The Man in the Moon

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SWBAT describe patterns of the moon.

Big Idea

Your students will be "over the moon" for this lesson! Students observe the moon and begin to describe patterns, like the moon's phases.

Instructional Notes

In today's lesson, students will observe patterns for a second celestial object, the moon.  The NGSS standards call for students to make observations.  Therefore, students must go outdoors to actually observe the moon.  The new standards focus just as much on standards and practices (like observations) as content.  In other words, it's not just reading a book about the moon; instead, students experience the moon for themselves!

In this lesson, students will observe shape of the moon, use hand spans (fist over fist) to record the moon's distance above the horizon, and record their data. 

There are websites that can help you figure out the best time to teach this lesson.  Check the web and verify the current moon phases and whether the moon will be visible during the day.  Note: the moon is visible during the day usually in the afternoon, except closest to the new moon.  This lesson is flexible, can be moved based on the current moon phase.  

Throughout this unit, I use a KLEWS anchor chart to record our new learning.  This is a science-specific type of KWL chart designed with primary students in mind!  Check out this video I like to call KLEWS chart 101:


Here is what the KLEWS chart looked like prior to this lesson, as well as a template of how the KLEWS chart will unfold throughout the unit. 


  • KLEWS chart (from previous lessons), This is a science-specific version of a KWL.  Check out my video resource to learn more about how they work!
  • Student Recording Sheet Moon Observations
  • Video showing the movement of the moon across the sky, such as this link.

Warm-Up (The Launch!)

5 minutes

I start out today's lesson by referring to the focus questions students discussed in Lesson 1, namely, What are objects in the sky? and What makes a pattern?  I have these displayed on a KLEWS chart, which is a science-specific KWL graphic organizer.  

Let's go back to our KLEWS chart about space.  We named many objects we can see (observe) in the sky, and then we highlighted the ones that are in nature.  Read them with me: the sun, moon, and stars.  Great.  We also talked about patterns.  Tell the person next to you what makes a pattern.  Right, a pattern repeats, so we know what is going to come next.  That's called predicting what comes next.  

Next, I activate schema (background knowledge) students are bringing about patterns of the moon.

Today let's think only about the moon.  What does the moon do that repeats?  What patterns does the moon have?  Turn-and-talk to share your schema, and then we'll share together.

Discussion is so important!  It gives *all* students the chance to process the question, get their ideas together, and practice listening and speaking skills.  Discussion also works wonders for your shy students!  Plus, if there isn't a lot of excited discussion, that's a clue to me that I need to build a bit more background knowledge.  

I have students turn-and-talk (we sit knee-to-knee and toe-to-toe), and then I call on a few to share with the larger group.  Hint: While students are sharing, I make sure all friends have found a partner.  Then, I try to listen in and find unique ideas that will take our conversation farther.

Exploration (The Space Walk!)

20 minutes

First, I ask students if you can see the moon during the day.  If these lessons are taught in sequence, expect some disagreement or uncertainty here.  

Then, I set the purpose for the lesson by describing our next activity.

Today, we will observe the moon.

How your students record their data is completely up to you!  My students use marbled composition notebooks, and today the will glue in the Student Resource- Moon Observations. We will be taking them outside on clipboards!  

I show the recording sheet to students and they reflect about what they will be doing.  I ask questions like:

  • What do you think this rectangle will be for?  (Drawing the moon)
  • Will we draw a circle, or the actual shape of the moon today?  (Actual, accurate)
  • What do you think we might put here, under "My Notes?" (the shape of today's moon, that the moon is out during the day, our questions about the moon)

The recording sheet has a rectangle for students to draw the shape of the moon.  If it is not a full moon, then students begin to accurately record a different shape.  This alludes to the idea that the moon's shape changes.  The recording sheet also asks students to measure how far above the horizon the moon is.  To do this, students use nonstandard measurement.  I model how to measure with handspans.

First, straighten both of your arms in front of you.  Make your hands into fists.  You will place one fist on top of the other.  Move your arm until your bottom fist hits the top of the grass, the horizon.  But one fist on top of the other and count how many fists high the moon is in the sky.

I encourage students to help one another and compare their measurements.  I also keep an eye out for any wacky numbers-- those friends need a little help!

Here we are finding the moon as we walk outside, and here we are completing our nonstandard measurements with hand spans.  I love how my students are so used to getting comfy in our classroom that some were even laying down to record!

Children chose different notes to write, as you can see from our samples.

Closing (Prepare for Landing)

5 minutes

We return to the classroom.  I display the KLEWS chart front and center.  

I tell students that we will record the moon's shape under "E" for Evidence/Observations.  I ask what other shapes the moon can be, and students share crescent and full moon/circle.  I add those as well.  Then, I tell them the pattern their evidence proves.

Your observations that the moon changes shapes proves that the moon goes through a pattern.  It slowly gets smaller, and then goes back to a full moon.  We call this the moon's phases.  I will write under the "L" Learning section that the moon's shape goes through a repeating pattern of shapes.  We'll be learning more about them over the next few days.  Since our evidence proves the pattern, I'll draw an arrow between them.

Next, we record the number of handspans of the moon above the horizon.  I take the mode of student responses, and record that one.  I take a quick survey, "How many people got ___ handspans?" to see which measurement is most popular.  Unfortunately, because the moon is only visible in late afternoon and night, we are unable to measure it later in the day to see that it also appears to rise and set.  So, I tell children this pattern.

Your observations show part of a pattern.  Just like the sun rises, appears to move across the sky, and set, the moon also moves across the sky.  If we were at school all night, we could watch the moon move across the sky.  Instead, I have a short video clip to show you.  This is a special kind of video called time-lapse, which shows a long period of time really quickly.

I display the video clip of a time-lapsed moon moving across the night sky.

Then, I write the second pattern of the moon-- that is rises, moves across the sky, and sets-- on the KLEWS chart.

Your observations of the moon's position in the sky is part of a pattern.  I will write under the "L" Learning section that the moon's movement goes through a repeating pattern of rising, moving across the sky, and setting.  Since our evidence shows the pattern, I'll draw an arrow between them.

Last, because the standard wants students to describe the patterns, I ask them to turn and tell a friend one of the moon's patterns.  Over the next few days, we'll be completing more activities together to help them better understand and be able to describe the lunar patterns.