Forces and Motion | Electricity and Magnetism

Cardboard arrows

Classroom Activity for 5-11 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

The purpose of this activity is to help children to identify forces and give them a language to describe forces. Exploring pupil's ideas – and making them explicit – is a central feature of this introductory work.

What to Prepare

A circus of stations where forces can be identified, adapted to your own circumstances, for example:

  • a cup on a table
  • a mass hanging on a string
  • a floating block
  • a shoe on a slope
  • some foam under a heavy book
  • a stretched spring
  • something leaning against the wall
  • something on a weighing machine

Some force arrows:

  • enough force arrows, cut from sturdy card, to give several per group (see below)

Safety note: Be aware of the hazards of slipping and tripping. Don't use anything heavy enough to cause injury if it falls. Stretched out springs may cause injury if they fly back.

What Happens During this Activity

Pupils are invited to visit the circus stations in groups of three or four. They have to use their arrows to identify where there are forces acting and to explain to others in their group:

  • What exerts the force?
  • What kind of force is acting?
  • What is the force is acting on?
  • Where shall we place the arrows to show the force?

Paying attention to the interactions of the children will allow you to monitor the thinking which is going down a Wrong Track and to identify correct ideas to reinforce at a later stage, perhaps during a whole class discussion about each station.

You are likely to find opportunities to guide children on the exact positions of the force arrows and to encourage children to articulate the language of forces:

Teacher: Well done Martin, there is a force acting on the shoe in this direction. What is the name of this force?

Martin: err…friction, no, wait a minute…grip

Teacher: Good…now what's exerting the force?

As a spin-off from this activity you might be able to revisit each station to consider any sets of forces which seem to add to a resultant of zero. (Most stations are likely to be in equilibrium).


Download a copy of the force arrows to use with this activity.

2021 IOP Awards

Teachers of Physics Award

Recognising and celebrating outstanding contributions to the field of physics education.

Learn more