K-12 Instructional Activity Guide

Page 2 - Introductory Activities

Inventors Probably...
Inventions are Everywhere!
Invention or Innovation?
The Class Invention
Inventions 2050
Inventions - Good or Bad!
Make an Invention Quilt!
5-10 Minute Invention Activities and Discussion Starters
How Does It Work?
Inventions Today and Tomorrow

Inventors Probably...

Circle the letter that comes closest to your opinion.

  1. Means you don't think the statement is true
  2. Means maybe it's true but you're not sure
  3. Means that you think the statement is true

When they were kids inventors probably:

Acted pretty much like the other kids ABC
Read a lot of books ABC
Often got their teacher mad at them ABC
Were good at building things ABC
Were serious and hard working ABC
Always finished one thing before starting another ABC
Had lots of odd ideas ABC
Didn't spend much time having fun ABC
Bothered adults by asking lots of questions ABC
Like to take things apart ABC
Wanted other people to like what they did ABC
Were really smart in their school classes ABC
Usually did what their parents told them to do ABC
Were interested in lots of different things ABC
Were pretty happy as kids ABC
Always finished school assignments carefully ABC
Behaved well in school ABC
Often quit when something they were working on didn't go right ABC
Liked working on projects alone ABC

What things surprised you most about inventors?

Which characteristics do you share with inventors?

back to the top

Inventions are Everywhere!

Materials:Chalkboard and chalk; paper and pencil for each group; bowl with strips of paper with various "rooms" written on them.
Approximate time: 30 minutes

  1. Begin by saying these words or expressing the following ideas:
    An invention is something useful that is a result of ingenious thinking or experiments. Inventions meet a need, solve a problem, or make our lives easier in some way. Some things like the television, the telephone and the computer are inventions that have dramatically changed the way people live. But many other simple inventions like pencils, Velcro, and coat hangers are everyday items that have become very important to our day-to-day lives as well. Whether you realize it or not, your world is full of inventions, both big and small.
  2. Divide the room into groups of four to five students. Let one student from each group select from a bowl a strip of paper on which is written a "room" familiar to those in the group (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, garage, den, family room, classroom, library, music room, art room, etc.).
  3. Have each group select a recorder, and give the group five minutes to come up with and write down as many inventions in their room as they can think of.
  4. At the end of five minutes have a spokesperson (different from the strip selector or the recorder) read the list to the large group.
  5. Next give each group five minutes to decide which three inventions on their list they think are the most important.
  6. Have yet another person in the group share with the class the group's top three choices, and briefly describe why they selected these three inventions over the others.
  7. End the class by reviewing what you have learned.

back to the top

Invention or Innovation?

Materials:Chalkboard and chalk or poster board and marker; paper and pencil for each student
Approximate time: 20 - 30 minutes

  1. Begin by saying these words, expressing the following ideas, or questioning the students in ways to generate the following information:
    "As far back as history goes, people have wanted to communicate with each other. At first people communicated by grunts and movements. This was followed over many centuries by the development of spoken and written language. One of the most important inventions of the last hundred years that has greatly changed the way we communicate is the telephone.
    The first telephone was invented with a special need in mind. Over the years since the invention of the telephone, many people have thought of new uses for the phone and ways to improve it."
  2. Ask the students to think about the telephone, and in one minute have them write down on their piece of paper all the different types of phones they can think of.
  3. At the end of the minute, ask the students to choose a partner and share their lists with each other. Give them one to two minutes for sharing.
  4. After sharing their ideas with partners, ask the class to name off different types of telephones. Record their responses on the chalkboard or poster board by using a web, a list, or whatever form you prefer that helps the students see the connection of the telephone to all the different types of phones they come up with.
  5. Draw the lesson together by saying or expressing the following ideas: We know that an invention is something useful that is a result of someone thinking and experimenting. An innovation (write the word above your list or diagram) builds on a previous invention. By meeting a new need, an innovation improves an already existing invention. The person who thinks up and creates an innovation is called an innovator. Look at the different types of telephones we came up with. They each serve a special need or make the original telephone a little bit different or better. When inventors are at work, then, they are not always inventing something completely new. They can be inventors and innovators at the same time--and so can you!
  6. *** Another idea: Use your own favorite invention in place of the telephone.

back to the top

The Class Invention

Before most children can be expected to find their own problems, go through the invention process and create their own unique inventions or innovations to their problems, it can be helpful and fun to go through the process as a group.

While most inventors have traditionally been the happiest working alone on their inventions, our future will require tomorrow's inventors to also be able to work cooperatively to solve problems and come up with new ideas with others in the board room, in the laboratory, and over the Internet.

A Class Invention can be a great way to introduce or enhance a unit. Some teachers do a Class Invention in the fall, and work into individual inventions in the winter. Other teachers do a Class Invention as part of a math or science unit, and do no individual inventions at all. Your teaching style and the size and personality of your group or class can help you determine if and how a Class Invention can work for you and your students.

If you feel many of your students have not had sufficient opportunity to use their own creative and inventive thought processes in this way, or if this is the first time you have used the invention process as a unit in your school, you may choose to do many or all of the activities presented in this guide as a group. The ideas presented as team or individual activities in this manual can easily be adapted by you for your whole classroom.

And, as always, use what you like, and change what you don't. An invention unit, whether classroom or individual in nature, should promote discovery, surprise, and fun--for you and your students.

back to the top


Materials:Chalkboard and chalk or poster board and marker; paper, scissors, pencils/pens, tape and colored markers
Approximate time:Anywhere from one thirty-minute session to three thirty-minute sessions, depending on teacher use, interest and grade level. Actual assembly of newspaper may take longer.

