Welcome to practical physicsPracticle physics - practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11 to 19 year olds

Waves along a line of students

Class practical

Introduce transverse and longitudinal waves with a kinaesthetic experience. This can help students to understand and remember what each of these wave types are.

Apparatus and materials


Health & Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance



students in a line

Students stand side to side and link arms in a line. Send gentle transverse waves and pulses down the line. 





Students in a line

For longitudinal waves and pulses, students all turn right (or left) and place their hands on the shoulders of the student in front, with elbows kept bent.




Teaching notes

1 To carry out these experiments successfully, you will need class discipline almost at the military parade ground level. They do illustrate clearly, however, the motion of particles in a medium that constitutes a passing wave. 

2 With students in the second arrangement, you could ask the students to imagine what happens when a medium is strained beyond its elastic limit. 
3 From the rear of the line, imagine that the end student is given a good shove to send a strong pulse down the line. Think what would happen next. When the students have figuratively 'picked themselves up', discuss the difference between this pulse and all the others so far: that the particles did not, in this case, return to their original places. 
4 Another way to model transverse waves is using a wave machine (cheap and simple to construct), as this video from the National STEM Centre eLibrary shows. 
This experiment was safety-checked in February 2006


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