How to Explain How Television Works to Kids


Sitting in front of the TV staring blankly isn't exactly educational. American children watch between three and four hours of TV daily, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Instead of a passive action, students can actively learn how television works. Learning how television works is a science lesson that can help young minds explore the technical and production aspects of the modern medium.

Production Process

  • Explaining how TV works doesn't only include the technology or what's inside the box. You can also help your students understand the production behind the shows. This includes writing, directing, producing and acting. Have your students create their own TV show from scratch. They will brainstorm ideas, select a concept, draft a script, audition actors and rehearse. Connect the process to different areas of your curriculum. For example, writing the script is a literacy activity. Auditioning actors -- or other students -- helps kids to learn interpersonal communication skills. Directing builds sequencing abilities. Acting helps children to learn about the performing arts.

Record the Show

  • After the rehearsal, show your students how to capture the story in video. Use a digital video camera or a cellphone camera to record the student-produced TV show. To truly see how TV works, the students need to consider aspects of film and video such as lighting and sound. Try a comparison shoot in which the students use the overhead lighting first. Then try adding extra lights with lamps or by shining flashlights from the sides or back of the actors. Filming the production shows kids how TV episodes go from the written word to live action and are then captured to play and replay. After the recording is complete, put it in post-production. Use computer software to edit it, add credits or insert a musical soundtrack.

Discuss the Signal and Transmission

  • Students, especially younger ones, may not know how the signal from the original broadcast makes it to their TV sets. Move from production to how the signal travels to a TV set. They can begin to understand this with a lesson on television transmission. Begin with a brief history on how signals go from one place to another. For example, in 1927 the first TV was demonstrated to the public. By the early 1960s, the first TV picture traveled from the Earth to space and back via satellite. Ask your students what they think you need to send the signal to a satellite or how the satellite gets into space. Discuss how television was first broadcast through the air in an analog signal. Discuss that television is now broadcast using a digital signal of 0's and 1's, like a computer code.

Visit Where It Comes From

  • After learning about what goes into a TV production, how the pros record a show and how the signal goes out to millions of people, you can illustrate the entire process with a real-world example. Take a field trip to a local news or cable access channel. If possible, have the students watch the recording. Take a trip into the production booth so the students can see how the pros create a finished product during post-production. For example, WSB-TV in Atlanta offers a behind-the-scenes tour of its studios to see the television process in action.


  • Photo Credit Flying Colours Ltd/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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