Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Lighting Instruments from the Inside Out

Gordon Gair


Where does that pretty stage light come from for [Cats] and [Phantom of the Opera]? Students examine theatrical lighting instruments to see how light is controlled. Observation lists help students write a paragraph telling of their discoveries.


The student writes text, notes, outlines, comments, and observations that demonstrate comprehension and synthesis of content, processes, and experiences from a variety of media.


-1 Fresnel lighting instrument and powered electric switch box per 3 to 4 students (available in most high school auditoriums)
-1 Ruler per student
-1 Lighting Design Unit Checklist per student (See Associated File)
-1 Lighting Unit Vocabulary per student (See Associated File)
-Lined notebook paper


1. Prepare enough checklists/vocabulary handouts for each student. (See Associated File)
2. Provide one working Fresnel with powered, switched outlet for each group of three to four students.
3. Provide one ruler for each student.
4. Provide lined notebook paper for each student.


1. Put one Fresnel lighting instrument and a powered electric switch box on work areas before students arrive. Many students have never seen an instrument up close or had the opportunity to examine one.

2. This lesson gives student technicians the chance to safely discover how light is controlled inside a theatrical lighting instrument.

3. Pass out checklists/vocabulary handouts (See Associated File) and suggest that students define vocabulary as they hear it used.

4. Ask students what they already know about how light behaves and what light bulbs do. Discuss what they know about the physics of light and what physical influences can change or vary the path of the light rays.

5. Give a short history of the Fresnel lighting instrument and tell where it is used in the theater, film and television industries.

6. Point out the basic parts of the Fresnel lighting instrument but do not reveal or suggest their purpose.

7. Incorporate and define related vocabulary (See Associated File) during the discussion.

8. Discuss the safe handling of potentially dangerous tungsten-halogen lamps. Give instructions on safely powering the lighting instrument that their group is examining and tell them they must clear it with the instructor before turning it on.

9. Review the checklist and have students note the specific information they need to complete.

10. Review expectations for the paragraph to be written from information collected on the checklist and from the new vocabulary. (See Assessments for criteria)

11. Remind students that all information from the checklist must be included in the paragraph and that they should use correct organization, spelling, and grammar.

12. Ask each cooperative group of students to look closely at their lighting instruments. Have them discuss how three different aspects of the design might direct or control the light coming from the lamp.

13. Interact with each group to monitor progress.

14. After closely examining the instrument with it off, and after checking with the teacher, students safely turn on the instrument.

15. Students should observe the appearance of the beam projection with and without the lens in place.

16. Have students complete their checklists.

17. Using the checklist, notes, and vocabulary, students individually write their paragraphs. Encourage students to use their checklist so that they do not miss any information.

18. Students hand in their paragraphs for teacher evaluation or peer evaluation in class to prompt further discussion.


Students write a paragraph from information collected on the checklist and from the new vocabulary.

The paragraph should include:
1. correct organization, spelling, and grammar;
2. three design methods for controlling light within the lighting instrument;
3. all of the information from the checklist;
4. vocabulary from the lesson list;
5. a minimum of five sentences.


This is an introductory lesson for a Technical Theatre Unit on Lighting Design.

Web Links

At the “DRAMA Website A-Z Index,” link on “Glossary of Technical Terms” and “Lighting” for additional information.
University of Exeter School of Performance Arts

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