Measuring Energy Use

6, 7, 8

This lesson explores how electricity is created, used, measured, and conserved. Through the use of data collection tables, students measure and analyze their families' electrical energy consumption. Students learn about the various renewable and non-renewable resources available to produce electricity. The concept of stewardship of resources is introduced.

PrintTwo 50-Minute Class Periods with a week between them

The learner will:

  • read an electric meter.
  • record energy usage in a chart.
  • calculate energy consumption.
  • determine activities and practices that use more or less electricity.
  • describe how electricity is generated and distributed.
  • define and compare renewable and non-renewable energy resources.
  • define stewardship as the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.
  • brainstorm ways to conserve energy.
  • write three ways his/her family can save energy.
  • Copies of Handout One, My Electricity Diary for each learner
  • Copies of Handout Two, My Electricity Diary Part 2 for each learner
  • Sample or picture of an electric meter (see Teacher Preparation)
  • Student calculators
  • Optional: Copies of meter-reading instruction sheet (available online) to send home: Meter Reading Practice Sheet
Teacher Preparation 

In this lesson, you will demonstrate how to read an electric meter. A website is provided with an image and instructions hereOption: Check with your local power company to see if they have a discarded electric meter that you could borrow to demonstrate how to read the meter.

Teacher note: If you have students who live in an apartment that does not allow access to meter reading, have students pair up to share meter readings.

Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Note: This homework assignment will be done over the course of one week. Learners will complete worksheet Handout One: My Electricity Diary at home with their families. The learners discuss with their family three activities that they will do in order to reduce their electricity usage. These are listed on Handout Two: My Electricity Diary Part 2


California Energy Commission. "The Energy Story." Turbines, Generators, and Power Plants.

Energy Information Administration. "Kids' Energy Page." Renewable and Non-renewable Energy Sources

Energy Right. "Save Energy, Save Money, Start Now." [no longer available] "Satellite Photo of Earth at Night."

NASA. Astronomy Picture of the Day" Satellite photo of the United States at night.

Star-Ledger New Jersey.

Star-Ledger New Jersey. "Practical Thinking Saves on Energy, Bills" 

University of Wisconsin, K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP). "Reading Electricity Meters." [no longer available]

Watts On Schools. "Meter Reading Practice Sheet"


  1. Day One: Anticipatory Set: Ask the students to raise their hands if they have heard their parents complain about bills. Tell the students that one bill that arrives each month is the electric bill. Ask the students to name reasons why families would want to reduce their electric bill (save money and help the environment--reduce pollution, conserve non-renewable resources, reduce heat created as by-product, etc.).

  2. Ask the learners, "Why should you care about energy consumption?" and "Other than saving money, what are the benefits of conserving energy to the common good?" Discuss our personal contributions to reducing impact.

  3. Show the students a picture of an electric meter (or an actual meter). Tell them that this meter measures the amount of electricity consumed in kilowatt-hours. Tell them that the electric company takes a monthly reading from this instrument so they know how much to bill individual households for electricity consumed. Ask the students if they have seen this meter at their own houses. Ask them where the meter is located at their house.

  4. Tell learners that they are going to read the meter at their house for a week. Tell students that they will keep a running record of the amount of electricity used in their household by reading the electric meter (usually found on the outside of the building).

  5. Teach them to read an electric meter with dials. (Some meters are digital, and others have four or five dials with rotating hands.) Tell the students that they will record the numbers indicated on the dials, starting with the far left dial first. If the hand of the dial rests between two numbers, they record the lesser of the two numbers.To calculate the amount of electricity used in a day, they should take a reading at the same time each day. They subtract the previous day’s reading from the current day’s reading. To provide your students with further help and images, go to the following website that gives step-by-step instructions for reading a meter:

  6. It may be helpful to take several practice meter readings with the students before you send them off to read their meters at home. This meter reading site will give students practice.

  7. Challenge the students to attempt to slow or stop the dial on their meter by turning off lights and other electric items around the house. Have them look for appliances and chargers that draw electricity even when not in use. They may notice cell phone chargers, TVs, and answering machines that have LED lights or feel warm to the touch. Tell them to check the meter when they think everything is turned off. If the dial is it still going around, they can investigate why.

  8. Ask the students how electricity gets to homes, schools, and businesses. Lead a discussion/review of electricity, including an explanation of generators, distribution, power lines, resources, and power plants.

  9. Make sure the students understand that electricity is generated at the local power plant and distributed to homes, schools, and businesses through wires. Display a diagram on the board to help the discussion. (Use the terms turbine, generator, power plant, and image in an internet search.) Teacher background: The power plant contains a turbine and generator that are rotated by the use of various sources of energy. Energy resources include non-renewable fossil fuels like coal and oil, as well renewable resources like wind, solar power, and water. Fossil fuels are considered non-renewable resources because they are in limited supply and it takes years to reproduce them. Wind, sun, and water resources can either be renewed or they are not used up in the production of energy. See Bibliographical Resources below.

  10. Distribute the worksheet Handout One: My Electricity Diary. Go over the worksheet with the learners. Ask them to keep a record for a week of the kilowatt-hours used by their families. Tell them to return the completed data sheet at the beginning of class on a predetermined date (at least one week).

  11. Adaptation: For special needs students, shorten the homework time and use Handout Three: My Electric Usage Diary in place of Handouts One and Two. This handout does not require meter reading, and asks students to observe electricity use anectdotally.

  12. Teacher Note: For school and/or homework activities in the week between Day One and Day Two, see Extensions.

    Day Two:

    Anticipatory Set

    (In advance, search local newspapersfor articles about saving energy.) Read aloud excerpts from an article about saving energy at home, such as "Practical Thinking Saves on Energy, Bills." Ask the students if their family could update any of their energy-use practices like these.

  13. After the students have collected their energy-use data for one week, distribute Handout Two: My Electricity Diary Part 2. Students use calculators and answer the questions in order to analyze the week’s electricity usage.

  14. Once the learners have recorded, calculated, and analyzed their own daily electricity usage for one week, discuss the results as a class. Which activities do they think used the most energy? Which used the least energy?

  15. Ask the students if they were able to stop the electric meter dial from moving by turning off lights and other electric appliances. Discuss what uses electricity that they might not have thought of. Ask them which of these items they could be responsible for unplugging in order to conserve energy.

  16. Brainstorm ways to reduce energy usage. Talk about personal responsibility and stewardship for the environment. Define stewardship as the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.

  17. Have each learner commit in writing to three things that he/she and his/her family can do to reduce the amount of energy they consume.


Collect the learner’s individual Handout One: My Electricity Use Diary. Evaluate the pages for completeness. Collect the learner’s individual Handout Two: My Electricity Use Diary Part 2. Evaluate the pages for completeness.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.13 Describe how philanthropy can reallocate limited resources to meet human needs.
      2. Benchmark MS.5 Define <i>stewardship</i> as a trust of common resources held by a community for citizens.
      3. Benchmark MS.7 Give examples of common resources in the community.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.