Types of radiation

Learn about the different types of radiation while deciding whether exposure to radiation poses a greater risk or benefit to humans.

Activity Image
30 mins
Thought starter


When we hear the word radiation all kinds of questions come to mind: What is radiation exactly? Is it dangerous or is it helpful? 

In this activity, students develop a deeper understanding of different types and forms of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation by making informed decisions about the risks and benefits of exposure to radiation.


What you'll need

  • "Analyzing the risks and benefits of radiation" worksheet
  • "Types of radiation" handout

1. Organize your students into pairs and begin the activity by asking them to suggest where they might encounter radiation. Encourage pairs to list as many sources as possible, then share their ideas with the class. 

  • For example, students might suggest that radiation could come from cell phones, microwave ovens, atomic weapons, or medical technology. 

2. After groups have shared their ideas, ask whether radiation is a greater risk or benefit to people. Invite groups to do some initial thinking, then to share their ideas with the class. At this point in the activity, welcome all student suggestions. As students share, use their ideas to co-develop or present the criteria for deciding:

  • Breadth of impacts: How widespread are the positive or negative impacts of the radiation? How many areas of life would be affected by the positive or negative impacts of the radiation?
  • Depth of impacts: Would the radiation have minor positive or negative impacts, or would the impacts be very serious or important? 
  • Duration of impacts: How long would the positive or negative impacts of the radiation last or be noticed?

You may wish to record and post the criteria for use later in this activity. 

3. Help your students practice using the criteria to decide whether radiation is a greater risk or benefit. Invite groups to revisit their initial ideas about radiation, this time using the criteria to guide their thinking. Encourage groups to share their thinking with the class. 

4. Once students have shared their ideas, briefly explain that in this activity they will use the criteria and details about various types of radiation to decide if radiation is a greater risk or benefit to people. 

5. Give each student a copy of "Analyzing the risks and benefits of radiation" worksheet. Prompt students to mark their initial decision about the risks and benefits of radiation on the scale. Encourage students to include at least one reason to support their initial decision. 

6. Provide each group with a copy of the "Types of radiation" handout. Prompt each group to note any details from the handout that could be used to prove that exposure to radiation is risky or beneficial. 

7. Invite groups to use these details to decide whether exposure to radiation is risky or beneficial. As groups share their decisions, remind them to use the criteria to make and explain their decisions. 

8. Encourage individual students to now revisit their initial decision about the risks and benefits of exposure to ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Prompt students to mark their new decision on the scale using a different colour, and note the evidence that guided their thinking. 

9. Conclude the activity by inviting your students to share their thinking. Guide a discussion that explores how the different types of radiation present different risks and benefits. 

Modify or extend this activity

When groups read about the different types of radiation, consider assigning a selection of the types to individual groups. Groups could then present their ratings to the class, and individual students could use this information to supplement their own ratings.

Curriculum Fit

Grade 8 Science

Big idea

  • The behaviour of matter can be explained by the kinetic molecular theory and atomic theory.


  • Types and effects of electromagnetic radiation

Curricular competencies

Questioning and predicting
  • Demonstrate a sustained intellectual curiosity about a scientific topic or problem of personal interest
  • Make observations aimed at identifying their own questions about the natural world
Processing and analyzing scientific information
  • Use scientific understandings to identify relationships and draw conclusions
  • Demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of evidence (qualitative and quantitative)
Applying and innovating
  • Contribute to care for self, others, community, and world through personal or collaborative approaches
  • Transfer and apply learning to new situations
  • Communicate ideas, findings, and solutions to problems, using scientific language, representations, and digital technologies as appropriate

Teaching Notes

The term radiation is a very broad term for energy in the form of waves or particles travelling until they are absorbed by matter. In order to better understand radiation, it can be described in two categories: ionizing and non-ionizing. 

  • Non-ionizing radiation: We are exposed to non-ionizing sources of radiation every day. This is known as background radiation. Microwaves, infrared waves, radio waves, visible light, and ultraviolet light are all forms of non-ionizing radiation. In regular doses, non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to change the atoms in tissues. 
  • Ionizing radiation: This form of radiation includes the highest frequency sources on the electromagnetic spectrum. X-rays, gamma rays, alpha particles, and beta particles. All contain enough energy to damage and change cells. 


Assess your students’ ability to:

  • Use criteria to determine the risks and benefits of various types and forms of radiation
  • Support their decisions with scientific evidence
  • Explain the various types and forms of radiation


Select the materials you require for this activity or download all

Types Of Radiation Handout

203.5 kb pdf

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