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Teaching through Trade Books

It’s All About Energy!

Science and Children—January/February 2021 (Volume 58, Issue 3)

By Christine Anne Royce

The physical science concepts for the elementary grades require students to think about ideas they interact with on a daily basis but need assistance in constructing understanding about. These ideas include sound and energy. The topic for the lower grades focuses on how sound can cause materials to vibrate and how vibrations can cause sound through the use of common objects. Energy is present when there is sound, light, or heat. Helping older students to understand that energy can be moved from one location to another location is a concept that students cannot see directly but can observe related events that represent that transfer. For example, they are able to see light, hear sound, and observe toys that move because of electricity and use toys to help explore.

Oscar and the Bat

Oscar and the Bat: A Book About Sound

By Geoff Waring

ISBN: 978-0-7636-4513-7
Candlewick Press
32 pages
Grades preK–3


Oscar the kitten is back—this time with a bat! Through a fun story that takes both of them on a journey, questions about sound are answered. These questions range from what are different noises to what different noises sound like.

Doll-E 1.0

Doll-E 1.0

By Shandra McCloskey

ISBN: 978-0-316-51031-8
Little, Brown, and Company
40 pages
Grades 1–4


A young girl who is constantly inquisitive about making things cannot quite figure out what to do with a doll. Her viewpoint changes once she realizes that the doll has a hidden battery pack, and with a little ingenuity she creates an upgraded version of the doll.


  • Oscar and the Bat: A Book About Sound
  • chart paper
  • toy drum
  • tuning fork
  • microphone/speaker
  • pan of water, rice, aluminum pie pan; Pictures, Sounds Are All Around student sheet,
  • My Favorite Sound sheet available online (see NSTA Connection)
  • see Internet Resources for videos

Grades K–2: Exploring Sounds


Students investigate and describe characteristics of sounds. Students also explore how sounds can make materials vibrate and how vibrating materials can make sounds.


Post pictures of the following items in the front of the classroom: a cell phone, snare drum, and guitar (see NSTA Connection). Ask students to consider what sound each item makes and if they have touched each when it was being used. If so, what happened? Could you hear it? Feel it? After an initial discussion about these objects, share the video of Liquid Sound Waves. This video shows both water and Oobleck/slime that have been placed on a speaker (see Internet Resources). Pose the question to the students, “How does sound cause these objects to move?” Allow students to offer ideas and record them on chart paper or the board.


Ask the students to participate in the following investigations. As they do so, have them record information on their Sounds Are All Around student data sheet (see NSTA Connection).

Investigation #1: Animal sounds

Explain to the students that they are going to listen to some sounds that animals make but not see the animal. They should use their ears to listen and think about what animal it might be that is making that sound. They are going to decide if the sound is high or low and if the sound is loud or soft. Teach the students two different sets of motions—for high and low and soft and loud. For a high sound, have the students put their hands above their heads and for a low sound have them put their hands in their lap. For the loud sounds, ask them to put their hands over their ears and for soft sounds, ask them to put their finger over their mouth as if they were saying “shhh.” Now explain that you are going to ask them to close their eyes while they listen to the sounds so they don’t see what motions the other students are making. Use the Animal Sounds video (see Internet Resources) and play each animal sound for the students without them seeing what the animal is. Replay the sound if necessary. First ask the students to indicate if it was high or low and then ask them to switch and indicate if it was loud or soft. Stop and ask different students why they selected that description for the sound. Once they have listened to all of the animals, ask them to describe which animals made each type of sound on their data sheet.

Investigation #2: How close is the sound?

Now that we have explored soft and loud sounds, ask students to consider if distance from the sound affects how loud or soft it is. Ask students to give an example if they have one. Using the video clips (see Internet Resources), ask students to listen to the following sounds one at a time and describe if they are far away and getting closer or if they are close and starting to move away. The sounds are Thunder Clap, Fire truck Siren, Train, and Migrating Geese.

Investigation #3: Sound creates vibrations

For this third investigation, obtain a toy drum, a tuning fork, a microphone, speaker system, some rice, and a pan of water. Demonstrate each for the students and ask them to make observations about sound when each is used. First, strike the tuning fork and place it near the top of the water in a pan of water for the students to see. (Do not submerge it.) What do they notice about the water? What happens if you moved the tuning fork away from the water slightly? Second demonstration, place some rice on top of the toy drum and strike it lightly with a drum stick, what do they notice? What happens if you strike the drum harder? Finally, with the third demonstration, place an aluminum pie pan with rice on top of the speaker. Ask the students to predict what would happen when the microphone is used. Allow them to try different words at different volume levels to observe what happens to the rice. Throughout these demonstrations, students should record their ideas on their data sheet.


