Skip to Main Content

Simple and Complex Machines

Lesson Plan

Simple and Complex Machines


In this lesson, students will learn about the importance of simple and complex machines and their components. Throughout this lesson, students will learn about the different types of simple machines and complex machines. Students will:

  • identify examples of common technological changes, past and present, in the community.
  • identify simple and complex machines.
  • learn that complex machines are made up of simple machines.

learn that machines have changed throughout time by using simple and complex machines together to accomplish tasks.

Essential Questions


  • Machine: A piece of equipment with a system of parts that work together to do or make something.
  • Simple Machine: Any of various devices that function in a manner basic to any machine, such as a lever, pulley, wedge, screw, or inclined plane.
  • Complex Machine: A device consisting of two or more simple machines working together.
  • Inclined Plane: A plane surface inclined at less than a right angle to a horizontal surface, used to roll or slide a load up or down.
  • Wedge: A piece of wood or metal shaped like a triangle with a thin edge. A wedge is driven or forced between objects to split, lift, or make them stronger.
  • Screw: A metal device that fastens. You push a screw into a surface by turning it while pressing down on the head.
  • Lever: A basic tool used to lift something or open something by lifting it out.
  • Pulley: A simple machine that is used for lifting. A pulley is a wheel or set of wheels that a rope or chain is pulled over.
  • Wheel and Axle: A machine consisting of a cylindrical drum to which a wheel concentric with and larger than the drum is fastened, so that as an attached rope unwinds from the wheel, another rope is wound onto the drum, exerting an increased force.


60 minutes/1–2 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

Prerequisite Skills haven't been entered into the lesson plan.


o   Lever: fork, baseball bat, scissors, and stapler

o   Inclined Plane: board for a ramp

o   Wheel and Axle: rolling pin, roller skates, and an egg beater

o   Screw: screw, screw driver, mason jar with lid

o   Pulley: rope, bucket

o   Wedge: shark tooth and plastic knitting needles

  • pencil
  • yarn
  • wire or plastic clothes hanger
  • paper clip
  • old magazines from past eras

Related Unit and Lesson Plans

Related Materials & Resources

The possible inclusion of commercial websites below is not an implied endorsement of their products, which are not free, and are not required for this lesson plan.

  • Click, Rumble, Roar: Poems about Machines by Lee Bennet Hopkins. T. Y. Crowell Junior Books, 2000.

Formative Assessment

  • View
    • Assess students’ Machines in Action worksheets to see how each student performed on the activity. Provide feedback or give examples where needed on the worksheet.
    • Assess students’ ability to demonstrate how a lever works.
    • Collect the Machines in Action 2 Worksheet for individual assessment.
    • Observe students in their “simple machines” groups. Determine if students are performing the activities accurately and answer any questions they may have.

Suggested Instructional Supports

  • View
    Scaffolding, Explicit Instruction
    W: Students learn the differences between simple and complex machines. They will be able to identify simple machines.
    H: Students tour the school in search of simple and complex machines.
    E: Students have adequate opportunities to learn about simple and complex machines throughout the lesson. You will use demonstrations, visuals, and worksheets.
    R: Students have sufficient opportunities to think more about simple and complex machines during the activities. They are given opportunities to ask questions throughout the lesson.
    E: Evaluate students’ work using the Machines in Action 2 worksheet. You should look through all answers and correct the answers that do not fit with the action.
    T: This lesson is tailored to all students. It is equipped with group and individual activities to help reinforce the lesson for students.
    O: This lesson starts with a hands-on activity, where students’ interest is piqued about simple machines. It keeps students engaged as it progresses, moving from identification of simple machines toward mastery, as students use descriptive adjectives to describe the machines and their tasks.

Instructional Procedures

  • View

    Activity 1: Hunting for Machines

    Explain to students, “A simple machine can be as small as a stapler, pencil sharpener, wheelbarrow, or our flag pole outside of school. Some simple machines are so simple that we wouldn’t consider them a ‘machine.’ When two simple machines work together, we call it a complex machine.”

