K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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  • Levers and mechanical advantage: This lesson is part of the unit "Work, power, and machines." In this lesson, students will be introduced to the basic principles of all machines and review the six simple machines. They will use a first class lever to explore the relationship between fulcrum position and effort force required to operate the lever.
  • Studying simple machines with Rube Goldberg: Using a copy of a Rube Goldberg cartoon, show how the famous cartoonist drew weird and wacky machines to complete a simple task. Students will develop their own Rube Goldberg-type cartoon, using five types of simple machines, to accomplish their selected feat.

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Learning outcomes

The students will:

  • identify examples of simple machines used by the wolf in the text and illustrations
  • evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the machines used by the wolf
  • create, build, and justify their design of a machine that the wolf could build to catch the pigs

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

4 hours


  • A copy of The 3 Pigs and the Scientific Wolf by Mary Fetzer
  • Materials for the students to utilize in building their own machines, such as spools, string, pieces of sponge, blocks of wood, etc. (The students may bring in additional materials from home or may request additional materials.)
  • Transparency version of the story for use with the shared reading. Seek permission from publisher prior to copying at 1-800-729-5137. (The story is in blackline master form. Using a transparency version will enable the students to follow along in the text and better examine the simple machines in the illustrations.)
  • Six circle maps (or another type of graphic organizer) for each of the six types of simple machines. Each should define characteristics, purpose, and examples. These should be posted in the classroom for easy student reference. See Thinking Maps: Tools for Learning for more information about circle maps.
  • Chart paper and markers for the creation of multi-flow maps (or another graphic organizer), which will illustrate the cause and effect relationships involved in the failure of the wolf’s machines. See Brevard County Schools Thinking Maps for more information about multi-flow maps.
  • Pictures and examples of simple machines.
  • A blank Venn diagram tranparency.

See Education Place for more information about graphic organizers and printable versions.

Technology resources

  • Overhead projector
  • LCD display (optional)
  • Thinking Maps software (optional)


The students should be familiar with the six different types of simple machines before completing this activity. This lesson would fit well at the completion of a Simple Machines unit.

The students should have previously generated a circle map or concept map for each of the six types of machines that includes the characteristics, purposes, and examples of each machine. See the LEARN NC Education Reference for more information on concept maps.

By fifth grade, the students should also be familiar with the use of a Venn diagram. See the LEARN NC Education Reference for more information on Venn diagrams.


Shared Reading. Day 1

  1. The teacher reads book aloud to the class (using transparencies) after setting the purpose of comparing and contrasting the story to the original version of The Three Pigs.
  2. Using a Venn diagram the teacher will lead the class in comparing and contrasting this version of the story to the orginal.

Shared Reading. Day 2

  1. The teacher reads book aloud to the class (using transparencies) after setting the purpose of identifying the types of simple machines the wolf uses in the story.
  2. The students will identify the simple machines in the text by citing the text and referring to the illustrations when appropriate. The students should refer to the circle maps or graphic organizers posted in the room, if necessary, during this process.

Shared Reading. Day 3

  1. The teacher reads book aloud to the class (using transparencies) after setting the purpose of evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the machines used by the wolf.
  2. The students are placed in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups of 2–3 students. The teacher assists the students in generating and recording responses on chart paper to create multi-flow maps (or the graphic organizer utilized) that illustrates the cause and effect relationships present that caused each machine to fail. Direct evidence from the text including the page number must be cited.
  3. Each cooperative learning group will present its maps to the class and justify the information conveyed on its maps.
  4. The teacher will introduce the challenge for tomorrow’s class in which each cooperative group will construct a miniature model of a machine the wolf could use to catch the pigs. The groups should be given about fifteen minutes to brainstorm possible ideas. This will allow the students to begin to think through the challenge and identify possible materials they need to bring from home to successfully complete the task.

Model Construction. Day 4

  1. After reviewing the challenge guidelines and the rubric that will be used for evaluation, the students will construct and test their machines to help the wolf catch the pigs. Materials should be readily available to the students. Group roles may be assigned by the teacher, if needed. The teacher’s role during this time is to offer guidance, suggestions, and to question students during the process.

