Spatial Relations in Space-- Rotations and Revolutions

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SWBAT describe patterns of the sun, earth, and moon's movement.

Big Idea

Move it! Move it! Students get up and get active as they play the roles of the sun, earth, and moon, in order to learn what causes the patterns in the sky.

Instructional Notes

The NGSS Space standard in first grade calls for students to, "Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted."  The standards want students to be able to describe the patterns. However, they do not require students to explain the scientific reasoning behind the patterns, namely, the movement of the celestial bodies. 

I think students need to be introduced to these deeper understandings about the universe.  While the concepts of rotation and revolution/orbit will not be formally assessed, they will be embedded throughout this unit through videos, texts, and hands-on activities.

In today's lesson, I focus on explaining the relationships between all three celestial bodies: the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun.  In a previous lesson, we discussed the Earth's rotation, which causes day and night.  Today, we talk about orbit-- the Moon orbiting Earth, and Earth orbiting the Sun.

In order for students to understand these complex patterns of movement, we will first demonstrate the Earth and Moon movement.  Students will use inflatable globes as the Earth (if you don't have inflatable globes, try beach balls or basketballs), and their clay models of the Moon made during the previous lesson.  Next, I add the sun into the mix.  Students will create headbands in groups of three and recreate the movements.  (The Sun gets the easy job, right?)

This lesson relates to the Science Practices of developing and using models, as well as constructing explanations.  Students first use models of the Earth and Moon.  Then, they themselves are the models, and they are constructing the explanations of orbit and rotation.

In closing, students will create a diagram in their Science Journals to help them recall and describe the patterns of movement.  I use marbled composition notebooks, but this is a craft you can search online and find alternate ways to make.


  • Inflatable globes, or basketballs (Earth)
  • Moon models, or tennis balls (Moon)
  • Sentence strips for headbands
  • Sun Earth Moon model **
  • 2 paper strips for each student, approximately 6 inches by 1 inch
  • Brads (3 per student)

**I printed them on card stock to make them more durable.

Warm-Up (The Launch!)

5 minutes

In today's warm-up, I want to jog students' memories about a previous lesson, where we learned how the  Earth's rotation causes day and night.  First, I ask them to turn-and-talk to answer the question:

Why do we have day and night?  What causes the pattern of the sun rising and setting?

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, 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. 

Next, we sing the Earth hokey pokey song.  I love singing songs as a way to sneak in content knowledge!

Exploration (The Space Walk!)

20 minutes

First, I demonstrate the Moon's orbit around the Earth.  I use an inflatable globe, and we decide as a class that it is a model for the Earth.  Next, I get a student-made moon model made of clay.  If you don't have these items, you can always use two different sized balls, like a basketball and tennis ball.  I suggest either labeling them with marker or putting sticky notes on them, so that students better understand which is the Earth and Moon.

Then, I explain and demonstrate the movement.

We have learned that the moon rises and sets, which is because the Earth rotates.  Well, the times that the moon rises and sets change each day.  This is because the moon is moving too!  The moon goes around the Earth, just like this (moving clay model around the Earth model slowly).  When something goes around and around, it is called orbiting.  The moon orbits the Earth every day.

The "S" section of our unit KLEWS chart is for science learning.  I add the definition of orbiting and a quick diagram here.  (Note: A KLEWS chart is a science-specific KWL chart, and throughout this unit, we add to it as a class anchor chart.)  

Next, students will use the inflatable globes and their clay models to recreate the movement as they describe it to a partner.  I circulate and assist students who have difficulty verbalizing lengthy explanations.  Here during a check-in, I made sure to go right back to the idea of patterns.  After all, we are learning about orbits and rotations because they cause the patterns in the sky!

I play a transition song, during which students put the models and balls away, and meet me back on the rug.

Next, I explain and demonstrate the movement of the Earth around the Sun.  I have student volunteers help me by being the Earth and Sun.  The Earth walks in a slow circle around the sun.  Once our "Earth" gets the orbit, I remind students that the Earth also rotates.  The student then slowly rotates while walking in a circle around the Sun.  I stress that all of this takes place very slowly!  This is because 1) I don't want any accidents, and 2) when I release this in a second, I don't want mass chaos!

Then the real fun begins, as I call on a third volunteer to be the Moon.  We practice just the Moon and Earth.  Then, we put all three together and move.  (I take out the Earth's rotation here for safety purposes.)  The Moon really has to hustle to keep going in a circle around the orbiting Earth!

Now, students create headbands by writing and drawing either the Sun, Earth, or Moon on them.  They form groups of three and recreate the movements.  I give them exploratory time to work on the movements while others finish.  Then, I ask for only Earths and Moons to move together, only Earths and Suns, and all three.  By isolating movements, students begin to see how they work individually and together.

Closing (Prepare for Landing)

5 minutes

In closing today, students will make a model of the Sun, Earth, and Moon model for their Science Journals. First, I model each step of the process and have them complete it.  I pre-cut the circles on my version to make this part of the lesson flow better.  

First, I am going to connect the Sun to the Earth.  I am going to poke a hole through the black dot on the Sun with a brad.  To use a brad, spread your fingers on the back of the paper on either side of where you want the brad to go.  Then, press it through the paper.  Be sure not to stick your finger!  Now that the brad is through the Sun, I will stick it through this long rectangular piece of paper, the connector.  Watch to see how you fold back the legs of the brad.

Next, I will connect the Earth to the other end of the rectangle with a second brad. Now we can move the Earth around the Sun!

Check out my pics of the finished product!  

And here one student helps another as he explored how to use the model!

One reason I love putting this in a Science Journal is because this is just the kind of important information that many parents throw away when it comes home.  Instead, having it with the space section of the Science Journal will jog students' memories every time they see it!  It becomes part of science, and not an activity to be forgotten. This activity also comes right back to the Science Practice of building and using models to explain information!