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Force diagrams

A drawing or diagram is a good way to enable children to express their ideas.

If these are annotated it allows them to expand on their ideas and further explain what they understand. Labelling forces on images or diagrams can bring to light existing ideas about forces including the misconception that if something is not moving then it has no forces acting upon it. Labelling will draw out incorrect naming of forces and understanding of how they may act upon objects. Asking children to add arrows to show the direction of forces, will further elicit existing ideas about how forces work.

As well as being a useful tool in eliciting misconceptions, force diagrams may also be used to assess understanding of the topic. Children can either draw their own complete drawing or complete an incomplete drawing, or decide which drawing is correct from a selection of alternatives.


Have a look at the following images. Can you label the forces that are acting upon the various objects? Which do you think children will find the most difficult to do and why?

1. Plane in air

Biplane flying in the sky

2. Ball in mid-air

Football in air as goalkeeper attempts to save it

3. Toy duck floating

Rubber duck floating in a swimming pool

4. Bird on a branch

A bird perched on a tree branch

5. A child sitting on a bench

A girl sitting on a bench

Image source: Pixabay

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre