Engaging Your Students in Learning about Forms of Energy

Teaching your students about forms of energy

When I first started teaching, I would often get overwhelmed at the idea of teaching an entire unit. Where do you start? It can be a huge task that honestly does take time (years) to master. Even at the point that I am at in my career, I continue to tweak my lessons and how I approach my units and I think this is a good thing. Always reflecting, updating and making those tweaks is what keeps you current in the classroom and have a pulse on the needs of your students. Below, I outline how I teach a unit on energy. Whether you are brand new to teaching it or just looking for some new ideas, I hope that this information helps you. Let me know in the comments below!




Choice Homework: To keep up with consistency and remember to include homework assignments that are relevant to student learning, I have developed choice homework assignments for each topic. I assign these at the start of the unit and typically give students about a week or so to complete it. I have found that this has increased the amount of homework as well as the quality of what is handed in. In addition to the assignment, there is a rubric to assess it.



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Introduction: Most of my units start with vocabulary. However, this is a tweak of mine that I am beginning to change. Instead of vocabulary to open my unit, I am starting to engage them in an activity. Being a control freak, often I want them to know the science behind the activity, however, I am starting to come across research that thinks that students will make more connections to the unit when they are exposed to a hands-on activity or demonstration before knowing all the particulars. 


Activities to engage students in learning about potential and kinetic energy

For this unit, I opened with an activity that I called, “Bounce it Out”. Basically, students were all given a ruler and a tennis ball. They were instructed to work in small groups and measure the height of each bounce. Students then graphed the height and tried to explain the results. My class really enjoyed this activity. I started this unit right after spring break, first period, so I felt like it was a good motivator to get them up and moving around the classroom. 


Day 2: Vocabulary: I feel it is important to go over vocabulary because it gives students a better understanding of the content. I like to have the vocabulary around the room so that students can reference the term and the definition. I also like to include a picture to help students better understand it and make connections to it in their mind. Often, for homework, students will complete a Frayer model graphic organizer of one of the terms. I like using this for a homework grade and it allows students to get better acquainted with one of the terms.

         Normally there is still time left in the period so I will show students the Brainpop video on potential and kinetic energy. This will prepare them for the following day.


Potential and Kinetic Energy: This year I taught my students about potential and kinetic energy first. I found that first identifying two categories for energy helped them understand it better than when I started with forms of energy. When studying about the two types, we used digital notebooks. Within the notebooks, there were audio recordings that allowed the kids to hear me read it aloud. Not all of them used this but it was a helpful differentiation tactic for struggling readers to be able to keep up with the pace and intensity of the rest of the class. 

Activity: After learning about each, we used rubber bands to demonstrate elastic potential energy. Of course, a discussion was had as to how to properly shoot one (not at your classmate) but students liked being able to connect it to potential energy.

         Toy cars are perfect for demonstrating kinetic energy. The simple movement of pushing them allows students to see the transformation of potential to kinetic. To judge the different amounts of kinetic energy, discuss the amount of force used to move each one.

Forms of Energy: Students learn about seven forms of energy. According to our standards, they are as follows:
-       Electromagnetic energy (also referred to as light or radiant)
-       Thermal energy (also referred to as heat energy)
-       Sound energy
-       Mechanical energy
-       Chemical energy
-       Electrical energy
-       Nuclear energy

We do not spend much time learning about nuclear energy but for the other forms, students need to know the definitions and examples. The anchor charts are displayed around the room to help students refer to them.

         To help the class become familiar with these terms, we again focus on the digital notebook that contains informational text. This allows students to gain background knowledge of what we are doing. The audio recordings are perfect for the struggling learners. This was the first unit I tried it with and they were so excited.

         Other ways to reinforce this concept were with practice worksheets and a gallery walk. The gallery walk was easy to set up. I had sheets of paper in which I included pictures of examples of one form of energy. I also included the definition. I did this for each of the seven types. Students then walked the room to identify which form of energy each one was. This was a great way to review each one and get students up and moving.



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Review: I try to vary my reviews. Sometimes I feel like when I find something the kids like, I should use that method again but I think it is better to vary it so that they don’t fatigue from it too soon.

         For this topic, I chose to use Quizizz. If you aren’t familiar with this type of review, check out my blog post on it. If you would like to use my Quizizz review, click here to get it.


         Other ways that I review this topic are by completing a flipbook. I love using flipbooks with my students. I find they concisely summarize information allowing them to have a great tool for review. Also, I love to incorporate coloring into activities when appropriate. If you would like to learn more about how I use flipbooks in my classroom, check it out here

Using flipbooks in your science classroom



For your digital learners, task cards can be accessed through Google Forms. I love this type of activity as Google Forms will grade any multiple-choice question for you. (Short answers need to be assessed by you). This makes grading super quick and easy. My students are so motivated to do things on the Chromebook. I like having options, so this is great for students that work better independently on the computer.

 Assessments: More options! Some students work better with the standard assessment that could include multiple choice, short answer and fill in the blanks. However, with NGSS standards changing, project-based assessments are becoming more and more popular. One way to assess student learning as well as tap into their creativity is with a poster project.

Students can show what they know about a form of energy by creating a poster about it. You could take this one step further to incorporate language arts skills by having them write a persuasive paragraph explaining why the form of energy they chose is the most important one that exists.


Teaching this unit typically takes me one to two weeks to teach. My students love the varied activities that they get to work on. How would your students like it? Let me know in the comments below.

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