Prior to beginning the lesson: (1) Cut out and laminate Vocabulary Cards for display in the classroom. (Allow 30-35 minutes for instruction time.)

Group Size: Partners

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  • Understand that the Earth acts like a magnet.
  • Recognize that magnetic north and south poles are near to but not the same as Earth’s North and South Poles.

Vocabulary Cards (see attachment), globe, compass, magnets, needles, clay or Play-doh, paper bowls, water, small pieces of cork


  1. Begin by asking students: Did you know that we live on a magnet? Earth is a giant magnet just like the magnets we have been using in class!
  2. Hold up a magnet. Ask students: Who can remind us, what do we call the ends of a magnet? Allow students time to answer.
  3. Then hold up a globe, and ask students: What do we call the ends of the Earth? Guide students to answer North Pole and South Pole.
  4. Explain to students that the Earth has magnetic poles which are close to the North Pole and South Pole, but not exactly the same.
  5. Tell students: Just like the magnetic force of this magnet (hold up magnet) is strongest at the poles, the magnetic force from Earth (hold up globe) is strongest at its poles.
  6. Display vocabulary card "compass" and hold up a compass. Explain to students: A compass is a tool with a magnetic needle that always points north. Ask students: How is the compass always able to point north? Guide students to answer, it always points north because the Earth’s magnetic pole is pulling it.
  7. Tell students: Today, we are going to do an experiment to see how this works. We are going to find out if the magnetic poles of Earth are really that strong? You are each going to make your own compass to see if it points to the magnetic north pole.
  8. Divide students into partners. Distribute a needle, a magnet, a small ball of clay, a paper bowl of water, and a small piece of cork to each pair.
  9. Instruct students to attach the ball of clay to the cork. Then direct them to press the needle on top of the clay so that it does not move. Next instruct students to carefully place the needle structure on top of the water, and give it time to settle and stop moving in the water. Demonstrate each step for students.
  10. Call one student to the front of the room to look at the store bought compass. Ask the student: Which direction is north?
  11. Tell the class: Raise your hand if your magnet is pointing north.
  12. Direct students to label their cork with “north”, “south”, “east”, and “west”.
Modifications: For students with special needs, provide one-on-one assistance as necessary.


Ask students: What makes the compass point north? Why do you think we need compasses?

Benchmark or Standards:

National Science Education Standards K-4.1 Science as Inquiry – As a result of the activities in Grades K-4, all students should develop:

  • Understanding about scientific inquiry.
National Science Education Standards K-4.2 Physical Science– As a result of the activities in Grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of:

  • Properties of objects and materials.
  • Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism.
National Science Education Standards K-4.7 History of Nature and Science– As a result of activities in Grades K-4, all students should develop understanding of:

  • Science as a human endeavor.
Attached Files:

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