Grade: Elementary
Subject: History

#255. The Early Life and Experiments of Benjamin Franklin

History, level: Elementary
Posted Tue Jun 8 17:43:04 PDT 1999 by Dr. Brian F. Geiger (
University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education, Birmingham, AL USA
Materials Required: Introductory Questions; informational resources; colonial dress; actor; electricity apparatus
Activity Time: 2 class periods, or 2 hours
Concepts Taught: Benjamin Franklin, colonial period, American history, electricity, experiments, science and inquiry

Objectives for Learners: Students will: 1. Study the early life and innovations of Benjamin Franklin using a variety of media (autobiography, biographies, Internet web sites, condensed history or display boards, dramatic presentation); 2. Prepare written answers to selected Introductory Questions based upon their individual or shared research; 3. Participate in a hands-on demonstration of the properties of electricity; 4. Identify safety practices to reduce the risk of injuries from electricity. Introductory Questions to stimulate discussion: 1. Describe what life was like for a child your age during the colonial period of American history. 2. What is the job of a printer's apprentice? 3. What subjects did Benjamin Franklin study in school when he was eight years old? 4. What book did Benjamin Franklin publish in 1732 under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders? 5. Who established the first lending library in North America in the City of Philadelphia? 6. When did Benjamin Franklin begin his early experiments with electricity? 7. What device did Benjamin Franklin think should be added to houses to decrease the risk of fire when struck by electricity? Give to students a selection of Introductory Questions to guide their original research to learn about the early life and innovations of Benjamin Franklin. Students may work alone, or in pairs to write answers to questions. Useful informational resources include: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. 1791. Paris, France; Franklin. 1987. NY,NY: Library Classics of the US, Inc.; Poor Richard's Almanack. Richard Saunders. 1732. Philadelphia, PA; web sites,,, Optional resources include a bulletin or science project display board in the classroom with notable facts and illustrations about Franklin's life and experiments. Ben Franklin will appear in class in the form of a volunteer actor in colonial dress. This dress is simple to prepare using common clothing items, e.g., moccasins, buckles on shoes, sweat pants, wide belt, suede vest. Invite a parent or drama student to portray Franklin. Franklin will engage students in a discussion about his early life, colonial America, and his innovations by asking about the results of student research. He can also present dramatic readings from his autobiography and Poor Richard's Almanack. Discuss with students Franklin's early observations about electricity and his experiments presented in France and America. Briefly describe the basis of the scientific method of study. Emphasize Franklin's persistence even when ridiculted by peers. Use a simple apparatus to demonstrate the properties of electricity, e.g., open and closed circuits. Students may manipulate a battery-operated circuit board with a lightbulb or buzzer. Invite a guest speaker from a local science center, power company, or university to discuss the properties of electricity and provide a more advanced demonstration. Conclusion Activity: Emphasize personal safety practices to reduce the threat of electrical injuries, e.g., stay indoors during a thunderstorm, avoid talking on the telephone or showering during a thunderstorm, never use electrical appliances near water, never stick objects into outlets. Review a listing of these practices with students using a handout, poster, or other display material. Related vocabulary words: almanack, colonial, apprentice, Philadelphia, pseudonym, scientist, scientific method, inventor, electricity, Paris, France, circuit, apparatus, demonstration, safety.