How Does an Electric Generator Work? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Lori Houston

Lori has a master's degree in creative writing and has taught all subjects at the 5th grade level as well as tutoring 1st- 5th grade students in all subjects

You turn on and off your lights everyday, but have you ever wondered how electricity is generated? In this lesson, you will learn how electric generators work.

Energy Conversion

Electric generators are very useful for supplying the electrical energy we use everyday, from the lights in your classroom to televisions, computers, and even our cell phones. However, it's important to understand that generators do not create electrical energy. As Albert Einstein once stated, 'Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.' So if they're not creating it, just how do electric generators supply us with electricity?

Electrical generators convert mechanical energies into electrical energies. For example, an easy way for us people to convert energy is by clapping our hands together. When we clap our hands, we move them toward each other; that motion is mechanical energy. When our hands come together they make a clapping noise; that noise is sound energy. So by clapping our hands, we convert mechanical energy into sound energy, and that is a simple form of energy conversion.

This is what a generator looked like in 1909
1909 Generator

Mechanical Energy Becomes Electrical Energy

In order to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, the generator must include several materials.

1. We need some metal wire. While almost all metal wires will work, some work much better than others. Copper wire is great because it has a large amount of free electrons, which will carry the electricity at a steady flow through the wire.

2. We also need some very strong magnets. As we know, magnets pull together or push away from one another when they're placed close together due to their magnetic fields. We will use that field to move our electrons along the wire.

3. And we need force to create mechanical energy, which we will convert into electrical energy.

How to Build a Generator

By placing our magnets close to each other and letting their magnetic poles attract one another, but not allowing the magnets to pull completely together, we create a strong magnetic field. Now if we take a single piece of copper wire and move it through the magnetic field between the magnets, this action causes electricity to flow through the copper wire by rapidly moving the wire's electrons.

This diagram shows the elements of a basic generator.
Diagram of how it works

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