Gears, pulleys and levers

Aah! It’s time for me to teach the Year 5s forces again and, try as I might, my subject knowledge is really letting me down delivering any high quality lessons on using gears, making pulleys etc. (The rest of the topic area - eg friction/air resistance etc - no issue)

I have a box of random Knex that I’m not that sure what to do with, - I tried and failed to make a pulley with my own child, using it, I have watched and shown BBC classroom clips on this area but that is not very practical or hands on...although useful in their own right.

For the past two times I’ve taught this topic, I have had the children make mini seesaws using rulers and rubbers, or their glue sticks and investigating how many counters each end can hold when you move the centre of balance, and one year they made rudimentary catapults that launched marshmallows onto a target, to demonstrate transfer of force, but I’ve got next to nothing on cogs/gears and get myself into a muddle with any technical vocab.

Any help/ideas/training that could be signposted would be greatly appreciated! 


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Have you seen the L163 Teaching Forces publication from CLEAPSS? This gives a very good guide to the aspects of forces across the school plus materials to help with "greater depth" and investigation. My copy is dated Feb 2006 so there's probably an even more recent copy on the CLEAPSS site.

Most schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have membership via their local authority. To find out if your school is a member and to receive your CLEAPSS ID and password, email with your school name and postcode. 

Karen Hornby

There may be some useful resources here for you:

They are part of the Primary Science collections page: 


Thanks for the suggestions. I will look at both today :-)


I taught pulleys and gears a while ago as part of the old DT fairgrounds unit.  I found some old Lego Technic kits in the cupboard which were excellent for this.  They had clear pictorial instructions on how to build a variety of simple machines which illustrated clearly how the gears and pulleys were used in the machines and the Year 6 kids loved a chance to "play" with Lego in class.  It seems Lego have released a new kit called "Simple Machines"

It's not cheap but could be worth investing in a set or two if budget allows.


If you're feeling a little more ambitious, you could do worse than get one of these...

A block and tackle for less than £6. Get two offcuts of clothes line/sash cord attached to the ends of the pulley blocks and have two strong kids on each end taking the strain in the playground, and show how one weak child can pull the free end of the pulley rope and get them closing toward one another!


Thank you Roger JP. I really like this idea - it links to. BBC clip I mentioned, too. I have bought a pulley and might ask our site staff for help setting up a makeshift seesaw as well. Now, to find out what to do with the thing when it arrives! I like your idea of how to demo it - will have to wait for it to arrive to see whether that does make perfect sense to me!


If you email me I can send you some ideas about how I teach it. I use some cheap pulleys from TTS and wood battons with two cups hooks screwed in them. The children work in threes to explore three different pulleys: 


That’s a really nice offer. The pulley has arrived! I’ll email you. :-)