Motion and Forces: Newton’s First Law of Motion

This physical science activity explores motion and force with students who are visually impaired to help them better understand Newton's First Law of Motion.

The activity described below gets everyone’s attention! Students with a visual impairment benefit from a chance to feel the weight of the various items placed on the tablecloth, as well as a chance to examine the table before and after the table cloth is pulled.


Inertia – the tendency of an object to keep its motion


Place a book on your desk. Does the book move? Unless you push the book, it will stay put just the way you left it. Imagine a spacecraft moving through space. When the engines are turned off the spacecraft will coast through space at the same speed and in the same direction. The book and spacecraft have inertia. Because of inertia, an object at rest rends to stay at rest. An object in motion tends to keep moving at a constant speed in a straight line.

book on a desk
Book on a desk

Newton’s First Law

Newton’s first law of motion explains how inertia affects moving and nonmoving objects. Newton’s first law states that an object will remain at rest or move at a constant speed in a straight line unless it is acted on by an unbalanced force. According to Newton’s first law, an unbalanced force is needed to move the book on your desk. You could supply the force by pushing the book. An unbalanced force is needed to change the speed or direction of the spacecraft. This force could be supplied by the spacecraft’s engine.

Effects of Inertia

You can see the effects of inertia everywhere. In baseball, for example, to overcome inertia a base runner has to “round” the bases instead of making sharp turns. As a more familiar example of inertia, think about riding in a car. You and the car have inertia. If the car comes to a sudden stop, your body tends to keep moving forward. When the car starts moving again, your body tends to stay at rest. You move forward because the car seat exerts an unbalanced force on your body.



  1. Start with the tablecloth on a table or desk.
  2. Set the table as if for dinner.
  3. Notice the difference in mass of each object. The book has the most mass and the napkin has the least.
  4. Try the magician’s trick of grabbing the edges of the table cloth and then quickly jerk it out from under the items on the table.
  5. Hopefully you’ll notice that the napkin flew off (less inertia), and things like the silverware, plates and book stayed put.

Questions and Conclusions

  1. In space, a spacecraft with its engines turned off will move with constant speed in the same __.
  2. A book will not move by itself because it has __.
  3. A book will remain at rest unless it is acted on by an __ force.
  4. When a car stops suddenly, your body tends to keep moving __.
  5. Newton’s first law explains how inertia affects moving and __ objects.

NGSS Standards

Motion and Forces:

Article and activity adapted from Concepts and Challenges: Physical Science, Fourth Edition. Parsippany, NJ: Globe Fearon Inc., Pearson Learning Group, 2009, pages 280 to 281.

Making Science Accessible: A Guide for Teaching Introductory Physics to Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired by Michele Engelbrecht and Kate Fraser. Watertown, MA: Perkins School for the Blind. (2010). Download the FREE PDF for this activity.

Return to Accessible Science main page.

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