Grade Level: 6-8

ACF Lesson Plan: Generating Electricity From Coal


Students learn about the process of generating electricity from coal, then research and present new methods of using coal to create electricity.

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Students will:

  1. examine a schematization of the process of generating electricity from coal,
  2. understand how electricity is delivered from generating plants to communities, and
  3. research current technologies for using coal to produce electricity.

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards (NSES)

  • Science as Inquiry, 5-8

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Physical Science, 5-8

Properties and changes of properties in matter
Transfer of energy

  • Science in Personal and Social Perspective, 9-12

Natural resources

Time Needed:

Two 45-minute class periods with time in between for research


Discussion Questions:

  • How is electricity generated?
  • Where does the electricity you use in your home come from?


Fossil fuel                       generator                        nuclear reactor

Turbine                           sludge



  1. Begin by explaining to students that electricity can be generated in many ways, including the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), powering nuclear reactors, or through solar or hydro (water) generators. Ask students: Do you know what is the most common fuel source for generating electricity? Explain that more than 50 percent of our country’s electricity is generated by burning coal.

  2. Ask students if they know how a natural resource such as coal is converted into electricity. Show the animated diagram of Electricity from Coal on your classroom whiteboard. Walk students through the illustrated steps of generating electricity from coal: pulverizing the coal, burning the coal to create steam, generating energy to spin the turbine, creating electricity by spinning the magnets within the turbine, and cooling the steam to begin the cycle once again.

  3. Ask students if they know how the electricity generated at a power plant gets to homes and communities. Show the diagram of How Electricity Reaches Our Homes on your whiteboard. Walk the class through the route of delivering electricity from power plant to home. Ask students if they know where the closest power plant is located. Do they know where the substations are? Are there electric lines above or below ground?

  4. Ask students if they can think of any challenges or problems that using coal for fuel presents. Encourage them to think about air pollution, acid rain, sludge, and alterations to the landscape. Discuss as a class who should be responsible for managing these challenges. Should the government impose regulations on energy companies? What impacts might regulations have on the industry? On people who use electricity? Do students know of any new technologies that are being used to minimize the effects of coal mining and burning on the environment?

  5. Explain to students that they will be researching other ways of using coal to create energy, aside from the method described in step 2. Assign teams of 2 to 3 students one of the following methods: fluidized bed combustion (FBC), gasification technologies and combined-cycle systems. (There will be more than one group researching each method.) Each group should answer the following questions about the method it is researching:
      • How does it work? Create an illustration of the process.
      • Where is it being used? Identify one or two locations on a map of the United States.
      • What are the advantages of this method?
      • What are the disadvantages of this method?

    Students can begin their research with the following links:

  6. After groups have had time to conduct their research, form new groups with representatives from each area of research. Have students share their findings in their new groups and discuss the pros and cons of each method.


Have students create their own word find or crossword puzzle using the vocabulary covered in the lesson. Then have them swap their puzzles with a classmate.


Some students with either visual impairment or attention deficit disorder may benefit by having their own copies of the illustrated processes from the “Electricity from Coal” pamphlet.


Arrange a field trip to a local coal mine or power plant. (Call the Chamber of Commerce or local utility for information on tours and directions.) Along the way, have students take note of the landscape and terrain: Are there railroad tracks nearby? A waterway? Is the site located in a metropolitan or rural area? Does the location of the mine or power plant have an effect on the economy of the immediate area and the cost of electricity? If you have a tour guide, be sure she knows you are studying how electricity is generated and delivered, and ask her to speak directly to what role the facility plays in this process.

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