Taking Apart Electrical Appliances

About this lesson by Anne Schaefer


Guiding Question:

How do electrical appliances work?



photo of girls taking appliances apart





  1. Handout: Guide to Electrical Components

  2. Provide students with old and/or broken telephones, computer central processing units, CD players, radios, electric typewriters, fax machines, answering machines. See note below for where to find these things. [Also see safety note.]

  3. Tools: you will need a variety of screwdrivers, wire snips, pliers, etc.

  4. Goggles are a good idea, since small wires may fly when cut!
You can get old equipment by asking people to volunteer stuff around their homes, or by going to an appliance repair shop. In Ann Arbor, try U of M Property Disposition at 764-2470.

Room Preparation:

Safety and Precautions:

Procedures and Activities


  1. Ask students: “What do scientists and engineers do?” Talk about how they explore things, trying to figure out how they work and how to describe them, and they build things. Then say to students: “Have you ever wondered how the electrical appliances we use every day work? Today we will act like scientists and try to figure that out.”

  2. Ask guiding question: “How do electrical appliances work?” Students may say, “They use electricity.” Review the needed vocabulary: electricity, current, electric power, etc.


photo of folks taking things apart
  1. Pass out handout, Guide to Electrical Components. Have students review it and have them look for these components in the item they take apart. You may want them to put a check next to the components they find.

  2. Review safety: Make sure whatever is to be taken apart is UNPLUGGED! IMPORTANT! You must stress that it is unsafe to open up any electrical appliance when it is plugged in. Tell students never to do this at home. Also, you should warn students not to take apart working equipment—they might not get it to work again!

  3. Have 2-3 students work together on one piece. Pass out a variety of tools and safety goggles if needed.

  4. Have students take apart equipment. Walk around to the groups and encourage the students to ask themselves what the components they see might do, or how they all work together in the appliance.
The students will have a fun time doing this! Encourage them to take apart as much as they want!

Closing: Original Question

Ask, “How do electrical appliances work?”


  1. Student partners can demonstrate to others how their piece of equipment or appliance works. Be sure they use terminology on handout.

  2. Students may draw a diagram of how their appliance works and share it with the class.

  3. Students may write a short paper describing taking apart the appliance and what they learned.

Extension Ideas

  1. Students may use the electrical components to make something of their own: a simple machine or an art project.

  2. Students may do activity again with a different piece of equipment or appliance.

  3. Visit an appliance repair store, a power company, a phone company.

Careers Related to Lesson Topic

Prerequisite Vocabulary:

The motion of electrons (negative charge), defined in units of amperes (amps): the amount of charge to move through an area in a certain time.

Electrical Appliances
Items powered by electricity that perform certain tasks.

Electric Power
The rate at which work is done by the conversion of electrical energy, defined in units of watts. Electric power = (current) x (voltage)

Describes the properties of electric charge: electrons and protons.

Scientific Process
Developing a hypothesis, exploration, testing

The amount of potential (or stored) electric energy, defined in units of volts: potential energy per charge.

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