Energy Town


Notes on the activity cards

The activity cards are suitable for pupils aged 7–11 but additional support pupils may need extra help with reading and some activities.

  1. Energy in the home
  2. The search for energy
  3. Substations quiz
  4. Make a power station
  5. Make a wind turbine
  6. Non-renewable sources of energy
  7. Don’t waste energy!
  8. Insulation experiment
  9. Renewable energy sources
  10. Renewable energy issues

1: Energy in the home


  • To help pupils understand that different types of energy are used in the home
  • To reinforce learning about series circuits and switches: that a complete circuit is needed for a bulb to light and that a switch is a break in a circuit that can be opened and closed

Key words: energy, electricity, circuits, fuels

Additional resources: Information card 11: Energy in the home. Each group needs a battery, two bulbs and three wires for the circuit and a paperclip, two drawing pins and a small block of wood for the paperclip switch

Notes: Discuss the fact that some equipment such as cookers can run on gas or electricity (and some people still use stoves that run on oil or solid fuel).

In the experiment, the two bulbs should light up but they will be very dim, because they are in series (‘sharing’ the current). A simple switch, such as a paperclip switch, can be added to the circuit to control the lights.

To make a paperclip switch, wind one end of a wire around a drawing pin then hook a paperclip around the drawing pin and press it into the wooden block. Then wind another piece of wire around another drawing pin and press it into the wooden block. The paperclip should be able to reach the second drawing pin to make the switch turn on and to swivel away from the drawing pin to turn the switch off.

Download Activity card 1: Energy in the home

2: The search for energy


  • To reinforce the notion that energy is generated from a source
  • To help pupils understand how electricity is generated, distributed and supplied

Key words: energy, electricity, source, power station, substation, high-voltage power lines

Additional resources: Information card 9: Energy generation and 10: Electricity distribution

Notes: Discuss as a class the role played by each part of the ‘chain’: television, mains electricity, small substation, large substation, high-voltage power lines, power station, coal, coal mine.

Download Activity card 2: The search for energy

3: Substations quiz


  • To reinforce important safety messages about the potential dangers of substations and high-voltage electricity

Key words: energy, electricity, substation, voltage

Additional resources: Information card 10: Electricity distribution and 13: Energy safety 1: Out and about

Notes: After pupils have completed the Substations quiz, discuss as a class which answers pupils have circled then give them the correct answer. Make sure pupils fully understand how dangerous entering substations can be for anyone except qualified engineers.

Download Activity card 3: Substations quiz

4: Make a power station


  • To help pupils to understand how a conventional coal-fired power station works

Key words: power station, generator, boiler, turbine, pylon, power lines

Additional resources: Information card 9: Energy generation and 5: Energy source: traditional coal; scissors

Notes: To help illustrate the process of how coal-fired power stations generate electricity, pupils could be shown the animation of how a coal-fired power station works from The search for energy: Part 3 Power!.

If you are not using the online challenges, give pupils the correct answers for the activity card explaining what happens at each stage. Then ask pupils in pairs to present the process of how power stations generate electricity to each other, providing support where required.

Coal is burnt as fuel to heat water.
The furnace is where water is heated.
The pipes carry high-pressure steam.
Steam causes the turbine to spin round very fast.
The generator creates electricity.
Power lines take the electricity to the National Grid.

Download Activity card 4: Make a power station

5: Make a wind turbine


  • To make a simple pinwheel to show how wind makes the blades of a wind turbine rotate
  • To help pupils understand the forces involved and address the problem that a turbine always needs to face the direction of the wind

Key words: renewable source, energy, electricity

Additional resources: Information card 2: Energy source: wind; equipment listed in Activity card 5; scissors

Notes: To help pupils understand how the pinwheel is assembled, it will help to have a finished one to show, or to take pupils through the stages of making it. Critical factors are that the holes are punched not too close to the corners and that the paper fastener is opened out halfway so that it fits tightly inside the straw.

Discuss how the force exerted by the wind causes the wheel to rotate. Compare the pinwheel’s blades to a wind turbine’s blades, noting the similarity of the ‘twisted’ or angled shape. Ask pupils what the turbine blades are connected to (a shaft and gears, which turn a generator at high speed).

The problem of making sure that the pinwheel faces the wind is tricky. Pupils can throw grass into the air to see the wind’s direction but the wheel itself needs a backwards-pointing vane to turn itself into the wind automatically – pupils could look at a weather vane to see how this works and try to solve the problem themselves. Note that a wind turbine has a wind direction sensor and motor, which turns the rotor into the wind automatically.

