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For Teachers > Experiment Tips > Complete a Circuit
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Complete a Circuit

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This experiment is for students in grades 3–5. It appears in the section "The Travels of Electricity."


Students will need the materials listed (1 D-cell battery, 1 1.2-volt lightbulb, 1 E-10 lightbulb base, two 12-inch pieces of insulated solid strand 18-22 gauge copper wire with 1 inch of insulation removed at each end, masking tape). Bulbs, bases, and wire can be purchased at stores like Radio Shack. Make sure the lightbulbs and bases match.

Safety First:

  • Students should be supervised by an adult while doing this experiment.

  • A teacher or another adult should be responsible for stripping insulation.

  • Explain to students that electricity can be dangerous if it is not handled correctly, and emphasize that they should never experiment with the electricity that comes from a wall outlet. It's much more powerful than the electricity made by small batteries and could seriously injure or even kill someone.

Students will build a circuit and equate it to the path of electricity that comes from power plants.

Getting It Across:

Have students read the information and follow the steps on the page. Make sure they are able to identify the circuit electricity travels from the battery to the lightbulb and back, and the circuit electricity travels from power plants to homes and back. They should be able to equate the wires in the experiment with power lines and electrical wiring in the electric distribution system.

Questions and Answers:

What part of the distribution system is like the wires in the experiment? (Power lines and electrical wiring.) What happens if you tape only one of the wires to the battery? Why? (The bulb does not light. The circuit is not complete unless both wires are taped to the battery, allowing electricity to flow in a circle.)

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