork experiment, vibrations generate vibrations.)

2. The sounds of speech are produced when air passes over vocal chords making them vibrate. Why does a person standing next to you hear what you are saying?
a. The air passes through the mouth and to the person next to you.
b. The person next to you begins to vibrate which creates sound.
c. Vibrating vocal chords vibrate the air making sound waves.
d. Vibrating vocal chords vibrate the body and neck muscles making sound.

(answer c: Sound waves are created from vibrating vocal chords.)

3. An earthquake occurs 25 miles away, and yet its effects are still felt. What may account for this observation?
a. Earthquake waves propagate away from the source.
b. Earthquake waves propagate toward the source.
c. Earthquakes have no limits.
d. Earthquakes produce other earthquakes 25 miles away.

(answer a: Waves propagate away from the source.)

Imagine that the toothpick is a surfboard that you are riding. What would happen to you if you were overcome by a tidal wave?


-How does a surfer use a wave?
-Research types of surfboards.
-Draw a design of a surfboard.
-Where in the world would you find the best waves to ride as a surfer?
-Is there a season for tidal waves?

Attached Files

The Wave Experiment and Newspaper Article Rubric.     File Extension: pdf

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