Download Activity card 5: Make a wind turbine

6: Non-renewable sources of energy


  • To reinforce key learning about non-renewable energy sources
  • To help pupils understand that non-renewable energy sources are limited in supply and that burning fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide

Key words: electricity, non-renewable energy source, fossil fuel

Additional resources: Information cards 5–8 (traditional coal, gas, oil, nuclear), plus reference material eg encyclopaedias or internet access

Notes: Tell the class that over 70% of the UK’s electricity is generated by burning coal and gas. Ask the class to research into why they think that is. Answers should include: the UK has or had large stocks of these, it is the cheapest way to generate power, coal and gas power stations can generate very large amounts of electricity, technology for creating electricity from coal and gas is already established. Ask the class why we need to find alternatives to coal and gas for generating electricity. Answers should include: coal and gas supplies will run out one day, burning coal and gas produces carbon dioxide, which causes climate change.

Download Activity card 6: Non-renewable sources of energy

7: Don’t waste energy!


  • To encourage pupils to be responsible about using energy
  • To help pupils understand how wasting energy in various ways can damage the environment
  • To reinforce key safety messages about electricity in the home

Key words: energy, energy source, electricity, socket

Additional resources: Information card 12: Energy and the environment, 14: Energy safety 2: In the Home; A4 paper, crayons, coloured pens, pencils

Notes: Ask the pupils if they know other ways that energy is wasted and how this energy can be saved. Are there any disadvantages to saving energy? For example, if computers at school were set to shut down after 10 minutes of not being used, energy would be saved but this may not be popular with some computer users because they have to wait for the computer to restart before using it. Ways of saving energy should be viewed positively rather than as an inconvenience so the computers could go on standby after 10 minutes instead of completely shutting down.

Pupils could design their safety posters using computers to develop their ICT skills.

Download Activity card 7: Don’t waste energy!

8: Insulation experiment


  • To help pupils understand that thermal insulation as a property varies between materials
  • To enable pupils to learn how to carry out a simple controlled experiment
  • To help pupils relate energy consumption to the choice of building materials

Key words: energy, insulate, thermal insulator

Additional resources: Equipment listed in Activity card 8

Notes: Discuss with pupils before they start the experiment how they should make it fair, eg that the materials should all be held in place with elastic bands, and that the temperatures should be taken for all the materials every five minutes. You should also ensure that pupils can read the thermometer accurately. Additional support pupils may need extra supervision but they should be encouraged to carry out as much of this practical investigation as possible. Warn all pupils to be very careful when handling the hot water. If necessary, you can pour the hot water in the cans and pupils can be in charge of measuring and recording the temperatures.

If possible, leave the water in the cans for longer than 40 minutes to see if this makes any difference to the temperature. Ask pupils to plot the results of the experiment on line graphs using different colours for each can.

Tell the class that good thermal insulators work by trapping pockets of air (if air is allowed to circulate, heat energy is often lost). Discuss how very dense materials such as steel and glass are good conductors of heat and therefore poor thermal insulators. Ask the class how they think this will affect the energy efficiency in buildings.

Download Activity card 8: Insulation experiment

9: Renewable energy sources


  • To help pupils understand how solar heating and hydroelectric energy work
  • To give pupils a chance to find a creative solution to two practical problems

Key words: energy, renewable energy source, hydroelectric energy, solar energy

Additional resources: Information card 2: Energy source: hydroelectric and 3: Energy source: solar. Each group needs an empty CD case (with paper inserts removed) and a  two litre drinks bottle; reference material eg encyclopaedias or internet access

Notes: The activity is particularly suitable for more able pupils who enjoy a challenge and can plan and work independently. Pupils need to research solar heating and hydroelectric energy (including water wheels) to gather ideas.

One possible solution to the solar challenge is to use a reading lamp shining on two squares of black paper, one inside a CD case. The temperature of the two squares can be compared. One solution for the hydro challenge is to cut a curved section from a small plastic bottle and to staple this to a tube to create a simple water turbine, which can spin around a pencil or piece of dowelling.

Download Activity card 9: Renewable energy sources

10: Renewable energy issues


  • To help pupils understand the issues involved in building new wind farms
  • To give pupils an opportunity to express their opinions on the question of renewable sources versus non-renewable sources, and to compare them

Key words: energy, renewable energy source, wind farm, power station, electricity, power lines, substation

Additional resources: Information cards 1–8 about all the energy sources

Notes: After the class has chosen a location for their wind farm, discuss why they have chosen it and whether there might be any disadvantages to their chosen location.

Arguments for wind farms might include: wind is renewable; wind is ‘free’; no carbon dioxide is produced; farmland within a wind farm is still useable.

Arguments against wind farms might include: they are intermittent because the wind does not blow all the time; not everyone likes their appearance; they take up land; they generate less energy than conventional fuel-burning power stations.

Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of wind farms as a class. How would pupils feel about a new wind farm being built near their homes? What are the alternatives? Have a vote to see whether the class is in favour of wind energy or not.

Download Activity card 10: Renewable energy issues