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If... the lights go out

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Planning
Topic: Generating electricity

A recent TV programme predicted the dramatic consequences of a nationwide break in electricity supply. In this activity students look at the reasons for possible future power cuts and decide how they would cope with the consequences.

They then look at small-scale electrical generation options and decide how their own community could try to prevent future power cut chaos.
This activity has been produced in partnership with the Novartis and The Daily Telegraph Visions of Science Photographic Awards.

Published: 4th January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 13

Learning objectives

Students will look at the reasons for possible future power cuts and consider how to cope with and prevent them.

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11 - 14 (KS3)
energy resources QCA 7i: explain why fuel conservation is important; name a range of fuels and renewable energy resources; compare the advantages and limitations of a range of energy resources, energy and electricity QCA 9i: electricity flows as a result of movement in an electrical generator; several energy resources can be used to drive electrical generators; electrical energy cannot be stored

Running the activity

Suggested time: 15-20 minutes for task on page 3 only; 30-40 minutes for tasks on pages 3 and 4.

Possible starter: Ask students if they remember last summer's power cuts. How would they cope if they lasted for several days, and if all areas of the UK were affected?

Page 1 is a high quality photograph from 'Visions of Science'. Two questions that hint at the tasks to follow are included on the page. This page can be projected or printed onto transparency.

Page 2 is an information page about current and future sources of energy for turning generators in UK power stations. This page can be projected or printed onto transparency.

Page 3 is an activity page. It asks students to plan - preferably in groups - how they would cope with various aspects of possible future power cuts.

Page 4 asks students to decide how to generate electricity on a small scale for a community of 1000 homes that wishes to prevent future power cut chaos. It is probably best for students to work in groups of 4 to tackle this task - each student can then tell the others about one of the 4 sources of electrical energy on offer. Students may well decide to develop a combination of power sources; however, in order to generate enough electricity they will have to include at least one wind turbine. Of course, students could also suggest that people cut down their use of electricity to reduce demand.

Possible plenary: Groups tell others in the class about their solution to the task on page 4 and give their reasons for it.

News links

If... the lights go out
Information about the TV programme "If ... the lights go out"
If ... the lights go out
Information about the TV programme "If ... the lights go out"
New Scientist
Information about newly-developed sewage batteries
Rubbish power
Information about power from rubbish (suitable for teacher reference or more able students)

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Jan 29th, 2013

4 Star


Reviewer: jenny greig

If... the lights go out review

May 5th, 2010

3 Star

Could you update the dates on the activity.

Reviewer: ben mcmanners

If ....the lights go out

Mar 9th, 2010

4 Star

I used this activity with very low ability year 11 pupils. It was a great way to get them thinking about the importance of electricity in our everyday lives.

Reviewer: Mairead Ulamoleka

Resources available

Nov 5th, 2009

5 Star

Have used a few of the resources from UPD8, and they have all been top notch. Keeps the pupils interested and, more importantly, makes them want to go off and find things out for themselves.

Reviewer: Alex Cavers

If... the lights go out review

Oct 18th, 2007

5 Star

A good stimulus material, it got students talking about the issues. Follow up work included writing a leaflet to give out to the public advising them on how best to prepare

Reviewer: chris liew


Mar 29th, 2007

5 Star

I am a little disappointed to observe how poor the written word is on this site. As teachers, one would hope your grammar would better than those in your 'low ability' classes.

Reviewer: Susan Banks

If the lights go out...

Oct 2nd, 2006

4 Star

Tried this with several year 7 groups and it was very well received.
Was also used during a cover lesson- great sucess. The Supply felt confident with such information to turn the lesson into a debate where good ideas flowed. Avery useful resource.

Reviewer: Jill Cadwaladr

If the lights go out 9th June 06

Jun 13th, 2006

5 Star

I did this activity with a low ability Year 7 group. They found the activity engaging, though they needed some convincing that running out of our current energy resources is a real possibility. They enjoyed complting the first sheet and were all fully engaged. Questions related to the data on the second sheet gave a good oppertunity to practise graph reading. The information on the final sheet promted a lively discussion within their groups.

Reviewer: Alex Blenkinsop

If the lights go out

Nov 5th, 2005

3 Star

I did this with my year 10.
Theydid enjoy the activity, however they did not really get the actual project! They come up with other wacky ways of producing sustainable energy supplies not even mentioned on the sheet. I can't fault them for being novel, however I question whether making the whole of Bishop's Stortford report for cycling duty is ethical!! not also sure about how much electricity it produced. If anything it did make me aware they all seem to know that electricity is a secondary energy and has to be generated by turning a turbine. Lots wanted to store their electricity for a rainy day(bit worrying), still perhaps if I had the programme it would have given a better context.

Reviewer: Paul Andrew

If the lights go out

Oct 19th, 2005

4 Star

Very good. Yr 7 pupils managed to complete the first task easily, with some really good ideas like; go on holiday.

The second task was a little more tricky as it required a knowledge of renewable sources in teh first place.

Reviewer: Matt Isard

If the lights go out June 2005

Aug 8th, 2005

3 Star

I used this as an extension task for a year 8 group. They managed to complete page 3 but I don't think they quite understood the effect it would have on their life! What they did realise is that everyone relies on electricity too much!

Reviewer: Daphne Hedley-George

when the lights go out

Jun 8th, 2005

3 Star

I used this with both higher and foundation year 10 students. The activity worked best when the class had been shown the channel 4 video (national power cut due to a terrorist attack on an eastern european gas pipeline). Initial discussion groups and classwork feedback from these were important in order to avoid glib responses on the sheet.

Reviewer: heather west

If the lights go out

May 10th, 2005

3 Star

We have used this with a variety of groups from low ability year 7 to low ability year 10. All seemed to get the ideas and some of the discussions were very good . Page 4 was completed better by the older students as their ideas were more practical.

Reviewer: jane Le Page