Teaching With Technology: Lights Out!

How to get the most out of a flashlight, an overhead projector, and a child's imagination.

  • Grades: PreK–K

Here's a Flash!

Look for flashlights that are small and easy to hold, yet project a bright, focused beam. As a test, shine the light on an object about 15 or 20 feet away in a regularly lit room. If you can easily see a spot, you've probably found the right flashlight.

If you're shopping for a flashlight, start by visiting your local hardware store. Often, what you'll find there will stimulate activity ideas. One trip to the hardware store led to the discovery of some special flashlights that you can attach to your forehead with a band of Velcro. Back in the classroom, the children loved playing with them, and it gave them an entirely new way to point at and highlight objects around the room.

Other useful materials to gather include a large white bedsheet and prisms or mirrors of any variety to cast shadows. A film strip projector can take the place of an overhead projector.

WHEN THE LIGHTS ARE OUT, EVERYTHING seems larger and more dramatic. An overhead projector can make small objects look gigantic, and, with a flashlight, unexplored features of the room can be highlighted.

Getting your room dark is not as easy as just turning off the lights. Drawing curtains or closing shades can help, or you can temporarily cover the windows with paper The darker the room, the brighter the light you cast with your flashlight or overhead projector and the more vivid the experience. However be careful not to make the room too dark, as children can trip over objects or collide with one another.


Here are a few ways you can use flashlights and overhead projectors to support your curriculum.

Light Up a Plan

A flashlight is also a fun way to help children plan the day's activities. During group time, turn out the lights and ask for a volunteer who would like to show what she would like to play with using the flashlight. After one child finishes, she can pass the light to the next child.  

Make Shadow Puppets

We all remember those school days when a movie was shown, and the temptation to poke your hand up in the air and do a little puppet show was overwhelming. Hang a white sheet as a screen and shine a light from an overhead projector on it. Next, model a story for the children-a dog chasing a cat works great. Just make it short and easy to tell. Ask for a volunteer and let the fun begin.

Show Mystery Shadows

Invite children to play a "mystery object" game. Ask children to find an object in the classroom. Give each child a paper bag and tell them that the object should be small enough to fit into the bag. Turn out the lights and ask a child to place his object on the glass of an overhead projector Be sure the other children are facing the screen so that they will not see the object being placed on the projector When the light of the projector is turned on, the object will cast a shadow for the rest of the class to try to identify.

Fan Feather People

One teacher used a flashlight and a bowl full of fluffy feathers to create a wonderful movement activity for her children. She first glued small eyes onto each feather to turn them into "feather people." Next, she made up a story about how the feather people have a special attraction to the light and would follow it to wherever the light was. She gave each child a paper plate and a feather and used the flashlight to create a large spot of light on the floor Using the paper plates, the children fanned the feathers as they moved toward the beam of light, only to find themselves swirling and twirling with their feather people in the spotlight!

Everyone Under the Table!

I'll never forget the day during snack time when 3-- year-old Zachary decided to go under the table-and NOT come out! Four-year-old Mary came up with a great idea: If Zachary won't come out, why can't we go under and join him? Seconds later, there were eight preschoolers and one large teacher with Zach, eating our snacks under our table. We had a great time. The next day, we draped a blanket over the table to make it dark, and took a flashlight under with us. This turned out to be a great way to add a bit of the unexpected to the day, not to mention turning a potential child-management situation into a learning opportunity

Profile Drawing

Set up white butcher paper on your easel and project light onto it. Ask a child to sit in a chair, and carefully sketch around her profile. Later invite children to talk about the positive qualities of their peers. Print their words and display the dictations under the appropriate profiles.

Share Shadow Tracing

The great thing about a shadow is that you can take something small and make it very, very large. A penny on an overhead projector becomes the size of a plate, for example. This natural magnification can be used to help children investigate the outlines of leaves, compare and contrast shapes of their favorite objects, and explore the width and length of items collected on a nature walk.

These are just a few of the many ways you can use flashlights and overhead projectors with children, but this list is only the very beginning. Just turn out the lights, choose your light source, and let your imagination start working.

  • Subjects:
    Early Learning, Educational Technology, Teaching with Technology

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