How does a windmill work?

Time Required
2 class periods
Students will learn the fundamental parts of a windmill, how different rotor designs affect performance, and how energy is transferred from wind into usable mechanical energy.


Students will construct small windmill models that convert wind energy into mechanical energy by lifting weights. This lesson teaches students the fundamental parts of a windmill, how to test variables using the scientific method, and how energy conversions take place.

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • PS2.A Forces and Motion
  • PS2.B Types of Interactions
  • PS3.C Relationship Between Energy and Forces
  • ETS1.A Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Energy and Matter

Learning Objectives

At the end of the lesson students will be able to

  • Know the fundamental parts of a windmill
  • Be able to use scientific method to isolate and adjust variables in a model windmill
  • Understand energy conversions/transfers and how a windmill converts moving air into usable mechanical energy


  • 1 small electric fan
  • 1 3/8" Wooden Dowel 16*
  • 1 piece of 1/2" PVC pipe (10" long)
  • 4-8 index cards (4" x 6")
  • 4 wooden shish kebab skewers (10" long)
  • 4 feet of string
  • 1 12-ounce paper deli cup
  • 1 foam cylinder
  • 1 cork
  • 4 straight pins of T-pins
  • Clear Scotch Tape (18")
  • 1 pair of scissors
  • 15 steel washers
  • Student reading passages and worksheets
  • Staplers
  • Various simple tools (pliers, screwdriver, etc.)

Additonal Teaching Resources