Science lesson starters

Key Stage 3 & 4

These show Year 7 to 11 physics students different effects of sound and are designed to be used on an interactive whiteboard. There are also follow on work sheets for download, which give brief practical experiments for the science classroom.

Using high-speed camera technology, Trevor Cox professor of acoustics at the University of Salford, conducts experiments in sound. He firstly shows what happens when rubbing the rim of a glass of water is slowed down to 80 times less than normal speed. Trevor then demonstrates the sound effects of a tuning fork, a triangle, a cymbal and a guitar, as well as the impact of sound on a soap bubble, burning candles and a wine glass. Using an oscilloscope Trevor then shows the difference in frequencies produced by different octaves played on a saxophone. The ‘confusaphone’ shows what happens when one’s left and right hearing is mixed up, and Trevor examines the effect of a sonic boom, created by a cracking whip. He finally assesses the effect of echo and the varying sounds we can create with our own bodies.

Extension tasks

This PDF gives a series of extension tasks that can be used with the lesson starters. They include making sounds in different ways, exploring sound through a string telephone and investigating hearing.

Our Hearing and Sound Activities developed for use in science centres are also excellent follow on activities with powerpoints and task cards. They include:

  • Exploring sound made at different frequencies by different instruments
  • How we hear sound
  • Good and bad sounds
  • hearing loss

Hearing and the Ear – The Confusaphone

This shows how sound travels through the air and reaches the human brain in binaural (via two ears). Using a confusaphone changes how a person hears sound. This page gives instructions for making the Confusaphone. There are instructions for other easy-to-make listening devices that play around with listening and resonance. Download the follow-on task to see how this can be integrated into a classroom activity around hearing.

Sonic Boom – Cracking the Whip

Demonstrate the speed of sound using the crack of a whip. The cracking of a whip is created by sonic boom when the whip tip travels faster than the speed of sound.

Breaking glass with sound

A wine glass is smashed by the power of sound when the right resonant frequency is reached, in this quick experiment.

Four Octaves of Sound

Examine waveform patterns. Different notes on a saxophone are shown to have varying wave patterns.

Sound absorbing materials

Highlight the effect of different materials on sound, brick vs foam. The same musical instrument is played in two differently decorated rooms, one with brick and one with foam walls.

Making body sound

Illustrate how different parts of the body can create different sounds. A physicist uses various parts of the body, such as clicking his fingers, to show how sound can be formed.

Sound Through a Medium: Wobbling Bubbles

This quick practical experiment showing how a bubble is affected by different sounds. Bubbles vibrate at different rates when placed near a loudspeaker when the sound frequency changes. Classroom activity uses a string telephone to illustrate that sound needs a medium

Sound Through a Medium: Flickering Candles

Demonstrate how a flickering candle responds when exposed to a variety of sound frequencies. It shows how a candle’s flame reacts when placed in front of a loudspeaker. Classroom activity uses a string telephone to illustrate that sound needs a medium (same as for bubbles above).


Materials released under Creative Archive License


Originally made for Teachers’ TV

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