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Lesson Title:

Thermal insulators and conductors

Design and TechnologyD & T
Solar ThermalSolar Thermal


KS2 Solar 5d

Key Stage:


Year Group:


National Curriculum Links:

See Background for England, Scotland & Wales links

QCA Unit:

teaching resources for climate change and environment teaching resources for climate change and environment teaching resources for climate change and environment  

Lesson Objectives



•To know that in everyday life we do things that transfer heat energy. •To understand that some materials help the transfer of heat energy i.e. conductors. •To know that some materials hinder the transfer of heat energy i.e. insulators. •To know that we can often identify good thermal conductors and insulators by touch. •To know that solar thermal systems use both thermal conductors and insulators.
Hot water
PowerPoint Thermal Insulators and Conductors
Range of waterproof containers (cups- plastic, metal, china, polystyrene, paper)
Worksheet Thermal insulators and conductors


thermal insulator
thermal conductor

Introduction Activity:

Write the words - 'insulator' and 'conductor' on the board. What do the class know about these terms? Can they define them? What is the difference between a material that insulates heat and one that conducts heat?

teaching resources for climate change and environment teaching resources for climate change and environment teaching resources for climate change and environment

Main Activity

Estimated Time


Key Questions:

To understand what thermal insulators & conductors are -PowerPoint Thermal insulators and conductors

In the next (final) lesson, the class will be set the challenge of making their own Solar thermal collector to heat some water that they can use to wash their hands. It is important that they understand how thermal conductors and insulators are used so that they can make a successful product. Use the PowerPoint presentation to explain the difference between thermal insulators and conductors, including the concept of energy transfer. This PowerPoint also introduces the practical activities that will help them understand thermal conductors and insulators through sensory tests. (The answers pop up in each slide when you go to 'view show' and click through the presentation.)

What do the words ‘conductor’ and ‘insulator’ mean?
What does the word ‘transfer’ mean?

To know that some containers conduct heat and others don’t - sensory test using cups of hot water.

Use the hot water and a variety of containers to show that some materials transfer heat easily and therefore feel warm or hot. These are called ‘conductors’. Others don’t transfer the heat and therefore feel cool or cold. These are called insulators.

What are we trying to find out? Which container is the best conductor and allows the water to cool quickest?
How they will find out? Touch each container soon after filling and see which feels the hottest.
Why this will answer the question? More heat energy is being transferred from the water to the finger.

To find thermal conductors and insulators using touch – Worksheet Thermal conductors and insulators

Pupils should go around the classroom using their sense of touch to explore different objects. If objects feel cold (or hot) to touch the material is a conductor. If objects do not feel cold (or hot) to touch the object is an insulator. Pupils can complete the table as they go around the class. If they are not sure whether an object is a conductor or insulator they can write the name of the material and object in the appropriate space. Complete the challenge: To explain how thermal conductors and insulators feel and why.

Why do some surfaces feel cold? (because they are transferring the cold from another material e.g. the ground, air etc)
Why do some surfaces feel neither hot nor cold? (because they are insulators and aren’t transferring the hot or cold from other materials)

Review answers together (self assessment)

Discuss the pupils’ answers to the questions on the worksheet.
Ask the pupils if they notice anything about the materials:
-Conductors: include metals and glass
-Insulators: include fabrics and some plastics. The materials often are made from fibres and contain small air spaces.

Which types of materials are conductors? (metals and glass)
Which types of materials are insulators? (fabrics and some plastics)


Show the last slide of the PowerPoint which shows a solar thermal collector. Using their knowledge from the lesson, can the class work out which parts are thermal conductors or insulators? (Conductors: clear sheet of glass, dark coloured metal, metal water pipes. Insulator: thick board of a material such as polystyrene.) Remind pupils that they are going to make their own solar thermal collector during the next lesson and may want to bring in any materials from home for this project.



ENGLAND - National Curriculum (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) Key Stage 2
Sci1 – 1a,b 2a-l, Sc3 – 2b, 2c Geo 5a,b D & T 4a

SCOTLAND - First Level Curriculum (Curriculum for Excellence)
Planet Earth - Sustainability – SCN 101A
Planet Earth – Climate and Earth Science SCN 104D
Planet Earth – Astronomy SCN 105E
Energy in the Environment – Energy Sources SCN 108G

Social Studies
People, place and environment – SOC 106G

Expressive Arts
Art and Design – EXA 105E, EXA 107G

WALES – National Curriculum for Wales (2008)

Communication – 2
Enquiry - all
Planning – 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7
Developing -1, 2, 4, 5
Reflecting – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The sustainable earth – 1, 2, 4, 6
Interdependence of organisms - 7

Design and Technology
Designing – 5
Making – 2, 3, 4
Rigid and flexible materials – 10

- tasks in which they design and make products, focusing on different contexts and materials
-tasks in which they explore and investigate simple products in order to acquire technological knowledge and understanding that can be applied in their designing and making
- tasks in which they learn about the responsible use of materials, considering issues of sustainability

Investigating – 1, 2, 3
Communicating – 1, 2, 3

-Living in my world: caring for places and environments and the importance of being a global citizen

Ask and answer questions
-How have people affected this place/environment? How can I and other people look after this environment?

This lesson is designed to introduce pupils to basic scientific concepts involving heat energy. Science teaching can be a minefield for non specialist science teachers… we can all introduce inaccurate terms and ideas which may hinder a pupil’s future understanding. In this lesson the term “energy transfer” is introduced to explain when energy is transferred from one location to another. It is best to avoid phrases such as “the heat energy moves” because:
•it isn’t factually correct… energy does not move but may cause movement;
•pupils will eventually learn that moving objects possess kinetic energy… so there is the recipe for confusion.
In the previous lesson pupils discussed thermal insulation. This lesson widens their knowledge and introduces thermal conductors i.e. materials which allow heat energy to easily transfer to another location.

(This lesson is based on work by Ian Mitchell, The Green Egg Company, developed & edited by Amie Andrews for TLCP and Ali Ross, Sundog Energy.)

Dulas Ltd offers professional services for renewable energySundog Energy designs, supplies and installs systems that generate electricity from solar or wind energySHARP Creating an environmentally conscious company with sincerity and creativityProven Energy is the worlds leading supplier of small wind turbines.