  1. Brainstorm with the class headlines that could be found in the premier issue of "Inventions 2050" (or come up with your own catchy name). Some suggestions to get them started could be:
    • Invention Revolutionizes Housework
    • Look What Computers Can Do Now!
    • Medical Breakthrough Announced
    • Invention May Ease World Hunger
    • New Device Aids The Elderly
  2. Write all suggestions on the board. Once you have a good number of headlines, allow students to select one they wish to write on. Each headline may have more than one student working with it, but each student should be encouraged to write their own article.
  3. Give students time in class to begin writing their article. Depending on your interest and grade level, you may want to have finishing the article be part of a homework assignment, or allow them a second class period to complete the articles.
  4. When the students have completed their articles, select a way to lay them out on large sheets of paper to turn them into the premier edition of "Inventions 2050." Your art teacher or media specialist may have some great ideas to help your newspaper take shape.

    Hints:- Make sure you copy off the board the headline list and the names of students working on each headline--this will save time and confusion later. Some students may choose to include or prefer to draw a picture for one of the articles.

back to the top

Inventions - Good or Bad?

Materials: Chalkboard and chalk or poster board and marker; paper and pencil for each student
Approximate time: 20 - 30 minutes

  1. Begin by saying something like this:
    "Many inventions have made life better for people, and other inventions have been harmful to people. Other inventions have both good and bad uses or consequences. Let's take a few minutes to think about one very important invention in our lives--the automobile." (write "Automobile" on the board, and underneath the title with three to four feet between the words make a column for "Good" and "Bad")
    "Let's brainstorm for a few minutes and see in how many ways we can come up with that show the good and bad ways the automobile has affected people's lives. (examples: makes it easy to get around, is fun to ride in, gives lots of people jobs in the car industry, has many accidents that kill many people, adds to the air pollution, is expensive to buy and maintain, etc.)"
  2. After the brainstorming, comment on how well the class did.
  3. Ask each student to take out a piece of paper, and write down the name of an invention. Then give them two or three minutes to write down all the "good" and "bad" things about the invention. It does not matter if some students have selected the same invention.
  4. After time is called, ask for volunteers to share their invention and lists. Others should be encouraged to add to the discussion.
  5. Pull together in whatever way you choose, or by asking students what they have learned today, and how has that changed the way they think about inventions. ***Feel free to select something other than the automobile to use for this lesson

back to the top

Make An Invention Quilt!

Materials: White paper and colored construction paper, glue, tape, pens/pencils, colored markers, and scissors.
Approximate time: One to one and a half hours, divided as you see fit.

  1. Provide each student with a square of white paper cut to a size that would allow two of the sheets to be comfortably framed by a full-size sheet of construction paper.
  2. Have each student select an invention, either by drawing names out of a hat, or by signing up in any way you would like. The overall aesthetic of the quilt is enhanced if no two students use the same invention.
  3. On the top portion of the paper, have each student make a colorful drawing of their invention. On the bottom, have them write the name of their invention, the name of the inventor and one interesting fact about the invention (optional).
  4. When the students have finished, allow them each to select a pre-cut sheet of construction paper in the color of their choice. Mount each invention square on construction paper (use tape or glue, whichever you prefer) and tape them together to form a quilt. This could be hung in the classroom, hall, computer center, library, or anywhere you'd like.
    *** A fun variation of this is to have the students make a quilt of the inventions they create during your invention unit. The quilt can then be on display during your school invention convention.

back to the top

5-10 Minute Invention Activities and Discussion Starters

  • Think for a moment about all the inventions you used between the time you woke up this morning and now. Take two minutes and write down as many as you can think of.

    After two minutes, have students share some of the inventions on their lists.
  • If you had to do without one of them, which would be the most difficult, and how would you get along without it?

  • Let's brainstorm for a few minutes about what we could do with a newspaper (or put in any item you wish) besides read it. (put in any function that goes along with your chosen item)
  • Let's think about the letters. Name four or five letters with at least one vowell included. Let's see how many words we can come up with using only these letters in three minutes.

    Each student can write a list and then share, or the class can brainstorm a list while you record on the board.
  • Let's take a few minutes and think of all the different ways you could get to school. (put in any activity you wish - this is a good class brainstorming activity).
  • What do you think is the most important invention of all time, and why? Take two minutes to write down your answer, and then we will share our answers.

back to the top

How Does It Work?

Sometimes knowing how common household tools or appliances are put together helps young inventors get lots of new ideas about how they can make something easier to use, safer, or better.

For this activity, find something at home or at school that would either be considered a tool or a small appliance. If you can take your tool or appliance apart to see all of its working pieces, that would be great. If not, try to look at it from every angle and move its parts to see how it works.

Now try to draw your tool or appliance from a front view, and then draw each of its parts separately. Below your drawing, describe how the tool or appliance works. Be as detailed with your description as you can.

back to the top

Inventions Today and Tomorrow

Now that you know what an invention is, name one invention that belongs in the same group as each set of words. Make sure you use an invention only once. Then pick five of the groups and come up with great ideas for inventions of the future!

Think of InventionToday's InventionFuture Invention
A type of food  
Something farmers use

Something that helps sick people

Something you use at home

A way we communicate

A form of transportation

A type of sports equipment

Something you use at school

Something that helps the elderly

Something helps the environment


back to the top

next: Selecting a Problem