Free History Studies: Benjamin Franklin {Part 2}

Benjamin Franklin learned a great deal from experimentation.

Part 1 was an introduction, and Part 2 will cover Franklin’s experiments. Depending on the amount of time you have and the age of your children, you may want to cover the chapters in five different lessons.

Read the current chapters online:

  • Map the following, if you haven’t already (you’ll find mapping resources below):
    • Massachusetts
    • Boston, Massachusetts (where Franklin was born)
    • Pennsylvania
    • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Try Franklin’s ant experiment. Watch to see if you can see the ants “touch their feelers together, as if they said, “Good-morning!”  You’ll find resources below.
  • Investigate the life cycle, habits, and anatomy of ants.
  • When there is snow on the ground in your area, try Franklin’s experiment and ask the sunshine the same question.
  • Did Franklin really “ask the sunshine something”?  Can the sun talk?  Will the sun answer?  In what way?  The author is using figurative language. In this case, he is personifying the sun — or giving the sun human characteristics.  Read these poems that use personification and identify what objects are being personified.
  • What is being personified in the chapter “Franklin and the Kite”?
  • Franklin made his own kite.  Make one of your own!  You’ll find resources below.
  • Learn more about the bottle Franklin used to hold the electricity.
  • Franklin invented the lightning rod.  Find out how a lightning rod works at the University of South Florida.
  • You’ll find many resources below for learning more about Franklin’s kite experiment and electricity.
  • Read the poem “Too Much for the Whistle.”  What is the “moral” or the point that is being made?
  • Read Franklin’s original essay about the whistle or a retelling by James Baldwin for younger readers.  Compare the essay or story to the poem given in the lesson.  How are they alike?  How are they different?  Create a compare/contrast chart showing the differences.
  • From the original essay, older students can sketch each different type of character that pays too much for the whistle on Drawing & Writing Paper with a brief caption.
  • Answer the question in the first chapter title — How did Franklin find things out? [Observing and experimenting.]
  • More about Benjamin Franklin from the Book of Knowledge:

    On November 7, 1749, Franklin made an entry in his notebook. “Electrical fluid agrees with lightning in these particulars: giving light; color of light; crooked direction; swift motion; … etc….” Twelve points of similarity were listed. As Franklin expressed it, electricity was “attracted by points,” and he wondered whether the same was true of lightning. He wrote, “Since they agree in all the particulars wherein we can already compare them, is it not probable that they agree in this? Let the experiment be made.” But how? Perhaps a tower could be built into the clouds — a very expensive project. Perhaps a kite — .

    So in 1752 that famous kite experiment was made. Franklin’s kite was nothing unusual, except that it was made of silk and that to the top of it he had attached a sharp pointed wire standing one foot or more above the wooden frame. A long string led from the kite, and to the end of the string near the hand was tied a silk ribbon. A key was fastened to the string were it joined this silk ribbon.

    The kite was raised during a thunderstorm. When the rain had soaked the kite and string, and when the thunder clouds were overhead, Franklin was able to draw sparks from the key by bringing his knuckle near it. Not only that, he was able to fill a Leyden jar and perform other experiments which are usually performed with static electricity….

    Franklin carried out additional experiments which showed that some clouds are charged with positive electricity whereas others are charged negatively, and this was the final clue to the similarity between lightning and electricity. These discoveries led him to invent the lightening-rod which carries the electric discharge into the ground, thus preventing damage to buildings.

    “The Men Who Discovered Electricity,” The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

Benjamin Franklin — Inventor
Brief biography for young children from Ben’s Guide.

Benjamin Franklin’s Inventions
A long, long list in this interesting compilation at

Color and Heat Absorption
The scientific explanation to Franklin’s “ask the sunshine” experiment.

Benjamin Franklin and Electricity
From the Library of Congress.

The Lightning Rod
The story at the Franklin Institute.


Dr. Franklin Takes It Easy
Old Cavalcade of America radio show featuring Benjamin Franklin.

What Absorbs More Heat?
Experiment similar to Franklin’s “ask the sunshine” experiment at

Absorption and Radiation
A bit more complicated than the above, this NASA experiment investigates “the affect surface color has on heat absorption and radiation.”

Super Sparker
“Make a very, very, very tiny lightning, anytime you want!” at the Exploritorium.

Charge and Carry
Experiment at the Exploritorium where you make and store electricity using a Leyden jar.

More information on lightning rods with understanding check at

Massachusetts Map/Quiz Printout

Pennsylvania Map/Quiz Printout

Interactive Map Maker {Free}
Make your own maps.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin by Ingri & Edgar d’Aulaire
Wonderfully illustrated first biography from a family-favorite series.

Ben and Me

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
Fun and interesting biography of Franklin told from the point of view of his…mouse.  An obvious work of fiction!

“The Great Doctor Franklin”
Chapter from A First Book in American History also by Eggleston. Includes narration prompts.

Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia

Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia by Margaret Cousins
The Landmark Books are always highly sought after, and this title lives up to the expected quality.

“Franklin as a Scientist”
Chapter from Stories of the Great Scientists by Charles R. Gibson covering Franklin’s electricity experiment.

“Benjamin Franklin”
A chapter from Inventors by Philip G. Hubert covering Franklin’s inventions.

“The Whistle” by Benjamin Franklin
The original text in the public domain.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
Free Nature Studies: Ant Workers Part 1

Free Nature Studies: Ant Workers
Our own unit study investigating ants.  Includes lots of helps for watching ants communicate.

Opposites Attracting
Smithsonian lesson plan exploring Franklin’s lightning experiment.

Fun and Wonderful Kites {Free Unit Study}

Fun and Wonderful Kites {Free Unit Study}
Great helps for making your own kite.

Ben Franklin Half Dollar
Lesson plan at the U.S. Mint focusing on his quotes and inventions.

The Whistle
From Sermons4Kids, this Sunday School lesson uses “The Whistle” as an object lesson for putting first things first.

Benjamin Franklin Teacher’s Guide
Lesson plan from PBS with eight activities covering the various aspects of Franklin’s life.

Ben Franklin Timeline
Lesson plan at where students explore the various aspects of Franklin’s life.  Great for wrapping up!

Printables & Notebooking Pages

The Many Hats of Ben Franklin
Several hats from the National Endowment of the Humanities that can be used to narrate what Benjamin Franklin did while wearing that hat.  Great for notebook summary!

United States Map
At for locating Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Massachusetts State Map
Map for notebook, helpful for locating Boston.

Pennsylvania Map
Map for notebook, helpful for locating Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the complete series:
Free History Studies: Stories of Great Americans
Free History Studies: Stories of Great Americans

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