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Flip the Switch

Flip the Switch

You don’t need to be an electrician to play with circuits! Learn how to power on a lightbulb in this fun and simple activity.

Power Up

Part of our Sustainability Science Adventures
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What I'll Learn

When you flip a light switch on, you have created a closed electrical circuit. When you turn a light switch off, you have made an open electrical circuit.

What to Do

What I Need

What to Do: Step-by-Step Instructions


It doesn’t take a lot to make a simple electrical circuit. All you need is a power source (batteries work great), something to power on (a small lightbulb, such as a Christmas light or flashlight bulb), and a conductor (such as foil, metal paperclips, binder clips, or electrical wire) to carry the electricity from the power source to the light bulb. If you are using foil as your conductor, try rolling or folding it into a long strip.

Fun Fact:

A battery is a container of stored chemical energy. When electricity can flow through a material, that material is called a “conductor”. Most metals, such as iron and copper, are electrical conductors.

Hold one end of your foil (or other conductor) so it is touching one end of the battery.

Then have the bottom of the lightbulb touch the other end of the foil. Does your light turn on?

Fun Fact:

This is called an open circuit. The electricity is leaving the battery and flowing through the conductor until it reaches the lightbulb, but then it stops. Electricity only flows in one direction and there is nowhere else for it to go. When your bedroom light switch is flipped off, this is an open circuit as well.

To create a closed circuit, you have to also use the conductor to connect the lightbulb to the other end of the battery. The simplest way to do this is to have one end of the battery touch one end of the foil. Then have part of the metal on the lightbulb touch the top of the battery. And finally have the open end of the foil touch the metal part of the lightbulb. There are many different ways to create a closed circuit – can you do it using two strips of foil or two paper clips?

Fun Fact:

In a closed circuit, the battery’s stored chemical energy is changed into electrical energy (electricity) and is able to flow from one end of the battery through the conductor, into the lightbulb, out of the lightbulb, through the second part of the conductor, and back into the other end of the battery. The light will only turn on when you have a closed, or complete, circuit.

Once you’ve created a full circuit, your light bulb should turn on (the larger the battery, the stronger the light). If your bulb hasn’t turned on, double check your connections or try changing the conducting materials. If it still doesn’t turn on, try using another battery (batteries can only store so much energy before they run out) or another bulb (lightbulbs also have a life span and do wear out).

Fun Fact:

Electricity is produced by the movement of electrons, which are tiny particles that revolve around the nucleus of atoms. When you have a closed circuit, these electrons are able to flow from your energy source to your lightbulb to light it.
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