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Unit of Instruction

Devon Radant

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Simple Machines Lesson Plan

Topic: Simple Machines

Duration:  Three weeks

Target Population: 3rd grade


Rationale: This unit meets Gwinnett County’s Academic Knowledge and Skills (AKS) curriculum as well as Georgia’s Quality Core Curriculum (QCC).  This is a unit of instruction that is taught to all third grade students at Head Elementary.  I teach this unit five times a year to the five different third grade classes.  This unit was designed using the principles of Gagne’s theory as well as brain-based learning stages.  According to Gagne, learning is not a single process; rather it is both complex and cumulative.  A major goal of Gagne’s theory is the planning of effective classroom instruction.  He takes into account the several different types or levels of learning.  The unit design is based on the 7-Stage Brain-Based Planning Outline as presented in Eric Jensen’s Brain-Based Learning.  Jensen also includes the following elements for curriculum with the brain in mind: information literacy, artistic expression, social fluency, scientific inquiry, and personal development.  All of these elements are also present in the unit. 


Disciplines:  The primary focus of the unit is on the content area of science; however, reading, writing, and technology are also incorporated. 


Scope and Sequence:  Approximately three weeks of instruction has been allotted for this unit.  Adjustments to the instructional calendar will be made to accommodate students’ mastery of the content.


Overview:  The unit begins with background information on the six different simple machines.  Students are also instructed in related topics before learning about each simple machine. 



From Gwinnett County’s Academic Knowledge and Skills Curriculum

        Demonstrate that tools and technology make work easier

        Identify and use simple tools in science investigations

        Recognize that some tasks could not be done without tools

        Use computers in a variety of ways

        Identify and demonstrate forces, such as a push or pull

        Identify and compare simple machines and how they work; compare simple machines (such as levers, pulley, and inclined planes) based on how they do a task

        Explain and illustrate how machines help people; identify how simple machines help people do work (carts, hand trucks, and bicycles)

        List simple machines found in the kitchen or home

        Illustrate, write a paragraph about, and/or demonstrate how a simple machine of their choice works

        Write about or model a simple machine that could be created to make a task easier


Global Objective: 

The students will understand the nature of work and how simple machines make work easier. 


Specific Educational Objectives:


    1. The students will be able to define key vocabulary words related to simple machines.
    2. The students will be able to identify simple machines, label their parts, and generate examples of each.
    3. The students will be able to categorize simple machines.
    4. The students will be able to compare and contrast the six types of simple machines. 
    5. The student will be able to explain how simple machines make work easier.


See resources indicated in the Reference section for specific materials.  In addition to those, you will need:

        Class set of textbooks and science folders

        Chart paper

        Whiteboard, markers, and eraser

        Posters and pictures of simple machines

        Examples/models of simple machines

        Beach ball

        Work cards

        Straws, pencils, pinwheel pattern

        Spools of thread, string, pencils, and clothespins

        Colored paper

        Post-it notes

        Paper towel rolls, rulers, pennies

        Paper, pencils, scissors

        Access to computer lab

  • TV and VCR




7-Stage Planning Outline


Stage 1: Pre-Exposure (1 Day)

In order engage the nonconscious learning of students through the use of peripherals, the teacher will put up a colorful bulletin board on the six types of simple machines prior to instruction.



As a way to discover students’ interest and background knowledge, the teacher will have the class fill the K (Know) and W (Wonder) sections of a KWL Chart.  Then, the teacher will show students pictures of various objects and ask them whether or not they are simple machines.  The students will indicate their answers with a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.  This activity will help the teacher gage the students’ prior knowledge of simple machines.  At the close of the activity, the teacher will inform the students that every picture they have seen is an example of a simple machine. 


Stage 2: Preparation (5 Days)

Simple Machines Scavenger Hunt

To create a since of curiosity and excitement, the teacher will lead students on a Simple Machines Scavenger Hunt around school.  She will point out various types of simple machines in the real world. 


The teacher will build background knowledge of simple machines by instructing students on related vocabulary. 


Position, Distance, Motion, Speed

The students will partner read text from their science book on the topics of position, distance, motion, and speed. Then each table (four total) will be given one of the above topics and asked to prepare a short presentation for the rest of the class.  Each group will give a definition of their word and provide a demonstration using a beach ball. 



The students will view a Bill Nye the Science Guy video on forces.  The teacher will review major concepts of the video with an overhead transparency.  Then students will work with a partner (since forces always work in pairs: push and pull) to generate a list of forces. 


