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Lesson Plan #: AELP-PHS0200
Submitted by: Jessica E. Diethrick
Email: jedst44@yahoo.com
School/University/Affiliation: University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Endorsed by: Mr. Poole
University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Pennsylvania Date: September 27, 2000

Grade Level: 3, 4


  • Science/Physics
  • Foreign Language/Sign Language

Duration: Two 45-minute sessions Description: Children are introduced to the concept of sound travel. Students construct cup phones and determine if sound travels better through plastic or insulated cups.

1. To increase students’ awareness of how sound travels through various objects.
2. To increase students’ awareness of different forms of communication.


1. The students will make predictions about how sound travels through different objects.
2. The students will be able to construct cup phones and determine how sound travels through different types of cups.
3. Students will be able to explain their conclusions about the cup phone activity to the class.


Each pair of students will need:

  • 2 plastic cups
  • 2 insulated cups
  • string
  • tape
  • scissors
  • ruler
  • computers with Internet access, if available

Procedure: Introduce children to the concept of sound by asking a series of investigating questions such as, How does sound travel? (waves) Does sound travel through air, solids, or liquids? Will the sound of your voice travel through string?

Explain the concept of a cup phone. Divide students into groups of two. Have students make predictions about the cup phone activity. What is going to happen? What sound will it make? Does the length of the string make a difference? Does the size of the hole in the cup matter?

Distribute materials to each pair. Students can construct the phones any way that they like, and they may choose the length of the string to be used. Students are encouraged to use a variety of string lengths to investigate the results. Students are also encouraged to try both types of cups to make comparisons. After students have tried the activity, ask them to share any conclusions. Discussion should include the following findings:

1. You can hear more sound with the plastic cups, because plastic cups reflect the sound.
2. The insulated cups absorb the sound, making them harder to use as a phone.
3. More area of the string touching the cup will have a better effect on sound travel.

Lesson Extension:
To show another way to communicate, have students visit a sign language web site ( http://commtechlab.msu.edu/sites/aslweb/browser.htm). Students can explore how to sign words and letters of the alphabet. The teacher is to observe, monitor the progress of students, and be available for student questions. Ask students to demonstrate the signs for Thank you and I love you.

Another lesson extension is to have students learn about the invention of the telephone. Students can research how, when, and by whom the telephone was invented.


Observe students’ participation in the cup phone activity, and praise cooperative efforts. Listen to students’ responses and explanations in class discussions.

Special Comments:

I incorporated the sign language site to provide students the opportunity to learn sign language. Students should be open to a variety of communication means. Students should also be aware that not all students can hear well; some children have hearing impairments.

Useful Internet Resource:

* Animated American Sign Language
Learn how to sign letters of the alphabet, numbers, and common words.

Other References:

Rice, Cathy.  Sign Language for Everyone .  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977.
Smith, Alastair. Ed.  The Usborne Big Book of Experiments .  New York:  Scholastic, 1996.