Literary Science Sparks: Science, Grade 4


LAFS.4.RI.2.4: Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.

LAFS.4.RI.3.9: Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

LAFS.4.SL.1.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on Grade Four topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  1. Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
  2. Follow agreed-upon rules of discussion and carry out assigned roles.
  3. Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remark of others.
  4. Review the key ideas expressed and explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.


SC.4.E.6.3: Recognize that humans need resources found on Earth and that these are either renewable or nonrenewable.

SC.4.L.17.2: Explain that animals, including humans, cannot make their own food and that when animals eat plants or other animals, the energy stored in the food source is passed to them.

SC.4.L.17.3: Trace the flow of energy from the Sun as it is transferred along the food chain through the producers to the consumers.

SC.4.L.17.4: Recognize ways plants and animals, including humans, can impact the environment.

SC.4.P.9.1: Identify some familiar changes in materials that result in other materials with different characteristics, such as decaying animal or plant matter, burning, rusting, and cooking.


Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown

by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith


Book cover for Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Twins Nick and Tesla have been holed up all summer with their crazy uncle after their parents left to supposedly travel overseas for work. After discovering their parents were really working on a secret government project and have gone missing, the twins try and solve the mystery of their disappearance, with some help from their uncle, neighborhood friends, and a host of homemade solar-powered gadgets.

#Literary Sparks

  1. What are the various ways Nick and Tesla use solar power in this book?
  2. Characters discuss the ways that solar technology can be used for good or for bad in this book. What are the good ways some characters want it to be used, and what are the bad?
  3. What initial clues do the twins uncover that give them information about their parents’ disappearance?


Buried Sunlight

by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

Call Number: Y 333.82 BANG

Book cover for Buried Sunlight by Molly Bang

Bang and Chisholm’s expertly illustrated book explains, from start to finish, how the sun’s energy is used on earth: from photosynthesis by plants, to the consumption of plants by animals and humans, to how plants become fossil fuels and are used to power our vehicles, buildings, and appliances. They also lay out in detail how the use of fossil fuels is causing a build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere, warming the planet.

#Informational Sparks

  1. What are examples of fossil fuels? Why are they called “fossil” fuels?
  2. Are fossil fuels a renewable or nonrenewable resource? Why?
  3. Why is overuse of fossil fuels bad?
  4. How do animals and humans impact the environment?
  5. What are some alternatives to using fossil fuels?

#Investigative Inquiry

Veggie Power

Learning Outcomes Statement:

The Veggie Power activity will engage students in creating and observing batteries made from fruits and vegetables, which will demonstrate how energy from different materials can be converted into an electrical current. This will develop the core academic skills of creativity and problem solving by creating and observing a unique object, and supporting possible solutions with facts and details.

For different versions of this experiment, check out:

Materials Needed:

For each group, provide:

  • Two each (four total) of two kinds of fruit or vegetables, such as:
    • Apples
    • Beets
    • Carrots
    • Cucumbers
    • Lemons
    • Oranges
    • Pears
    • Potatoes
    • Tomatoes
  • Six electrical leads with alligator clips
  • Four each (eight total) of copper and zinc metal rods, such as: copper wire cut into 2-inch pieces, and galvanized nails

One small electrically-powered light, such as: individual Christmas lights with wire leads attached (either separated from a strand or from a replacement pack), or individual LEDs with prongs. Please note, lights with longer wires (left) will be easier to use than those with short wires (right)

Image of a small, wired light bulb  Image of a small lightbulb

Additional Library Resources/Materials to Share:

Y 333.7916 SILVERMAN Saving Energy: Earth’s Resources by Buffy Silverman

Y 581 MARSICO Step-By-Step Experiments with Life Cycles by Katie Marsico

372.35044 SKILL Skill Sharpeners, Science, Grade 4 by Barbara Allman

372.6044 ROCKWELL Linking Language: Simple Language and Literacy Activities Throughout the Curriculum, by Robert Rockwell

Notes for Introduction:

We have a bunch of fruits and veggies here, as you can see. Over the next several million years, long after they’ve decomposed, some of these plants could turn into gas and oil deposits. But we don’t have to wait that long to use them for energy! We can harness it right now. You guys have probably seen or heard of potato clocks. But lots of different fruits and vegetables—like these!—can be used to create batteries that will power small objects, which is what we’re going to do today. This activity requires several steps, so pay close attention to my instructions.

Activities Description:

  1. Distribute materials to each group.
  2. Explain: These materials can be combined to form a battery, which will then supply power to the small light bulb that you have. You are getting enough materials to build and test two batteries. Each battery requires two of the same vegetable (or fruit), four metal pieces, and three electrical leads. Your group is going to build them one at a time and see if they work.
  3. Before you begin, have the kids hypothesize whether one kind of vegetable will supply stronger power than the other, or if they will be the same strength. For either hypothesis, ask their reasoning.
  4. Have each group select the first vegetable pair they will use, and instruct them to push 1 nail in one end of each vegetable, about an inch inside. Then have them push the copper wire into the opposite end of each vegetable, making sure the two pieces of metal are as far apart as they can be.
  5. Have them take one electrical lead, and attach one clip to the nail in the first vegetable, and the other clip to one of the light bulb wires. The second electrical lead should be attached to the copper wire in the second vegetable, and then the other light bulb wire. Then attach the third lead to the remaining free metal pieces—the copper wire in the first vegetable, and the nail in the second. Attaching the third lead should complete the circuit and power the light.*
  6. Have each group observe the brightness of their lit bulb, before disconnecting it (the battery may only supply power for a short while, depending on its strength).
  7. Repeat steps 4 and 5 to build the second battery. Again, have each group observe the brightness of the lit bulb, and then disconnect the light and reattach it to the first battery to see if it is the same brightness, or brighter or dimmer. (As an added step, you can have them change the strength of the current by moving the metal pieces closer together—it will reduce it, and should make the bulb dimmer).

*If you are using an LED and it doesn’t light up, reverse its position. (LEDs only allow current to flow in one direction. If it’s connected “backwards,” it won’t light.)

Questions for Feedback and Reflection:

  1. Did you guess correctly if one of your batteries would be stronger, or if they would both be the same? Why do you think you were right/wrong?
  2. Do you have any guesses on how the vegetables, metal, and wire work together to create and transmit energy? 
    1. Explain:  Batteries are devices that convert chemical energy into electrical energy. In this experiment, each fruit and vegetable, together with the zinc and copper pieces, act as a battery. The fruits/vegetables supply the acid found in standard store-bought batteries, and the zinc and copper act as electrodes; they use the acid to transmit electrons between them, which generates an electrical current. The wire extends that current to the light bulb.
  3. Based on what we’ve been learning about this week, what are some other ways these fruits and vegetables could have their energy used? (being eaten, being turned into compost, being converted into biomass fuel)

For a complete, printer friendly version of this Literary Spark please click here.

#Science Sparks Content

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National Geographic Kids

Science in Context

General Science Collection

National Geographic Virtual Library                             

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