Changes in Motion

The teacher will ask the class, “What makes things stop moving?”  She will record their answers on the board.  She will then ask the class to predict whether or not a ball rolled across the length of the classroom will reach the other wall.  When the ball is rolled and does not reach the other wall, she will again ask, “What makes thing stop moving?”  To answer this question, students are to read pages 24-28 from their text and write the answer to the question.  The answer is friction.  The class will then participate in two demonstrations of friction.  One is taking the temperature of rice in a jar.  Then each child shakes the jar for 10 seconds before passing it on.  Once everyone has had a turn, the temperature is checked again.  Friction causes an increase in temperature.  The same effect is demonstrated by rubbing your hands together.  In addition, students will use a piece of paper and a crayon to do “friction rubbings” around the classroom.  They are to identify objects that create little friction and those that create much friction.



The teacher will lead the class in a discussion of what work is.  The discussion will lead the teacher to indicate that our ideas of work (doing a job, earning money, etc.) are different than the scientific definition of work.  She will then instruct them that work is done when a forces changes the motion of an object.  Students will then view four different pictures and decide who is doing work and who is not.  Students will take turns acting out descriptions from “work cards.”  The class will decide if work is being done, if so they must also identify the force. 


Stage 3: Initiation and Acquisition (7 Days)

Virtual Field Trip

The students will be immersed in simple machines.  To start Stage 3, the student will participate in a Virtual Field Trip created by the teacher – see below.


Then, each of the following days the students will be flooded with content about each of the simple machines.  Each day will focus on a new simple machine (except for the inclined plane and wedge because they are so closely related). 



The teacher will provide the class with an overview of levers by describing them, identifying the three parts (fulcrum, load, and force), and demonstrating their use (scissors cutting paper and removing a nail from a board with a hammer).  Then students will read pages 44-46 on levers.  Students will be given a chance to demonstrate their understanding of levers by performing an experiment to find out whether two pennies can be balanced by one penny.  The students will use a paper towel roll, ruler and three pennies and follow the written directions in their science folder. 



The teacher will demonstrate the effectiveness of a pulley using a wooden model in class.  She will describe its parts and function.  Students will read about a pulley in their textbooks and fill in answers to question in their folders.  Students will then work with their group to build a pulley using thread spools, pencils, yarn, and clothespins.  Then, students will see if their pulley is able to pass notes from one side of the room to the other. 


Wheel and Axle

The teacher will lead the class in singing the first verse of “The Wheels on the Bus.”   Then she will ask the class what would happen if the bus did not have any wheels?  This will lead to a discussion about how the wheel and axle makes work easier.  The students will read page 47 of their text in order to gain a better understanding of the wheel.  Students will then identify which of the 15 pictures on the bulletin board are wheels and axles and label them with post-it notes.  The teacher will encourage students to look around the room and see if they can find examples within their classroom.  Finally, students will create a pinwheel as an example of a wheel and axle.  The paper pinwheel serves as the wheel.  The brad fastener and straw are the axle. 


Ramp/Inclined Plane and Wedge

Students will read in their text about how scientists believe that the ancient Egyptian pyramids may have been built using inclined planes (also known as ramps).  The teacher will then lead students in a discussion of how ramps make work easier by reducing the amount of effort needed over a longer distance.  She will then tell them that the use a ramp everyday they come into her classroom  - stairs.  Students will then work in groups to come up with examples of ramps.  Students will write these examples on colored, inclined plane shaped pieces of paper.  Each group has a different color: yellow, blue, red, and yellow. Students will share these with the class.  Then the teacher will take two of the pieces (yellow and blue) and place them back to back on the board thus creating a wedge.  The yellow and red pieces will also be joined this way.  The teacher will lead a discussion on how wedges are simple two inclined planes placed back to back.  Then students use their books to come up with examples of wedges and write them on post-it notes.  The yellow and blue groups write them on green post-its and place them on their inclined plane pieces.  This is repeated with the yellow and red groups writing on orange post-its.  This creates a great graphic organizer. 



The teacher will place a handful of different size screws at each table and ask each group to discuss how a screw is made.  After a few minutes she will pass out straws and inclined plane shaped pieces of paper and ask each group if they can make a screw.  The teacher will demonstrate that a screw is simply an inclined plane wrapped into a spiral.  The teacher will facilitate a reading of page 56 in the text about screws and discuss how the length of the inclined plane affects the number of threads present.  Students will then have a chance to create their own screw using inclined planes and pencils. Students are instructed to experiment with differing sizes of inclined planes resulting in fewer and greater threads on their pencil screws.  Before leaving students identify the pictures on the bulletin board that are screws and label them with a post-it note.



