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Soundstuff;Beat the inspector

Bill Laar on how to get good vibrations from a science class

This science lesson for eight to ten-year-olds, based on seven simple sound tests, received Ofsted's highest grading because it demonstrated a range of teaching strengths and generated strong pupil response.

It was the second in a coherent series of three. In the introduction, the children pooled the knowledge which they had gained from the previous sound lesson.

This lesson's objectives - to teach that sounds are made when objects vibrate and that vibrations are not always visible - were relevant, important, appropriate for the age group, and demanding but realistic in range. The objectives were emphasised and evaluated in the final whole-class discussion.

The teacher's explanation of the experiments built on the work of the first lesson and reinforced the way scientists work, with an emphasis on gathering firm evidence. It engaged the children's interest and helped them understand their roles as members of a group.

Meticulous planning, organisation and inventive resourcing were hallmarks of the seven sound tests. Workstations for pupils had an extension activity (for example, a string telephone) with open-ended questions and suggestions on cards, which kept children who had completed the task interested and gave them extra information about sound.

Helpers were well prepared and helped lower-ability pupils to record their answers. The teacher and the helpers interacted well with the groups of children.

As soon as it was clear that five minutes was not enough for a test, the teacher decided to extend the time and let the lesson run over into the next day. The extended session retained the concluding whole-class discussion, which was vital for assembling and analysing information that had been gained in the completed tasks.

The pupils worked maturely, with enthusiasm and interest, consistently responded to questions and recorded their findings accurately and effectively. Their contributions to the final discussion showed that they understood the need to refer to evidence.


Tasks: At each of the seven workstations, the pupils had to discuss the questions below and record their responses.Questions: What do you have to do to make a sound? Do you see anything when the sound is being produced? Can the sound be changed and, if so, how? How is the sound being made?

1 Bottles - Blow across the tops of three identical bottles filled with water to different levels. Note difference in sound and if there is a visible effect on the water.

2 Balloons - One balloon is filled with water, another with air. Hold each balloon in turn and speak through it to a partner who keeps ear pressed to balloon. Listener notes difference. Can the sounds also be felt?

3 Ping-pong ball - Pupils hold a threaded ping-pong ball very still. Partners tap a tuning fork and hold it next to the ball. What happens?

4 Ripples - Pupils tap a tuning fork on table and hold it to the surface of water in a shallow dish. Note ripple effects.

5 Paper and comb - Children sing a tune against a comb covered with one sheet of greaseproof paper and note the effects. Repeat adding extra sheets of paper.

6 Recorder - Children note how different sounds are produced from a recorder.

7 Voice - Pupils rest fingers lightly on their voice box (throat) and speak to feel the vibrations. Repeat touching partner's voice box.


Subject: Science (sound testing) Years 4 and 5

Lesson time: One hour

Objective To teach that sounds are made when objects vibrate and that vibrations are not always visible.

Groups Whole-class, split into seven mixed-ability groups. Two groups needing extra help had parent helpers working with them.

Resources: Glass bottles, comb, greaseproof paper, two balloons (one filled with water), tuning forks, recorder, ping-pong ball on thread.

Previous learning Second of three lessons. Lesson 1 began to explore how different sounds can be made (tapping rulers on desks). Lesson 3 covered loud and soft sounds, and pitch.

Lesson development Introduction 10 mins Pupils split into seven groups and seated at work stations. Tasks outlined, reinforcing that they will be expected to discuss ideas and record results on observation sheets provided. They are reminded of lesson 1's outcome and asked to describe how sounds are made. Is it possible to alter sounds? Can sounds be heard after the vibrations stop?

Development 5 mins Recap on tasks at each station. Remind them they will only have a short time at each workstation and that they must pool ideas.

Core activity 35 mins (carried over to following day) Pupils work through the tasks.The teacher circulates, working with different groups for each test.

Conclusion 10 mins (carried over to following day) Whole-class discussion of findings.

Assessment Besides the observation sheets, the children wrote a longer report on their observations in a later lesson.

Evaluation Pupils worked well in groups and thought about their answers well. They were excited by the activities and often moved on to the extension activities without prompting.

Curriculum links English: Speaking and listening; working with a group; sharing ideas; co-operating.

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