Some students hold a 'consumer-source' model of the simple circuit

Electricity and Magnetism


These students may think hat the battery (the 'source') gives something to the bulb (the 'consumer'). They may think, therefore, that a single wire from a battery terminal to a bulb terminal will be sufficient to light the bulb. 

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.

Resources to Address This

  • What Gets Used Up? (11-14)

    This resource explores the common idea that something from the battery is 'used up' in circuit components.

    View Resource
  • Thinking fruitfully about circuits (5-11)

    The rope loop provides a powerful mechanical analogue of the electrical loop. It's tangible and manipulable, and the physical quantities map well onto the electrical quantities. 

    View Resource
  • Models of electric circuits (11-19)

    Some thinking about different electric circuit models.

    View Resource


  • Arnold, M. and Millar, R. () Being constructive: An alternative approach to the teaching of introductory ideas in electricity. International Journal of Science Education, 9 (5), 553-563.

    Identifying the misconceptions your students hold is critical to planning teaching activities that can overcome them. This research demonstrates how some common misconceptions, including the idea of current being ‘used up’ as it passed through components or bulbs powered by ‘clashing currents’ can be addressed successfully.

    Paper digest

  • Borges, A. and Gilbert, J. () Mental models of electricity, International Journal of Science Education, 21 (1), 95-117.

    A study including electrical engineers shows that a fully correct understanding of electrical principles is not always necessary to work in the field. This paper describes how students and professionals picture electric currents and discusses how to develop models and teaching techniques that will allow students to link electrical concepts correctly.

    Paper digest

  • Pardhan, H. and Bano, Y. () Science teachers' alternate conceptions about direct-currents. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (3), 301-318.

    This study examined the ideas of six lower-secondary science teachers from three different schools of a private education network using a combination of lesson observation, questionnaires and interviews. The teachers had backgrounds in the life sciences, biology and chemistry and had studied physics to an intermediate level.

  • Butts, W. () Children's understanding of electric current in three countries. Research in Science Education, 15 (1), 127-130.

    A short interview was conducted individually with 16 students selected by their science teacher. The students in the sample were between the ages of 12 and 15 from England, Australia and New Zealand.

  • Osborne, R. () Towards Modifying Children's Ideas about Electric Current. Research in Science and Technological Education, 1 (1), 73-82.

    An interview with 40 US children aged 8-12, involving electric circuit experiments and pictures, led to the conclusion that discussing diverse examples is crucial for students to grasp broader insights. Building a basic circuit may not guarantee an understanding of electric current flow.

  • Azaiza, I., Bar, V. and Galili, I. () Learning electricity in elementary school. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 4 (1), 45-71.

  • Peşman, H. and Eryilmaz, A. () Development of a Three-Tier Test to Assess Misconceptions About Simple Electric Circuits. The Journal of Educational Research. 103 (3), 208-222.

  • Chiu, M. H. and Lin, J. W. () Promoting Fourth Graders’ Conceptual Change of Their Understanding of Electric Current via Multiple Analogies. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42 (4), 429-464.

  • Leone, M. () History of Physics as a Tool to Detect the Conceptual Difficulties Experienced by Students: The Case of Simple Electric Circuits in Primary Education. Science & Education, 23 (4), 923-953.

  • Osborne, R. and Freyberg, P. () Learning in Science: The Implications of Children's Science. Heinemann Education Books, Inc., 70 Court Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

  • Turgut, Ü., Gürbüz, F. and Turgut, G., () An investigation 10th grade students’ misconceptions about electric current, Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 1965-1971.

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