Model Presentation. Day 5

  1. The students will prepare to present their model to the class. They need to describe the machine, identify the simple machines used, demonstate the machine, and justify their choice of design. The presentation should involve all group members.
  2. Each group will present its machine to the class according to the guidelines presented.


The students’ models and presentation are assessed using this rubric.

Supplemental information

  • The additional reproducibles within The 3 Pigs and the Scientific Wolf by Mary Fetzer.
  • Reading comprehension could be assessed using this hand-out.
  • For additional information on shared reading, see this article from Education Place.
  • Age-appropriate books about simple machines:
    • Simple Machines by Adrienne Mason, Kids Can Press, 2000.
    • How Do You Lift a Lion? by Robert E. Wells,Albert Whitman & Co., 1996.
    • Experiments with Simple Machines by Salvatore Toci, Children’s Press, 2003.
    • Wheels and Axles (The Bridgestone Science Library): Understanding Simple Machines by Anne Welsbacher, Bridgeston Books, 2000
  • Books with appeal to ESL students because of their limited vocabulary include What Are Levers?, What Is a Pulley?, What Are Wedges?, What Is an Inclined Plane?, and What Are Wheels and Axles? all by Helen Frost, Pebble Books, 2001.
  • Appropriate books in Spanish are include Palancas (Maquinas Simples/Simple Machines) by Michael S. Dahl,Bridgestone Books, 1999 and Como Podemos Utilizar Maquinas Simples?/How Can I Experiment with Simple Machines? by David Armentrout, Rourke Publishing, 2002


Speak clearly at a slower rate of speech.

Use gestures, pictures, realia, and drama to illustrate concepts.

Provide picture books or books with labeled pictures to build prior knowledge. Also provide books in the students’ first language, if available. See Supplemental Information.

Use buddies or pairs as much as possible.

Allow students to respond using gestures, pointing, demonstration, other non-verbal communication, and short answers.

Review key vocabulary and concepts frequently.

Alternative assessments

Informal assessment involving observation of non-verbal responses.

Matching critical written vocabulary to pictures.

Matching pictures of machines to pictures of examples of the machines to assess understanding of concepts.

Do a Scavenger Hunt in which the students find examples of every type of simple machine and draw them. For an example of this activity see The MAILBOX, Intermediate, Feb/Mar, 1996, The Education Center, Inc.

Critical vocabulary

screw, lever, wedge, pulley, wheel, axle, inclined plane, machine, wolf, pigs


This lesson plan was developed during the English Language Development Standard Course of Study lesson planning institutes hosted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and LEARN NC, June and July, 2004. It includes specific strategies, instructional modifications, and alternative assessments which make this lesson accessible to limited English proficient students. Please note that this lesson has been aligned with the goals and objectives of the N.C. English Language Development standards.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 5
          • 5.RL.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 5

  • Goal 2: The learner will apply strategies and skills to comprehend text that is read, heard, and viewed.
    • Objective 2.02: Interact with the text before, during, and after reading, listening, and viewing by:
      • making predictions.
      • formulating questions.
      • supporting answers from textual information, previous experience, and/or other sources.
      • drawing on personal, literary, and cultural understandings.
      • seeking additional information.
      • making connections with previous experiences, information, and ideas.

English Language Development (2005)

Grade 5

  • Goal 0:
    • Objective 0.03: Produce non-verbal responses to indicate comprehension of familiar text told or read aloud to them with prompting and modeling (e.g., pictures, drama).
    • Objective 0.04: Listen to oral presentations, stories, and/or familiar texts told or read aloud and respond using physical actions and other means of non-verbal communication with modeling and prompting.
    • Objective 0.06: Recognize that books and other sources provide information through pictures and simple vocabulary.

Science (2005)

Grade 5

  • Goal 4: The learner will conduct investigations and use appropriate technologies to build an understanding of forces and motion in technological designs.
    • Objective 4.06: Build and use a model to solve a mechanical design problem.
      • Devise a test for the model.
      • Evaluate the results of test.
    • Objective 4.07: Determine how people use simple machines to solve problems.