Create Your Own Paper Circuit Teaching Tools

Electronic craft projects are quickly becoming one of our most popular activities for classrooms exploring STEAM. Students can learn about simple circuits through building creative pop-up cards with copper tape, LEDs, buttons and batteries.

Student LED projectOver the past few years, the SparkFun Education team has taught paper circuit pop-up card activities at workshops, events and conferences across the country. When we first started teaching these workshops, we relied heavily on slide presentations to show close-up views of the project steps or worked with small groups with a high teacher-to-student ratio, but as our events and class sizes increased, we needed to find a new solution.

Taking cues from the success of the giant soldering and breadboard props we used at large events such as our Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC) and various Maker Faires, we created some oversized paper circuit demos to help us instruct.

Angela at workshop

We’ve had a few different iterations of these paper circuit teaching tools over the years. The first was a custom-printed template based on our downloadable circuit templates and laminated on foam board. As we taught the lesson, we used 2-inch copper tape and stuck it directly to the large template.

To minimize cost and waste of materials as we expanded our class and template offerings, we switched to hand-drawn versions of the diagrams and copper tape strips backed with velcro for reuse.

If you’d like to try making your own instructional props for paper circuits in the classroom or maker events, here are some of the materials and techniques we use.

Oversized Prop Circuit





For LED props, you will need:

  • Styrofoam ballprop-led.jpg
  • Paint
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Velcro

These oversized LEDs help us demonstrate how to bend the legs of an LED for easy placement on a paper circuit. Cut a styrofoam ball in half and cut a notch on one side to mimic an LED. Paint the styrofoam to match the LEDs used in the lesson and hot glue two pipe cleaners to the base. Cut one of the pipe cleaners shorter to represent the negative leg of the LED. As part of the lesson, bend the pipe cleaners with your hands to show shaping techniques and then bend flat again to reset for the next lesson. Add a tab of velcro to the bottom for attaching to the base template/board.

For battery and button props, you will need:

  • Battery propPrinter (or markers)
  • Cardstock
  • Lamination sheets (to add durability to printed components)
  • Velcro

Print (or draw) an oversized version of any flat components needed in the circuit. You can also photograph components and print them out. Make sure to include any part labels or information as needed. Laminate and attach a tab of velcro to the back. We’ve created some simplified illustrations that are easier to teach with than photographs. Download printable PDF versions here: LilyPad Button Board and Coin Cell Battery.

To make the base template:

  • Large foam board or dry-erase board (we use 18"x24" or 24"x36" depending on the scale of the audience and need for portability)
  • Permanent marker and ruler to draw templatevelcro.jpg
  • 2" Copper Tape
  • Cardstock
  • Velcro

Using a ruler and permanent marker, draw the template onto a board, translating all important labels and info to the drawing. We fill in the lines where copper tape will be placed with a yellow marker to make them easier to see from a distance. Trace the component props as needed to make places in the template for them.

Cut strips of copper tape in lengths needed for each part of the circuit, remove paper backing and stick to scrap paper or cardstock. Add velcro tabs where needed for attaching to the template.


Paper Circuit Project Tutorials

Ready to start making some paper circuit projects with your students? Check out our tutorials for full project instructions and downloadable templates.

What's your favorite tip for showing large groups small details?


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