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Potential Energy Introduction Mark as Favorite (10 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Intermolecular Forces, Polarity. Last updated December 10, 2020.


In this activity, students will follow a guided inquiry introduction to potential energy. Students begin by investigating a video model of magnetic water molecules and review their ideas about charge, and attraction or repulsion due to charge. Then, using a Google Drawing manipulative box, students place their digital water molecules into attraction and repulsion orientations. Next, they indicate the direction of force and show how potential energy is increasing when the molecules are moved in a direction opposite to the force.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This activity will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-PS3-2: Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motion of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative positions of particles (objects).
  • HS-PS2-4: Use mathematical representations of Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Coulomb’s Law to describe and predict the gravitational and electrostatic forces between objects.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Developing and Using Models
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence


By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain that like charges repel and opposite charges attract.
  • Model particles and the force acting on them due to charge.
  • Describe potential energy as based on force and position.
  • Determine what position in a new situation would be an increase or decrease in potential energy.
  • Apply their understanding of potential energy to a new situation involving gravitational force.
  • Apply their understanding of potential energy to a new situation involving a phase change.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of:

  • Potential Energy
  • Polarity
  • Electrostatic Force
  • Intermolecular Forces
  • Coulomb’s Law


Teacher Preparation: 10 minutes (reviewing and printing/posting)
Lesson: 20–30 minutes


Teacher Notes

  • This activity is designed so that it can be done completely at a distance, in a remote-learning environment. It can also be done in person, individually, in small groups or in pairs. In a virtual setting, small groups in breakout rooms can be used. 
  • Note the student handout is available as a Google Document.
  • This activity covers the very basics of potential energy. Students come to me thinking that potential energy is just what kinetic energy turns into and thus it is stored energy. This activity will kick those ideas to the curb and help students to begin to contemplate potential energy at the molecular scale!
  • This activity is intended to be made up of relational and conceptual ideas so it can be accessed by many students no matter their background knowledge.
  • Students will follow a guided inquiry introduction to potential energy. Using the Learning Cycle method from the POGIL project,
  • The questions are presented in a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning Format and are the key questions for a teacher to check for understanding. This activity prepares students to learn about Coulomb’s Law, now having a conceptual underpinning of the positionality of potential energy.
  • If it is difficult for the teacher to review student work as documents, consider asking students put their answers to the last two questions in a survey or form (Google Form/Survey Monkey) so you can easily provide feedback to the key questions.
  • A video is embedded showing students how to manipulate the models. Some students may need more support if they are unfamiliar with the tools.
  • Answer key is available as a Google Doc.

For the Student

Access all documents for this activity, including the teacher guide, from the "Downloads box" and the "Links box" at the top of the page.