Star Light, Star Bright: Star Patterns

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SWBAT describe patterns of the stars.

Big Idea

Starlight, starbright, first star I see tonight! I wish, I wish... students could describe the patterns of the stars!

Instructional Notes

When you wish upon a star... Remember those moments of your childhood when you were mesmerized by the magic of the night sky?  After today's lesson, it is my hope that students will not only be able to describe the patterns of stars, but also that they will believe in the magic of stars!

In the warm-up, I connect to students' schema (background knowledge) about stars, and especially, their experiences with stars.  Then, in the exploration, we carry out an investigation that shows why we can't see the stars during the day.  The NGSS standard has an assessment limit that the pattern for stars is that they are seen during the night, and not during the day.  Students are not responsible for the knowledge that stars also appear to move across the sky at night.  In closing, students will make a 2-door foldable or entry in their Science Journals showing stars during the day (the sun) and stars at night.

You can continue this lesson during a writing block or center by getting out star sticky-notes or cut outs. Students each write a wish on a star, and then you can tape them to the ceiling in the science area! 

Throughout this unit, I send home Blast-off Backpacks.  I have 5 backpacks filled with books about space, and students take them home to read with their families for a week.  The bags also contain a telescope that we build.  Check out Frey or another science product retailer for some really cool build-it-yourself telescope kits for kids!  The telescopes encourage families to observe the night sky, which is one element of the unit that just can't be recreated in school with the same dose of inspiration!

Telescope kit:


  • KLEWS chart with the Essential Question: How can we use patterns in the sky to make predictions?
  • YouTube "When You Wish Upon a Star" video clip
  • Flashlight
  • 2-door foldable response sheet
  • Science Journals (optional), I use marbled composition notebooks.

Warm-Up (The Launch!)

5 minutes

Throughout this unit, I send home Space Backpacks that include a telescope.  To start this lesson, I ask students to share their observations of the stars.  Your students, even without telescopes as background knowledge, will have plenty to share as well!

First I set the stage by turning off the classroom lights and closing the blinds to make the room nice and dark.

Let's all pretend that we are outside at night, looking up at the stars.  Go ahead and lay down on your backs and look up at the sky.  Turn and talk to the friend next to you about what you are observing. 

Discussion is so important! In this case, I use it to build excitement about the night sky and also so that students are using space-related vocabulary (like, "I see a comet!).  Here is a video of our wiggly star-gazing!  While they wiggle, I am looking today for ideas about constellations, shooting stars, seeing the moon or planets, or counting the stars.

Then, I want to connect to the magic and wonder of the stars.  I ask students if they have ever wished upon a star or seen that in a movie.  I tell them my personal experience:

Whenever my children and I are outside at night, we look for stars.  Then, we say, "Starlight, starbright, first star I see tonight.  I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight," and we make a wish!  Let's all try that rhyme together.

I also show a video clip of the Disney song, "When You Wish Upon a Star."  I like this version (below) personally because it has such varied artwork and images, but there are also versions with the lyrics as a sing-a-long.  (Note: this year, I played the song while they were stargazing, instead of separately, to build the excitement factor!)

Exploration (The Space Walk!)

20 minutes

The NGSS standard asks for students to recognize the pattern that stars are visible at night, and not during the day.  The standard does not necessarily call for students to be able to understand the why's-- in this case, that the sun is so bright, we can't see the farther away stars.  But, I really feel that is is important to expose students to these deeper understandings about the universe!  Today's learning activity with focus on the "why."

I expect already that students know you see stars at night, and not during the day.  I ask this question just to make sure, though.

Take a look at our KLEWS chart.  When we started this unit, we wrote here under what we already "Know" that objects in the sky are the sun, moon, and stars.  Today we will focus on the stars.  What patterns can you see for the stars?

If students find this question confusing, then I scaffold by providing a sentence frame, "I can not see the stars during the ____, I can see the stars during the ____."  Then, we repeat the pattern together to emphasize that it is indeed a pattern: Day (shake heads no), Night (shake heads yes), Day, Night... until the children border on dizzy!

Now I come back to the cross-cutting concept and essential question.

Scientists use patterns to make predictions.  We know that a pattern repeats.  Make a prediction, when you are 10 years old during the day, will you be able to see stars? (No.)  When you are 10 years old during the night, will you be able to see stars? (Yes.)  How about when you are 100 years old during the day? (No.)  And night?  (Yes.)

Next, we figure out why we can't see stars during the day.  I see what ideas students already have.

Why can't we see the stars during the day?  Are they still there?  Turn-and-talk with a friend.

I begin the activity.

Today we'll use a simulation, which is like a model for a situation, to see.  Here is the flashlight, a star.  The lights in our classroom are out.  When I turn on the flashlight, can you see the beam of light on the ceiling? (Yes.)  So, at night, we can see the light from stars.

Next, let's leave our star on.  And let's make it daytime by turning on the lights, which are the sun.  (I turn on the lights and open the shades.)  Can you see the beam of light from the star?  (No.)  So, during the day when the sun is out, you can't see the stars.  The sun is too bright!

Now I want to assess if students got it.  If not, we'll repeat the activity and I'll add additional explanation about how the stars are balls of light, remember, the sun is a star and is a ball that gives us light.

Turn-and-talk with a friend and describe to them why we only see the stars at night.

Then, I write our observations under the "E" (evidence) on the KLEWS chart, "the sun is so bright during the day, like the classroom lights."  And I write the stars pattern under the "L" (learning), "we see stars every night, not during the day."

Closing (Prepare for Landing)

5 minutes

I use marbled composition notebooks as Science Journals.  You can choose to either have students record on a 2-door foldable or directly into the journals.  The 2-door foldable or a response worksheet is just the kind of paper that goes home and gets recycled.  But, by placing it in a Science Journal, it becomes a meaningful part of the space unit that students can refer back to.  

First, I explain the activity.

Today, you will record the pattern of the stars in your Science Journal.  Let's label "day" and "night."  Remember that patterns repeat, so on the next page we'll write again "day" and night."  Think about what stars you see during the day.  What should you write or draw?  (The sun.)  Does the sun have a smiley face or rays coming out?  (No.) What will you draw?  (A yellow circle.)

It's important to me that students draw accurately, so I do not want smiling suns!

Now, think about the stars you see at night.  What should you write or draw by the word "night?"

Students complete their drawings to communicate their new learning.  While they work, I circulate and assist as necessary.  I also have online videos showing on the whiteboard of the night sky (there are tons to choose from online!)

Here are some samples: