Let's Chat!

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SWBAT build and explore how Cup Telephones allow us to communicate over a distance.

Big Idea

How do Cup Telephone work? Let's discover together!

Setting the Stage:

Next Generation Science Standards Connection:

Students will be required to research a scientific question by exploring how Cup Telephones work. They will have to analyze and test ways to make these phones work.  Using cause and effect the students will demonstrate an understanding of the sound travel. My students will record their observations and evidence in their Wave: Sound and Light Journals.

Classroom Structures:

In order to support a high level of student discourse within my science lessons I have assigned two different student partnerships.  Turn and Talk Partners are discourse partners that work together to share the deep thinking that happens throughout the day.  Workshop Partners are partners who are matched together for the purpose of working during our independent times.  In this lesson students will be engaged in both partnerships.

Prior Knowledge Needed:

Students should have a basic understanding of how sound travels through matter.  They should understand that sound is made by sound waves (vibrations) and sound can travel through solids. 

Home-School Connection:

I LOVE involving parents in the learning in my classroom.  This parent letter is both an introduction to our next two units as well as a request for supplies. Many of the items used to teach this unit are recyclable items so I ask for help from parents and colleagues.



1. Plastic Cups

2. Yarn, string, or rope

3 How do we communication - anchor chart

4. Science Journals -  I use blank paper in my journals so my students have more space and freedom to experiment with graphic organizers, illustrations, etc.

5. How does a cup telephone work? (8160 Avery Labels)


5 minutes

I want to activate student prior knowledge by referring back to our previous lesson.  In my classroom I have a science bulletin board with a section for vocabulary. We will add the word communication to our list of vocabulary words.

Boys and girls, in our last lesson you learned all about sound travel.  We learned that sound travels best through solids.  Today you are going to learn this new word "communicate" or "communication". This is a fancy word for sharing information.  People and animals both use sound travel to communicate (or share information). Snakes do not have ears so they have to use the vibrations that bounce off their skin in order to hear information. Communication is a way of telling us something we need to know like if it is time to come in from recess what do you hear? You are right! A school bell.  The school bell communicates that recess is over. Can you think of any other ways that people or animals communicate?

I write down what the children say on our anchor chart: talking, cell phones, texting, email, growling, Skype, Google Hangout, barking, etc.


20 minutes

We will be making Plastic Cup Telephones. In this lesson my students will work with their workshop partners to explore and come up with answers on how the phone works. I like to use small plastic Solo Cups for this activity because they are sturdy and easy for the children to manipulate without crushing or tearing. I give each partnership 1 piece of string, two paper clips and 2 plastic cups (with one hole already in the bottom of each cup).

I allow for adequate time for my students to build and test the telephones.  I allow my students to figure out on their own that the phone works best if the line is pulled tight.  As they work together some will leave the rope sag and once the line is tight they notice that it works so much better.

Boys and girls, your job today is to build your own cup phone. In the bottom of each cup is a small hole. You will need to put your string through the hole and then once you have it through you need to tie it to the paperclip so it is secure.  You will do the exact same thing with your other cup. Once you have built your phone you will try it out. You and your partner will have to find ways to make it work. The question I want you to explore today is this, "How does a Cup Telephone work?"

As my students work I walk around and confer with each partnership naming and noticing the smart thinking happening. Conferring is the process of listening and recording the work the student or students are doing and then compliment the work. As I listen, I research a teaching point and then work to provide clarification through questioning, modeling and re-teaching.  The students respond with, "No. That idea isn't working. Let's try it this way." or "Let's try to pull the string tight and see if that works." As I hear these comments I may say, "Great!  You are trying different ways to explore how this phone works.  This formative assessment tool will help guide the learning in my classroom.

Mid-Work Teaching Point - If I notice that my students are having a hard time finding ways to make the phone work I will either ask them to study the telephone lines outside our classroom window or walk around the room and watch the other children explore with their Cup Telephones.



10 minutes

After the class has had time to explore the Cup Telephones I ask them to meet me in the meeting area for so the partners can report their findings to the class.

Boys and girls you were asked to find out "How does a Cup Telephone work?  I would like you and your partner to report out what you noticed.  Will you please sit here in our chairs labeled scientist? It is your turn to do something else that scientists do.  Scientists get to "communicate" their findings by sharing information all the time. When you sit in these chairs you have to look at your audience, speak loud enough for everyone to hear you and sit up straight.  Who is ready to be our first group of scientists to communicate your findings??

As the children are reporting I am recording any misconceptions or new learning on my record keeping sheet.  This is a great formative assessment that will drive the instruction in our next lesson.



5 minutes

Research shows that our students are more likely to gain a deeper understanding of the science concepts when they are actively engaged in doing science. I believe that technology can allow children to experience this type of learning.

I show the students the video beginning at 1:40.

Boys and girls, you know that sound waves can travel through matter.  Our cup phones worked because when your partner talks it causes the bottom of our cups to vibrate back and forth with sound waves.  Then those vibrations traveled along the string into the other cup and then into our ears.  The sound vibrations send messages to our brain so we can understand what was being said. 


10 minutes

In wrap up I want us to reflect on all the great thinking and learning that happened today.

In order to check for understanding, Today I asked you how a cup telephone works and then you and your partner reported your findings to the class.   Today in your science journal I would like you to create a diagram (don't forget to label) and write two sentences about your findings today.  Be sure that your scientific diagram shows what you and your found out today.

I conclude by saying, Boys and girls today and everyday when you hear sounds or make sounds I want you to know that your sound waves can create a vibration that travel through matter. Today your sound waves traveled along the string creating a fun way for you and your friend to communicate.