Introduction: Using an LED to Illuminate a Message

Making things light up feels like magic and there is no better place for magic than in my classroom. Building circuits for the first time takes problem solving and persistence. I began this lesson by borrowing a circuit building guide from the Makey-Makey website. It was perfect for introducing a parallel circuit and it gave enough structure for my students for my students to feel safe to tinker with the mechanics. We then moved on to creating a circuit with a press switch. Check out our exploration!


Makey-Makey printable for circuit creation


Round lithium battery

Aluminum foil for the Makey-Makey project

Copper tape

Glue stick or glue dots

Heavy paper like card stock or watercolor paper

Drawing supplies

Paper fasteners aka brads


Step 1: Practice From Makey-Makey

Visit the Makey-Makey website for a template on creating a paper circuit. You will need a battery, an LED, a glue stick and some foil. It's a great way to introduce this lesson.

Step 2: Brainstorm

Brainstorming is always a good first step for a new project. Consider puns and things that typically have a light for the subject of your light work of art. Thinking about using your project as a present for someone could also help shape up your idea. Fold your paper in half. The finished project is meant to be sealed at the end and will not end up like a greeting card. It can be adapted to do that, but these directions will make more like a panel or postcard end product.

Sketch your idea lightly in pencil and then add color once you are satisfied. Use a very sharp pencil to poke a hole through where you want to place your LED. (It's a challenge to do more than one light. I had several students tackle this idea with success, but these directions will focus on one LED.)

Step 3: Sketch the Guts

Place a sharp pencil in the hole to make a dot on the inside of the folded paper. Draw legs on your dot to represent the legs of your LED. Look at your LED to determine which of the little metal legs is longer. Label your legs "long" and "short" on your paper. The long leg of the LED will connect to the battery. Sketch out where you will be placing the copper tape or cut strips of aluminum foil. Try to keep your battery close to the edge of the paper.

Step 4: More Guts!

Trace your battery on the side of the "long" piece of the LED. Add your strips of copper or foil to match the lines that you drew. Put a little bit of a glue dot on the edge of the battery's + side. The + side will face the paper. Position the battery so that it overlaps the copper tape on one half and is stuck to the paper by the glue dot on the other half. Make sure there isn't glue between the battery and the copper tape. Your circuit will not work if there is glue between the connection.

Step 5: Strap Down the LED

Gently bend the legs of the LED so that they are doing the splits on your paper. Place the longer leg on the battery side of the copper tape and the other leg on the parallel strip of copper. Cut a small square of copper tape and secure the LED to the original tape. It's like you are making an LED leg sandwich where the bread is copper tape.

Step 6: Complete That Circuit

Push the brad through a small square of card stock and open the prongs. I bought brads that were a bit too long, but they still worked. You will need to fiddle around with this step to make your LED illuminate. Put a little of the glue dot on each end of the brad and place one part on top of the battery and the other part on the copper tape. When you press the round part of the brad hopefully your LED will light up! If it doesn't, troubleshoot. Somewhere on your circuit there isn't a connection. Electrons are not leaving the battery, moving down the tape, going through the LED and then moving back to the battery. Figure out why. This is the fun part for me. I was delighted when I finally found just the right spot where my LED would glow consistently.

Step 7: Seal It Up

I sealed up my card stock, but some of my students wanted to leave theirs open so that they could keep playing with the insides. I used some glue dots to hold my card stock together. Enjoy your project!