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Anatomy of a Wave

Developed by W. K. Adams

Students take on the roles of reporters and artists to draw and describe the nature of transverse waves.

Science Topics
Parts of a wave
Periodic motion of waves
Wave properties

Process Skills
Scientific inquiry

Grade Level


5 minutes

45 minutes

5 minutes

Learning Goals
Students will be able to…

• draw and label a basic transverse wave
• identify a wavelength on a transverse wave
• describe the difference between transverse and a longitudinal wave
• identify the source, receiver and medium for any type of wave

Materials Not in Kit
Computer with “Wave on a String” from PhET Interactive Simulations
Lab notebooks or regular paper

Gather materials and set up computer with the PhET simulator “Wave on a String” and the presentation. (PowerPoint or PDF slides)

Introduce the Activity
Explain that the class will start by having students work in pairs and each student will take on the role of artists or reporters. If you have an odd number it’s possible to have a group with three and two students are reporters, but this is not ideal.

Doing the Activity
Anatomy of a Wave: part 1


• One student is the reporter and will get the wave sheet. (The reporter can’t look it at or show it to anyone until told to by the teacher
• The partner will be the artist. The artist will try to draw what the reporter describe.
Reporters can’t comment on the artists’ work! They can answer questions, but cannot look at the artists’ picture or clarify by showing the wave sheet.

NOTE: The activity does not work if students do not follow the directions. Once they “cheat” the activity is spoiled. It may be useful to do a practice activity with a simple picture like a smiley face. Once the rules are understood, then use the wave picture.

1. The Reporters will be given a copy of the wave sheet FACE DOWN and told not to look at it or show it to anyone until told to by the teacher. tell them it is top secret – no peeking! Tell the artists to close their eyes.

2. Once everyone understands the rules, allow the reporters to look at their wave sheet and remind them about how to tell the artist about the picture they will be drawing.

3. Once they have a good look, reporters should turn the wave picture face down and the artists can open their eyes and begin.

4. Give them about 5 minutes to draw. Walk around listening as the students instruct the artists.

Anatomy of a Wave: part 2

1. Collect the wave sheets from the reporters and ask the artists to turn their picture over. The reporters should get out a blank piece of paper.

2. Do the activity again, but this time, you give the instructions for all the students to draw this time.

3. After everyone is finished, the class will look at both drawings and you will display the original picture for the class.
→Have the students make any touch-ups necessary and talk about the difficulties with listening and creating images.

4. Introduce new terminology to the students, using the image as a reference.

Crest          Trough          Wavelength

5. Have the students add the new terms to their drawings.

NOTE: showing wavelength from crest to crest gives students the easiest view.

6. After the partner activity, begin the Slide presentation about the properties of waves. The presentation should include the class for discussions. Notes are included on each slide describing how to use them in class

Key Lesson Terminology
Crest – the top of the wave
Trough – the bottom of the wave
Wavelength – the distance between two successive, identical parts of the wave. Ex. Crest to crest, or trough to trough.

Hard of hearing students can be the reporter through an interpreter

The PhET website can be viewed in many languages, and learners can experiences the simulations in their native language to help them fully understand the material being presented