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What is electricity?

Electricity has become a fundamental part of our lives. It’s hard to imagine a world without it. It powers our homes, street lights, our mobile phones and now even some cars. A life without electricity would be a very different place indeed.

For most of us, the closest we come to living without electricity is when we’re camping. But even still then, we use torches, our phones and a radio. The toilet blocks have lights, electric showers and we can dry our hair with the complimentary hair dryer.

But, even if all of this wasn’t available, we would still have electricity in the world around us. Although we think of it as something man-made, it also occurs naturally.

The most obvious example is lightning. These electrical storms can produce some amazing shows which demonstrate the awesome power of nature. Children will also have experienced static electricity as they pull on a jumper, brush their hair or play with a balloon.

Electricity is also in our bodies, sending electrical signals through the synapses in the nervous system. Some animals even produce electricity! For example the electric eel is capable of generating 600 volts of electricity to shock its prey.

Even the Earth itself contains electrical currents deep within it. These are generated by the spin of the Earth’s iron core. These electrical currents are responsible for creating the Earth’s magnetic field which is incredibly important for life as it protects us from the Sun’s solar wind.

But, what is electricity?

Here is a picture of a simple electrical circuit.

Electric circuit with one cell (battery) and one bulb connected in series with wires

We would like you to think about what is happening in that circuit and how the bulb is lighting up.

Note your ideas. In the next step you’ll discover if you were right.


Before we move onto the next step, take a moment to reflect on the topic of electricity. What do children enjoy about the topic? Are there any areas you find tricky to understand or to teach. Discuss your ideas below.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre