ALEX Lesson Plan


Diverting Disaster With Lightning Rods

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Kathy Perkins
System: Tuscaloosa City
School: Tuscaloosa City Board Of Education
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 35603


Diverting Disaster With Lightning Rods


Students will use a Venn diagram to compare lightning and static electricity. Then, students will experiment with static electricity and read nonfiction passages about lightning and lightning rods. Finally, they will apply their learning to construct a model of a lightning rod system that protects a house from a lightning-induced fire.

This lesson results from the ALEX Resource Gap Project. 

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 3
11 ) Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea. [RI.3.2]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.3.11- Identify the main idea of an informational text; identify details in an informational text that support the main idea.

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 3
18 ) Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic. [RI.3.9]

SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 3
15 ) Evaluate a design solution (e.g., flood barriers, wind resistant roofs, lightning rods) that reduces the impact of a weather-related hazard.*

NAEP Framework
NAEP Statement::
E4.11: Humans depend on their natural and constructed environment. Humans change environments in ways that can either be beneficial or detrimental for themselves and other organisms.

Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Engaging in Argument from Evidence
Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and Effect
Disciplinary Core Idea: Earth and Human Activity
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • Merit
  • Claim
  • Problem/solution
  • Design solution
  • Impact
  • Reduce
  • Weather-related hazard
Students know:
  • Engineers design solutions to reduce the impact of weather related hazards.
  • Problems caused by weather related problems.
  • Humans can not eliminate natural hazards but can take steps to reduce their impacts.
  • Some design solutions are more effective than others.
Students are able to:
  • Identify impacts of a weather related hazard.
  • Identify the effects of solutions to a problem that reduces the impact of a weather related hazard.
  • Make a claim about a designed solution that reduces the impact of a weather related hazard.
  • Communicate evidence to support the claim about a designed solution that reduces the impact of a weather related hazard.
Students understand that:
  • There are cause and effect relationships between weather-related hazards and design solutions created to reduce their impact.
  • There are benefits and risks to given solutions created when responding to the societal demand to reduce the impact of a hazard.
AMSTI Resources:
AMSTI Module:
Weather and Climate

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.3.15- Identify practices that keep people safe during severe weather.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will summarize nonfiction texts and present this information to peers.

Students will compare static electricity and lightning in a Venn diagram.

Students will apply knowledge about lightning rods to make a lightning rod system that protects a building from a lightning-induced fire in an online simulation.

Students will evaluate lightning rod systems to determine if they can protect a structure from fire.


Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

91 to 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:


wool mittens, socks, or fabric pieces

small pieces of paper or confetti

chart paper or marker board

sticky notes

highlighter or pencil for each student

"How Do Lightning Rods Work?" passage for half the students

Thunder and Lightning passage from for half the students

Lightning Rod Assessment Checklist for each student

Materials for "Make Lightning" Activity (for each group of 4 students):

  • Styrofoam plate
  • thumbtack
  • a piece of wool cloth 
  • pencil with eraser
  • aluminum pie plate or piece of 12" square aluminum foil folded to make a 6" disk 

Craft supplies and recycled materials for making structures protected by lightning rods (use whichever materials you have readily available):

  • 8 oz. milk cartons
  • empty water bottles
  • newspaper
  • construction paper
  • paint
  • markers
  • string
  • toothpicks
  • floral wire
  • tape 
  • glue
  • aluminum foil
  • paper towel tubes
  • small boxes (shoebox size or smaller)
  • cardboard

Technology Resources Needed:

Teacher computer with Internet connection and projector (preferably connected to an interactive whiteboard) to access/show the following websites:

Student computers or tablets for further research or practice (optional) using these sites:


Background Information:

  • The teacher should be familiar with the basic cause of lightning and how lightning rods work.  For more information, preview the PBS video, read how lightning rods work, and pre-read the student passages from ReadWorks and
  • Students will use the "jigsaw" strategy when they read the nonfiction passages.  For more information about this strategy, visit Reading Rockets.
  • This is an introductory lesson, so students do not need specialized prerequisite knowledge.


  • Create a free teacher account at  This site provides leveled reading passages and comprehension questions on a variety of topics, and some of these passages will be used during the lesson.
  • Create a two-circle Venn diagram on a piece of chart paper or the board.  Label one circle "static electricity" and the other circle "lightning."
  • Make enough copies for half the class:  "How Do Lightning Rods Work?" passage for half the students and Thunder and Lightning passage from  Make copies of the Assessment Checklist for each student.
  • Gather craft materials and/or request recyclable materials such as empty boxes, cartons, paper towel rolls, and water bottles from parents.


  1. Ask students if they have ever shocked themselves or someone else by dragging their feet across the carpet and then touching something. Have partners turn and talk about a time this happened and ask if students know the name of that phenomenon (static electricity).
  2. Create static electricity by rubbing a balloon on a piece of wool or someone’s clean, dry hair. Have students listen for the crackling sound, and turn off the lights to see if sparks can be seen. Scatter small pieces of paper or confetti on a table and use the charged balloon to pick them up. Have students turn and talk about the demonstration and how they think static electricity is like lightning. 
  3. Make a class Venn diagram on the board or chart paper to compare static electricity and lightning. Have students write their thoughts on sticky notes to post on the diagram so these can be moved if students revise their thinking throughout the lesson.
  4. Watch 2-minute PBS video to explain lightning.
  5. Direct students’ attention back to the Venn diagram and allow students to correct any misconceptions they may have had about lightning before watching the video.
  6. Work in groups of 4 to brainstorm possible problems or hazards caused by lightning. Have students share their ideas with the whole group. Tell students they will be learning about ways to protect structures from lightning-caused fires.  


  1. Divide students into heterogeneous groups of 4. Distribute materials for "Make Lightning" activity from STEM-Works (styrofoam plate, pencil with eraser, thumbtack, aluminum pie plate or foil folded into a 6" disk, and wool cloth).
  2. To simulate lightning, have students create a handle for the pie plate by pushing a thumbtack through the center into the pencil eraser. Rub the Styrofoam plate with wool for one minute. Place the pie plate on the styrofoam plate using the pencil as a handle. Touch the metal plate to see a spark jump toward your finger. (You may want to turn off the lights so the spark is easier to see.)
  3. Explain how this spark of static electricity simulates lightning by reading the explanation on STEM-Works. Make adjustments to class Venn diagram as needed.
  4. Give two students in each group the "How Lightning Rods Work" passage and give the other two students the "Thunder and Lightning" passage. (The "Thunder and Lightning" passage is on a third-grade reading level, while the "How Lightning Rods Work" passage is on a fourth-grade level, so assign passages to students based on their reading levels for maximum comprehension.)
  5. Tell students they will use the jigsaw strategy to learn more about lightning and lightning rods. The two partners with the same article read the article together, underlining important facts and making notes in the margins so they can share their learning with the group. After each set of partners has read their passage, the group of four will meet together to teach each other the information learned from the passages.
  6. Debrief by having groups share important information learned with the whole class to ensure each group focused on the important information. Project the "How Lightning Rods Work" passage on the interactive whiteboard and discuss the diagram, pointing out that metals conduct electricity while wooden parts of the home do not and are flammable. Have students adjust the Venn diagram as necessary, adding new information or changing the location of the sticky notes to reflect their learning.
  7. Project the PBS Lightning Rod Simulation on the interactive whiteboard and complete it as a class. After guiding students through the simulation as a class, students can return to the site later for independent practice.


  1. Review the facts about the lightning rod system:
    • The rod, wire, and ground rod must be metal so they conduct electricity.
    • The ground rod carries the electricity into the ground and away from the building so the wood does not catch on fire.

2. Tell students they will use craft materials and recyclable items (empty cartons, boxes, paper towel rolls, water bottles, etc.) to construct a building with a lightning rod system in their cooperative groups of 4. After constructing the building and lightning rod system, the class will evaluate each group's design to see if it would be effective in preventing a lightning fire.

3. Remind students to refer to the "How Lightning Rods Work" passage as they create their model homes to ensure that they create all parts of the lightning rod system.  

4. Have groups present their structures to the class, explaining what type of building they created and how the lightning rod system works. After each group presentation, have students vote (with thumbs up or down) whether they think the lightning rod system would protect the building from fire. As groups present, complete the Assessment Checklist for each student.


Assessment Strategies

Formative Assessment: Observe student participation while creating the class Venn diagram, small group discussion of nonfiction passages, use of the online lightning rod simulation, and evaluation of peers' lightning rod models.  

Summative Assessment: Evaluate students' presentations and lightning rod models using the Assessment Checklist.  If further assessment is desired, have students write a paragraph explaining why a peer's lightning rod system would or would not protect the structure from a lightning fire, using the details from the peer's presentation as evidence to support the argument.


The lightning rod was invented by Benjamin Franklin. Have students research Ben Franklin's other inventions using this PBS site. Then have students brainstorm problems they experience in their daily lives and develop an invention of their own to address the problem. 

Students can also learn more about lightning and other weather hazards at National Geographic Kids. 


Struggling readers may need help reading the nonfiction passages in small groups. In addition to providing guided reading of the grade-level text, provide this passage written at a lower Lexile level:

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.