Energy Cards: Comparing Sources & Forms of Energy

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SWBAT identify and compare different forms of energy.

Big Idea

Use this fun activity to activate students ideas about similar forms of energy found in a variety of sources.

Getting Started

Use this lesson to help narrow students' focus on types and forms of energy as well as compare the presence of energy in everyday objects.

Feel free to change the images included in the cards provided. This lesson can be adapted to suit your needs.  The images selected are from my own ideas and cover a range of systems and images that my students might be familiar with from prior lessons or ones that we will study in upcoming lessons. You can adjust these to suit your own needs.

I recommend printing the cards in color on card stock and laminating them for future use. If possible, create multiple sets of cards, perhaps four or five sets, that you could then use as an expanded activity with the class. The lesson below uses only one set of cards.


  • Energy cards
  • Science journals
  • Pencils/pens


5 minutes

The engage portion of this lesson could be optional if you are concerned about time. I like to at least model for the students what will be expected of them in the larger portion of this lesson.

Begin by showing the students some images, such as the firefly and the light bulb. Project these if you can or create large enough cards that they are visible to the entire class. 

Ask your students to tell you how they see energy in these two images. Call on a few students and listen to their ideas. Record these on chart paper or the whiteboard. After a few minutes of this, they will be ready to begin the next portion of the lesson. 

 As the dialogue progresses,  facilitate connections between images shared by different groups so that what students see as chemical energy in a firefly might be different than chemical energy in a battery or the light energy from the sun versus the light energy in the firefly and get them sort of thinking about energy energy forms in all of these various systems.


30 minutes

Working in pairs, students compare paired images and brainstorm how they are similar and different with relationship to energy. You can select to pair these any way that you like. The pairings I chose to use are:

  • Firefly and light bulb
  • Earth and greenhouse
  • Cell phone and radio
  • Corn plants and satellite
  • Snickers bar and battery
  • Dynamite and gas barbecue
  • Remote control car and television remotes
  • Nuclear power plant and Sun
  • Fireplace and automobile
  • Tomato plants and gasoline
  • Coffee pot and hot air balloon
  • Zebra and tuna fish
  • Candle and flashlights


There are some additional images as well that you can mix and match with the pairs above to create new matches. Feel free to mix and match any of these pairs as nothing is locked in stone.

Give students five to ten minutes or more to generate a list of ideas in their science journals. Encourage them to use a T chart, Venn diagram or other graphic organizer when recording their ideas. 


As it gets close to the time limit, prompt the students to be prepared to share with their table group the images and comparisons that they generated. When appropriate, instruct the students to begin to share and move around the room listening to students ideas. I like to use this time to push their thinking and ask them to clarify their thoughts. 

In the video below one of my students reflect on how this activity helped her to generate questions on energy and its various forms. 


15 minutes

Once the groups have had a chance to share their ideas with each other, bring the class back together and generate a list of the types of energy discussed at each of the tables. This is the time to start a class list of the types and forms of energy so that they can be classified. (Hang onto these lists for later lessons.)

For the initial list, simply record all the ideas that the students share out, then ask the students if they could group all of the terms into two categories. You are looking for them to identify sources of energy that are stored as opposed to those that are in motion or potential and kinetic.

At this point I label with a "P" and "K" each of the terms. Then, using a new piece of chart paper that is already divided into two columns, one labeled potential and the other labeled kinetic, we sort through the list and add the terms to the appropriate column, making sure to consolidate like terms so that the lists is somewhat limited in length.

Keep this list hanging somewhere where it will be easy to refer to, as you will use it throughout the remainder of the lessons in this unit should you want to follow the course of study I have outlined.