    Have students look around the classroom for examples of simple machines. Allow students to share their examples as you record responses on the board or chart. After the examples are placed on the board, have students classify the examples as one of these simple machines shown in the pictures: inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, or wheel and axle.


    After you feel that students have grasped the concept of simple machines, have them complete the following hands-on activity to reinforce understanding of the different types of simple machines. Give students the Simple Machines Resource Chart worksheet (S-3-4-3_Simple Machines Resource Chart.doc) as a way to help them understand some of the different simple machines and what they do. Instruct students that they will be moving to each station and investigating a simple machine. They should take with them the Simple Machines Resource Chart worksheet (S-3-4-3_Simple Machines Resource Chart.doc). They are to complete the chart as they travel through the stations. Note: Before students rotate through the stations, go over safety rules and demonstrate how to work with each simple machine.

    Students should be divided into six groups. Each group should start at a different simple machine station. Students rotate stations every 5-7 minutes:

    • Lever Station: Students see different examples of a lever. They are able to pick them up, feel them, and see them in action. Examples of a lever that can be displayed are a fork, a baseball bat, scissors, and a stapler.
    • Inclined Plane Station: To demonstrate an inclined plane, a group of students can compare lifting a moderately heavy box from the floor to the table, with and without a ramp.
    • Wheel and Axel Station: Students see different examples of a wheel and axle. They are able to pick them up, feel them, and see them in action. Examples of a wheel and axle that can be displayed are a rolling pin, roller skates, and an egg beater.
    • Screw Station: Students try to screw a nail into a piece of wood. The nail must be prescrewed, so it is easy for students to perform this task. If students are not able to use a screw and screwdriver, you can set up jars for students to screw the tops of the jars on and off.
    • Pulley Station: You can construct a pulley in the classroom by tying one end of the rope around a bucket or plastic pail, and hanging the other end of the rope over the door. Students pull on the rope and watch the bucket lift from the floor. Note: assign a student volunteer to keep an eye on the door to avoid someone opening the door during the demonstration.
    • Wedge Station: Students see different examples of a wedge. They are able to pick them up, feel them, and see them in action. Examples of wedges that can be displayed are a shark tooth and plastic knitting needles.

    Activity 2: Complex Machines

    Begin the activity by reading Click, Rumble, Roar: Poems about Machines by Lee Bennet Hopkins. Discuss the book with students and ask for examples of machines from the book. Record responses on the board and ask students whether these are examples of simple machines. Introduce students to complex machines. Show students pictures of a car, bulldozer, and bicycle. Explain to children that a complex machine is two or more simple machines put together.

    Give each student a copy of Machines in Action 2 worksheet (S-3-4-3_Machines in Action 2 Worksheet and KEY.doc). Take students around the school so they can fill in their Machines in Action worksheet with the different types of simple machines and complex machines they see around the school. Students can also work in pairs or groups, and you can provide them with discussion prompts so they can be explorers. After students finish the activity and worksheet, have them present their findings to the class. Students may also write down other examples of machines that were found by their peers.


    • Students who may need an opportunity for additional learning can create a simple machine mobile using yarn, paper clips, a coat hanger, and magazines.

    Prior to the activity, precut several pieces of yarn 20 to 22 centimeters long. Students should draw or identify simple machines from pictures in a magazine. Their Simple Machines Resource Chart (S-3-4-3_Simple Machines Resource Chart.doc) could also help students identify machines. Give students the following instructions:

    1.      Tie one end of each piece of string to a paper clip and hang the paper clip from a wire or plastic clothes hanger.

    2.      Select pictures of machines to draw or cut out.

    3.      Tie the pictures to the yarn.

    • Students who might be going beyond the standards may select one complex machine. On poster board, they can describe which simple machines came together to compose the complex machine. They should also describe what the machine is and how it helps people work.

Related Instructional Videos

Note: Video playback may not work on all devices.
Instructional videos haven't been assigned to the lesson plan.
DRAFT 04/25/2011
Please wait...