Sources and Flows: Where Our Electricity Comes From

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SWBAT define and evaluate different energy sources and systems.

Big Idea

Use this lesson as a overview of the sources of our energy and their pros and cons.

Getting Started

In this 2-3 day lesson, students begin by brainstorms sources of renewable and nonrenewable energy, and then are tasked with researching information on each source of energy related to a specific question. They are given time in- and out-of-class to read and summarize before presenting their findings to the class. Then, as a class they discuss and evaluate the pros and cons of the various energy sources. 


  • Student handouts
  • Computers with internet access

Sources for these materials can be found at: Energy Sources and Systems



5 minutes

As students enter the classroom, have the following prompt on the board

 "Where does the energy we use come from?"

Have them brainstorm a list of sources. There are about 10 sources as follows:

  • Oil
  • Coal
  • Natural Gas
  • Nuclear 
  • Hydro
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Biomass*
  • Geothermal*
  • Oceans (tidal)*

*Many students may not think of these. I push their thinking by giving hints. 


15 minutes

If you have already taught a lesson on energy type and forms, then ask the students to identify which of these are potential and which are kinetic. 


  • fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas)
  • biomass
  • nuclear


  • geothermal
  • wind
  • solar
  • hydropower
  • tidal

Ask students how we convert these sources into usable energy. They may/may not know how some of these sources are converted. So park those idea for now as they will be researched later. 


20 minutes

Now that the class has identified different energy sources, let them know (1) that we want to know more about each one and (2) that you want their help pulling together information on each source in response to a specific question. 

Give students a copy of the the Activity: Energy Sources Research Sheet and review the directions. Explain the expectations. 

They will:

  1. Break into a group of 3 students.
  2. Choose or accept an assignment to research one particular question about each source of energy.
  3. Using the provided information packet, find the answer to your question for all seven energy sources.
  4. If additional information is required and you have access to the internet, try:
    1. How Stuff Works
    2. How Things Work (University of VA)
    3. How Things Work: Science Projects
    4. Energy Kids: Energy Facts (U.S. Dept. of Energy)
  5. Once you have answered your question for all seven sources, answer the two conclusion questions.
  6. As a class we will fill in the energy sources chart based on your findings.

 Research Questions

  1. What is this energy source? Where can we find it?
  2. How do we harness the energy? (How does it work?)
  3. Are there different types or uses of this source?  If yes, what are the differences?
  4. What are the environmental impacts of your energy source?
  5. What are the economic impacts of your energy source? How much does it cost per kWh?
  6. What countries currently use this source? What percentage is used in the United States? 
  7. How is this energy source currently used? For example: farms, industry, etc.  Could this source be used in a family home? 

You may either assign a question (that is what I do) or let them choose. One question per group. I make the information sheets available on my class website so that I am not running off a ton of copies for each class. 

Give them time to ask clarifying questions, then get out computers and get to work. You may opt to give them two days for this or assign the rest for homework. 


10 minutes

On day two, or three, have each group of students prepare a one page handout summarizing their findings including a handout with the information they researched.

They should include the most important or interesting facts and the information their decision is based on for each energy source.

Have each group present their handout to the class. 

Discuss the pros and cons as a class and decide which ones are most feasible for a home. 

This usually leads to discussion on how the benefits of renewable energy outweigh the costs of nonrenewable ones. I lay the ground work for my next unit of lessons on designing, building and testing wind turbine blades.  

This lesson is another example of how to use Science Practice 8.