How to Teach a Unit on Magnetism

Teaching a NGSS based unit on magnets in grade 4 5 6

Teaching children about magnets can be challenging. A magnetism unit needs to follow NGSS standards. Your unit on magnets is a fun and engaging way to integrate hands-on learning activities and provide students with opportunities to solve real-life problems. Learn how to teach magnetism to students while incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards. 

Common misconceptions about magnets

Before teaching about magnets, keep the following misconceptions in mind:

  • All metals are attracted to magnets
  • All silver-colored items are attracted to magnets
  • Only magnets produce a magnetic field 

Anchoring Phenomena 

Beginning with anchoring phenomena is how to teach magnetism to your elementary students. Below is a list of different phenomena that you may feel will engage your unique class of students.

These phenomena will motivate students to learn more about how and why magnets can do what they do. 



Literacy integration is an integral part of any science unit. This information will allow students to gain background knowledge on a topic while working on reading and writing skills to develop their ability to think critically. 


Literacy Integration

When teaching about the concept of magnetism, it is also vital to incorporate the Crosscutting Concept (CCC) of Cause and Effect. This skill comes naturally to the magnetism unit to explain why certain materials are magnetic and others aren’t. 

In addition to incorporating cause and effect, I have my students compare and contrast different magnets types. This allows them to 


  1. Understand that different types of magnets exist – Permanent, temporary, and electromagnets.
  2. Solidify learning by analyzing the similarities and differences of the magnets


By including readings in your classroom, you can work on these critical reading skills. This also helps struggling learners or students with little knowledge of magnets learn more about them before they complete activities to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the concept of magnetism. 

In addition to meeting the Next Generation Science Standards, many of our students coming into our classroom may not know the basics of magnetism. If students do not learn the basics, such as 

  • Magnetic poles
  • Magnetic fields
  • Magnetic domains
  • Attraction and repulsion

They may find it difficult. Reviewing these fundamental skills through reading and incorporating magnets to allow students to see how they work and ask questions will ensure they have the knowledge they need to meet the standards. This usually won’t take very long either, especially if students have access to a few magnets. 


Interested in using reading passages that include everything I just mentioned? Check them out here


Magnet worksheets and digital activity for grades 4 5 6



NGSS Standards Alignment

As more and more states move toward implementing NGSS, it is important to ensure that these skills are being introduced and reviewed in your classroom. The following standards are part of NGSS that incorporate magnetism. 


Again, you can see the CCC and critical thinking skill of cause and effect is important in this unit. 


literacy skill of cause and effect with magnetism



  • 3-PS2-4: Define a simple design problem that can be solved by applying scientific ideas about magnets. More on this later, this standard will allow students to apply their knowledge of how magnets work to solve real-life problems. This helps students see the relevance of learning about magnetism and use science to solve problems around them.  
  • MS-PS2-3: Ask questions about data to determine the factors that affect the strength of electrical and magnetic forces. Students can make an electromagnet and then create a data table that shows how the addition of turns of a wire on the nail affects the magnetic field’s strength. (More on this later)
  • 3-5ETS1-2: Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the problem’s criteria and constraints. To meet NGSS, students will likely have to design and/or engineer a prototype. While students are doing this, they are also meeting this standard! 

Application to Solve Real-life Problems

After you have checked off introducing phenomena to your students, integrating literacy skills, and understanding how the standards align with your magnetism unit, it is time to have some fun. 
As noted above, many of the NGSS wants students to DO things to truly internalize the concepts. Another reason why NGSS benefits students is that it tries to link concepts to our world. Students often don’t see the connection between learning about a topic and how it applies to their life. Projects that can be completed following NGSS will leave students with the knowledge of how science can help solve our world’s problems. 
Hands on activities to use to teach a unit about magnets


Here is a list of ideas that you can have students do to meet the goals of NGSS


When choosing activities for your students to complete, try to meet the standards while also dispelling the misconceptions formed around the concept of magnetism. You’ll see the questions above are trying to do both. 
  • Set up an activity that provides materials for students to demonstrate how to see magnetic forces. Some materials you may need to complete this activity are magnets, iron filings, paper. Students could sprinkle iron filings onto a piece of paper that is placed on top of a magnet. This would show the magnetic field of the magnet. 
    • If you do not have access to iron filings, students can show how two or more magnets can push and pull against one another. 
Try to have students work together (or individually) to demonstrate how to use the materials instead of having a written procedure. Having students generate ideas independently will give them ownership of their solution and demonstrate their ability to understand this concept. 
Showing students magnetic fields in science class grades 4 5 6


  • Ask students to think of a problem that can be solved using magnets. These problems do not need to be huge “let’s solve world hunger” types of problems. Problems could be simple such as: 
    • How can we keep the cabinet door closed? 
    • How can we keep this bag of potato chips fresh?
    • How can we keep the garbage bag from falling? 
    • How can we locate paper clips in a messy desk drawer? 
    • How can we lift a car from the junkyard? 

If students cannot think of their own, you can give them a problem to solve or have them work in groups. 

  • Have students make an electromagnet out of a battery, battery holder wire, and nail. (If you do not have a battery holder, a rubber band can work to hold the wire onto both sides of the battery.) Students can work in groups to figure out how to create the electromagnet. 
     Once students have figured out how to create the electromagnet, push their learning even further by asking them to figure out how to increase their electromagnet’s strength. The trial and error of this activity will help students learn from their mistakes and identify how a magnetic field is created – sometimes without a magnet – and how to increase and decrease its strength. 
    If you do not have enough materials for students to complete this activity independently, complete it as a class demonstration. Facilitate the conversation and have students walk YOU through how to complete the task. 
If you are looking for ready-made materials to use in your classroom, you can find them here. These materials will help you teach the magnetism concepts explained and have print and digital options depending on your teaching assignment this year. 
Activities to teach magnetic concepts in grades 4 5 6


Let me know your thoughts on teaching a magnetism unit below! 
unit materials to teach magnetism to grade 4 5 6


Teaching a unit on magnetism to grades 4 5 6 science students


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