L    Lesson Title:  Wheels and Axles! 

By  Lindsay Easterly and Amanda Fox Turner                                                               4th Grade





This Lesson will enhance the student’s knowledge of simple machines, specifically the wheel and axle.


Science Objectives

1. The learner will list and give examples of simple machines

2. The learner will give an example of a force, such as inertia,

     friction or gravity, overcome in work

3. The learner will construct at least one simple machine



Language Objectives

1.  The learner will use related vocabulary to explain and

describe the function of simple machines






Tennessee State 4th Grade Standards

4.11.spi.3 recognize simple machines (i.e., wheel and axle, inclined plane, lever, pulley)

at Level 2, the student is able to

4.11.tpi.2 investigate and identify sources of friction and their effect on motion.

4.11.tpi.3 explore simple machines and use them for simple tasks.

Math Standards

  • 4.1 Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement.
  • 4.2 Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements.




A pretest will be given to determine prior knowledge. During the lesson, the student will be visually assessed for understanding during completion of activities. A quiz over wheels and axles will be administered following the lesson, and a comprehensive unit test will be conducted at the end of the unit.


Opening the Lesson:
_10-15_ minutes

The teacher will open the lesson by displaying a selection of wheels and axles and ask student’s to figure out what each of them has in common. After the students have made their guesses, the teacher will explain why each of the objects is a wheel and axle.


The teacher will have the students complete the meterstick activity emphasizing the larger the wheel the less force required to turn the axle.

Developing the Lesson:
_20-30_ minutes

The teacher will show the students the PowerPoint on wheels and axles, explaining and answering questions as he/she goes through. The teacher will reinforce the key parts of the wheel and axle and elaborate on the vocabulary words. He/She emphasize the wheel and axle must turn together in order to be classified as a simple machine.


The students will complete the pinwheel/windmill activity. The class will discuss why the pinwheel/windmill is a wheel and axle and why the wind makes it turn.

Closing the Lesson:
_10-15_ minutes

The teacher will ask the students if he/she can name other wheels and axles that have not been named during the lesson. Reiterate what makes classifies the object as a wheel and axle and ensure understanding. The instructor will then give the students a brief quiz over wheels and axles. Following the quiz the teacher will introduce the next day’s lesson.


Homework: Construct a collage of wheels and axles on an 81/2 X 11 paper.


The teacher will need the PowerPoint “Wheels and Axles!” by Lindsay Easterly and Amanda Fox Turner along with the two associated activity handouts for the meterstick and constructing a pinwheel. Those activities require the following materials: meterstick, scissors, ruler, one sheet of typing paper per student (colored paper will be prettier), pencil, paper hole punch, one straw for each student, adhesive putty or modeling clay, fishing twine or floral wire, and  beads (two per student with a larger diameter than the straw. 


This lab is not particularly dangerous; however scissor safety is always required.


Students will visual disabilities will be seated in the front of the class. Students will hearing impairments will be provided with a Xerox copy of the PowerPoint so he or she can follow along. Students with cognitive disabilities will be assisted in assembling his/her pin wheel. Written instructions, oral instructions, and a visual aide will be provided for differentiated learning.


The two activities along with the homework are incorporated to enrich the lesson.

Simple Machines

 Simple Marvelous Machines:

Wheel and Axle

Science Minute

April 2006


Objective: Students will identify the parts of a wheel and axle, and explore the relationship between the diameter of the wheel and the force needed to turn the axle.


Grade Level: 4-8


Materials: meterstick


Background Information:

We use simple machines everyday to help make difficult tasks easier. Simple machines provide a trade-off between the force applied and the distance over which the force is applied. A wheel and axle is a simple machine made of two parts, an axle (or rod) attached to the center of a larger wheel. The wheel and axle move together - effort applied to the wheel turns the axle, or effort applied to the axle turns the wheel. Wheel and axles are used to lift or move loads. A wheel and axle can produce a gain in either effort or distance, depending on how it is used. When the force is applied to the wheel in order to turn the axle, force is increased and distance and speed are decreased. When the force is applied to the axle in order to turn the wheel, force is decreased and distance and speed are increased.



1. Student #1 firmly grasps the center of the stick with one hand. This student’s arm acts as the axle.

2. Student #2 places her/his hands immediately on either side of the axle hand. Student #2’s hands represent the edges of the wheel.

3. Student #2 gently tries to turn the stick "wheel" while the student holding the middle “axle” firmly tries to keep the stick from turning. Student # 2 should pay close attention to the force needed to turn the wheel.

4. Student #2 moves his/her hands a bit farther apart and tries to turn the wheel again. He/She continues to move their hands apart until the wheel turns easily.

5. Think about it: What is the relationship between the size of the wheel and the amount of force needed to turn it? Where does the trade off between force and distance occur?



Because the wheel is larger than the axle, it always moves through a greater distance than the axle. Such a situation multiplies the force applied to the axle, but as always requires a trade off by moving the effort over a greater distance. Steering wheels and screwdrivers are common examples. Changing the diameter of either the wheel or the axle controls the mechanical advantage – the amount of help that using a simple machine provides - of a wheel and axle system. As the diameter of the wheel increases (and the axle stays the same), the mechanical advantage increases and a greater force is applied to the axle.



How could you calculate the mechanical advantage of your wheel and axle systems?


Did You Know?

*      The wheel and the axle is a type of lever.

*      If the wheel is turning the axle, it’s a type of second-class lever.

*      The radius of the wheel is the effort arm.

*      The radius of the axle is the resistance arm.

*      The center of the axle is the fulcrum.



For additional activities and to learn more about Simple Machines visit:

The Franklin Institute: Simple Machines http://www.fi.edu/qa97/spotlight3/spotlight3.html

PROJECT SMART96: Work is Simple with Simple Machines


University of Utah: Simple and Complex Machines




This activity was borrowed from: http://www.msichicago.org/ed/scienceminute/ScienceMinute4.06.pdf