All About Magnets: A Theme Unit for Elementary School

All About Magnets: A Theme Unit for Elementary School
Page content

Magnets are magnificent. Their force is invisible, but its effects are found all around us. Magnets are used to hold schoolwork on refrigerators, they can help us find our way on a walk, and we even use them in televisions, computers, and MRI scanning machines where doctors can see inside the human body. How amazing is that?

Magnetic Attraction

Let’s “attract” excitement with this hands-on, all about magnets theme unit for your class. Begin by setting up a discovery corner filled with a variety of magnets that kids can use for experimentation and investigation. How about a horseshoe magnet, bar magnets, magnetic rings, strips that are magnetic from craft stores, and magnets for refrigerators? Then, scatter items like paper clips, metal bottle caps, iron nails, plastic lids, coins, rubber bands, and pencils. With magnets in hand, invite your young learners to explore properties and see which objects attract or repel. Have your students discuss what they have observed.

After the kids have seen which objects can attract or repel, it’s time to talk about if magnets can attract through different materials.  A magnet will not attract to paper, but what if something metal is behind the sheet? Gather a variety of materials such as cloth, aluminum foil, glass, plastic, and wood. What happens now? Does the magnet attract? Now, test the ability of the magnet to attract a paper clip through these materials. Have the kids chart their observations.

Opposites Attract

Magnets have a north and south pole. This is easily found on bar magnets where the N and S are marked. Experiment by placing the north or south pole of two magnets together and discover that they push away from each other. This is called repelling. Now, if you place the north pole of one magnet against the south pole of another magnet – they stick like glue. This is called attracting. Conclude the experiment – “like poles repel, and unlike poles attract.”

Magnet Activities and Crafts

Magnet Mystery Hunt

Gather your magnet detectives and send them on a mystery hunt. Make a sheet (that can be duplicated) with objects found in the classroom. Have your students buddy with a friend and go on a search for magnetic things.  With a magnet in hand, invite the kids to test each item on the list and check off the ones that the magnet attracts.

Here are objects to include on your paper:

Ruler, pencil, eraser, stapler, CD, scotch tape, window trim, TV, chair, staples, crayons, door knob, glue, scissors, desk, tissues, door, book, markers, pen, pins, cell phone, window glass, coins, paper clips, and any other things you may have.

Magnetic Faces

Do you remember the toy that surfaced years ago? It was a magnetic disguise pad. Kids make funny faces with a magnet wand and metal filings. I did find one called “Wooly Willy” on Amazon. Anyway, you can make a homemade version in class as a project. Here’s how:

  1. Draw a face on a sheet of paper and glue this inside a thin cardboard gift box.
  2. Sprinkle filings (found at a science supplier, local tool shop, or cut up some steel wool into tiny pieces) onto the face that has been drawn.
  3. Have the kids place a bar magnet underneath the box and move the filings around to complete the picture of a person with a mustache, beard, or bushy eyebrows.

Pick Up Clips

Test the strength of magnets by setting up a table with a variety of magnets and a container of metal paper clips. Challenge your students to see how many paper clips each magnet will hold. Record the numbers. Together, graph the results to complete this study.

Make a Refrigerator Magnet

Parents love to display their child’s work or important notes on the kitchen refrigerator.  Make this art project in class and send it home afterwards.

  1. Choose a small picture or logo and duplicate this on paper.
  2. Have the kids color the picture and cut it out.
  3. Glue this to a square piece of colored tagboard (or cardboard)
  4. Next, adhere a piece of magnetic tape that can easily be found in craft stores.

End Your Day With a Book

Reinforce your study of magnets by reading books. Here are a few titles to obtain.

  • What Makes a Magnet? By Dr. Franklin M. Branley (2016)
  • Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by David A. Adler (2017)
  • Magnet Max by Monica Lozano Hughes (2015)
  • All About Magnetism by Angela Royston (2016)

More Magnet Lessons on Bright Hub Education

3 Magnet Science Projects: Studying the Power of Magnets

Preschool Magnet Activities: Creative Science Games That Show How Magnets Work


A Look at Magnets, Barbara Alpert, 2011, book

Copycat Magazine, Amazing Magnets, Nov/Dec 2000


Feature Image courtesy of Tania Cowling, all rights reserved

Bar Magnet

Wooly Willy on Amazon


27 Ways to Use Magnets in the Classroom, We Are Teachers, 2019