  • Share Oscar and the Bat: A Book About Sound with the students. As you read the book, ask students to answer the questions and make connections to the investigations when you get to the following pages:
  • p. 7 – What did Oscar the kitten hear? Can you name things you have heard even though you weren’t able to see them?
  • p. 10 – You listened to different animal sounds earlier and are learning about how those animals make sounds now. How do you think the sound travels from the animal to you if they are not near you?
  • p. 12 – Oscar asked if all sounds are “talking sounds.” What are some sounds that are not made by people or animals?
  • p. 15 – Why do you think Bat said, the closer the thunder and storm is to us, the louder it sounds? Can you give an example of something you’ve heard that was louder the closer it was to you from our investigations?
  • p. 23 – Oscar and Bat made a point to say that different things make different sounds. What are the words that Oscar and Bat use to describe the sounds?
  • In addition to learning about the sounds from Oscar and Bat, we also saw that sound could make things vibrate. What did you notice about how sound could make the rice or water vibrate? What happened if the sound was louder? Softer?
  • Reshow the video from the Engage section and ask the students to describe what is happening to the water and then the Oobleck/slime. Questions to use include what is causing the water to move? Why does the slime/Oobleck jump higher at points and not at others?


Now that the students have discussed the ideas that Oscar and Bat explored in the book, and Oscar has explained that his favorite sound is the singing Blackbird, ask them to tell Oscar what their favorite sound is and describe it in a similar way. Using pages 24–25 as a mentor text example, ask the students to complete the My Favorite Sound sheet (see NSTA Connection). Once students have had the chance to complete their own sheet, ask them to share them with the class. Holding their sheets, ask the students to move to one side of the room if they think their sound is loud and the other side if they think their sound is soft. Repeat the movement with high or low where students move to one side or the other. Allow students to explain why they selected their choice of words to describe the sounds.


Using concrete experiences, students are asked to connect the ideas that sounds can be loud or soft, high or low, and that the level of the sound changes as an object making the sound moves toward or away from them. By making observations, students are then asked to explain how sound can make objects move because it creates vibrations and how vibrations can create sound.


Doll-E 1.0

  • Radio or flashlight that is powered by a hand crank
  • battery, wire, and bulb setup
  • battery holder and string of holiday lights
  • battery
  • dead battery (marked with electrical tape)
  • task cards
  • It’s Energizing student data sheet
  • pictures of toys for improvement
  • Toy Improvement Blueprint sheet available online (see NSTA Connection)
  • see Internet Resources for videos.

Grades 3–5: Thinking About Energy Transfer


Students investigate how energy can be used by different devices to cause them to move, light up, or create sound. Students also brainstorm how a toy might be changed if energy was added to it.


Eye protection is required during this activity.


Show students the video clips (see Internet Resources) about toys that move and pose the question “What makes the different toys move or make a sound?” Students may focus on aspects related to what is being done to the toys to make them move or make a sound, such as they are wound up or a button is pushed, or even that they are plugged in to power. Ask students to then generate a list of toys they know about that move and what they know about how they move. Many of the toys listed may be electronic games, but challenge the students to consider other toys such as tops, yo-yos, cars that are pulled back and then released, and toys that wind up. Ask students what all of these toys have in common that help them to move, make sound, or have lights that turn on or off?


The following investigations allow students to recognize that energy can first be generated in different ways and then what happens when energy is used by different objects and toys. Set up stations that allow students to rotate through the different examples:

Station #1: Radio or Flashlight with a Hand crank – Either of these objects are often found as something to include in a kit in case power is lost. The energy that they use to play a radio station or turn on the light is generated by turning a crank on the object. The energy comes from the muscle power that one puts into turning the crank. Ask students to complete the tasks on the different task cards (see NSTA Connection) to determine what happens as they turn the crank. Students should record their ideas on their It’s Energizing student data sheet (see NSTA Connection).