All of the Simple Machines

Students will fill in the answers to a simple machines rhyming riddle.  After reviewing the 6 types, students will complete an interactive site ( on simple machines in the home.  This activity will help students tie it all together. 


Stage 4: Elaboration (2 Days)

During the Elaboration Stage, students need to process and demonstrate genuine thinking. 

Video and Group Presentation

Students will view a Bill Nye the Science Guy video on Simple Machines.  At the end of the video students will work be divided into 6 different groups.  Each group will be assigned one of the simple machines and be asked to prepare  a short summary/review of the simple machine by providing a definition, examples and an explanation of how it makes work easier.  They will also create a poster to be hung in the classroom. 


Compound Machines

As another way of elaborating on the material presented, students will learn about compound machines.  The teacher will ask what happens when you put two or more simple machines together?  Students will read in their textbook to answer this question.  The teacher will use an overhead to illustrate how a water faucet, bicycle, and scissors are all examples of compound machines.  A Venn diagram is used for students to compare and contrast simple machines and compound machines.  Students then have the task of creating their own compound machine.  They must draw a new machine that combines two or more simple machines together and makes work easier.  Students must name their new invention, label it’s parts, and tell its function.


Stage 5: Incubation and Memory Encoding (1-2 Days)

This phase places importance on down time and review.



The teacher will play soft music in the background and have students either journal about what they have learned or create a graphic organizer of their learning.  Then students will be given time to share with each other.  The students will participate in a “Give One, Get One” activity.  Each student will have a sheet of paper with 9 boxes on it.  They will have 20 minutes to find someone in the class, share something they have learned (the partner writes it down in one of their boxes) and write down something that the other person learned.  At the end of the activity, they should have given 9 facts to 9 different people and gained 9 facts as well.  None of the facts can be duplicated; each fact must be new information.  Then, for homework, students are to share these facts with their families. 


Stage 6: Verification and Confidence Check (2 Days)

Learners will confirm their learning in Stage 6. 


Simple Machines Tic-Tac-Know

Students will review information learned about simple machines by playing Tic-Tac-Know.  The class is divided into two teams.  One member from each team goes to the front of the room.  Each has an individual whiteboard, marker and eraser.  The teacher asks a question.  The students write their answers on the whiteboard.  The first one to show a correct answer gets to mark either an ‘X’ or an ‘O’ for their team.  If the other person also gets a correct answer, then can mark on the tic-tac-toe board as well.  If students do not answer correctly, then they do not get to make a mark.  When a team receives 3 marks in a row, they earn a point for their team.  A new game board is draw and play continues.



The KWL from the first lesson is revisited.  Students volunteer information for the L (Learned) column.  After this, students turn in science folders and take a simple machines assessment that includes matching, fill in the blank, identifying pictures, completing a table and a written response.  (See the "Assessment" link for examples of test questions). 


Stage 7: Celebration and Integration (1 Day)

By allowing students to celebrate, the teacher will foster a love of learning that it is critical for students.



On the last day of the unit, students will bring in any simple machine of their choice and share it with the class.  Afterwards, students will be allowed to play on the playground (which is filled with all kinds of simple machines!).


References and Resources


Gredler, M.E. (2001) Learning and instruction: theory into practice. 4th ed. Columbus, OH: Merrill.


Jensen, E. (2000) Brain-based learning. San Diego, CA: The Brain Store. 


Roberts, P.L. & Kellough, R.D. (2000) A guide for developing interdisciplinary thematic units.  2nd ed. Columbus, OH: Merrill.  


Student Textbook:
McGraw-Hill Science, 3rd Grade - Unit E: Forces and Motion



Bill Nye the Science Guy: Forces Disney Educational Productions: Newtown, PA


Bill Nye the Science Guy: Simple Machines Disney Educational Productions: Newtown, PA


Virtual Field Trip:  Operation: Simple Machines (see below)


Children’s Literature Books that could be used with this unit:

Browne, A.  (1998) Voices in the park.  New York:  DK Publishing, Inc. 


DiTerlizzi, T.  (2003) Jimmy Zangwow’s out-of-this-world moon pie adventure.  New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. 


Hutchins, P. (1968) Rosie’s walk.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.


Lord, J.V. (1972) The giant jam sandwich.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.


Kovalski, M.  (1987) The wheels on the bus.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Wells, R.E. (1996) How do you lift a lion? Morton Grove, Illinois:  Albert Whitman & Company. 


Internet sites:

Franklin Institute


Simple Machines Made Simpler


Edheads Simple Machines


Science Tech