Station #2: Dead or Alive – Set up a battery holder that allows you to attach a string of holiday lights. Help students grasp that the battery has stored energy by including both a new battery and a battery that you know is “dead.” Place electrical tape around a dead battery body so that it is a marker to indicate the difference. Ask students to connect their observations and understandings related to what happens when they test both batteries. Have them record their findings on their data sheet.

Station #3: Battery, Bulb, and Light – This station asks students to create the traditional circuit where a bulb lights once the battery and wire are connected in the proper way. Allow students to experiment with trying to make the bulb light. Once they have done so, ask them to draw their circuit and label the parts.

Station #4: Wind-Up Jumping Toy – Place three of the same wind-up jumping toys at this station. Ask students to follow the directions on the task card, which varies the number of turns that they use to wind up each of the matching toys. Have students explain their observations on their student data sheet that helps them to connect that the winds generate energy, which affects how many times the toy jumps. Warn students not to overwind the toys and follow the directions regarding the number of times they should turn the knob.


  • Share Doll-E 1.0 with the class by first showing them the cover of the book and then asking them to make observations about what the young girl is doing. Discuss with them why she might be trying to connect the wires that lead the computer to the doll. Ask the students to make a text-to-self connection and think back on the toys they mentioned and name toys that they have that might need wires to be connected so that they work. Examples might include their iPad, remote controlled cars, etc. Begin to read the story to the students and stop at page 5 and ask them to explain their understanding when the story states, “Charlotte’s word was fully charged!” What do they think is meant by “charged?” Are there any toys that they named that are charged? Continue reading and after sharing pages 10–13, ask the students to return and look at the photos and describe what they notice about ALL of Charlotte’s toys, games, and activities. Again, making connections to the toys they discussed in the explore section, ask students to describe their understanding of what being connected to a power source or charged can help different toys do. Pages 16–17 provide a hint for the students about what Charlotte discovers. Ask students to predict what the answer to “If the doll could talk, then it must have a…,” which is stated by Charlotte after the doll says “ma-ma.” Ask them to explain why they made those predictions, which may include some type of wind-up device, a battery, a jack to connect a charger, etc. What do they think a power supply did for Doll-E? Following pages 22–23, ask the students what Charlotte wants to do to the doll and why? What does she do? Following page 32–33, ask the students what Charlotte did to the doll after the dog ripped it apart.

Once students have listened to the reading of the story, ask them to make connections between the different toys they explored and the battery pack in Doll-E. Using the following questions as prompts, ask the students to explain the connections:

  • Do you have any toys that use a power supply, such as a battery or are plugged into the electric outlet to charge? In the story, the doll was able to talk because it was charged. What are your toys able to do because they are charged?
  • Have you ever noticed what happens as batteries start to run out of power in a toy? What about when the charge on a toy starts to run out of power as well? What do you think would happen if the batteries in Charlotte’s doll were out of energy?
  • How is the doll in the story similar to the different objects that you tested in the stations?


In the story, Charlotte put her doll back together after the dog ripped it apart. She also used what she knew about energy and computers to have the doll say different words, so she improved her doll. Ask the students to select one of the pictures of toys that are provided (see NSTA Connection) and consider how they could improve this toy if they were able to modify it by connecting it to power. For example, provide them with a picture of a spin top that requires the user to add energy by spinning the top with their hand to make it go. Using the Toy Improvement Blueprint sheet (see NSTA Connection) ask the students to explain how energy is used to make the toy move by sketching it. After they have explained that, ask them to think about how they could change the toy by adding energy if it were in the story instead of Charlotte’s doll. Allow the students to generate their sketch of a revised toy and answer the questions related to what would happen if you could add energy to the toy. Engage the students in an opportunity to discuss their points with others by sharing the images and answering questions related to what could the toy do if energy were added? What would happen if the energy source such as a battery was dead? To ensure that students understand it takes more than simply adding wires to a toy, ask them what else they or Charlotte might need to understand if they really wanted to change the toy?


Throughout these activities, students are being asked to demonstrate their understanding of how energy is used to make toys move and how energy is added into the use of the toy. Within the different stations, students are examining how energy is transferred from one object to another, what happens if stored energy is exhausted, and how the addition of different amounts of energy affect the toys as well. They connect their understanding of energy to actions of Charlotte within the story through a discussion and also consider how they might change a toy of their choice by adding energy.

Christine Anne Royce ( is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and past president of NSTA.


Common Core Standards for English/Language Arts

DCI arrangements of the Next Generation Science Standards

General Science Teaching Strategies Elementary

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