Observing Stars, A Fiction Connection

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SWBAT describe the setting using key details and illustrations.

Big Idea

How many stars are in the sky? Today we read a lovely book where a boy and his father try to count the stars. Take a journey with them through the city and country as more and more stars appear!

Instructional Notes

I just love when I come across a fiction book that enriches science!  The beautiful paintings and close relationship between a boy and his father will make you fall in love with this book too.  Introducing... How Many Stars in the Sky? by Lenny Hort, with paintings by James E. Ransome.  

The NGSS standard 1-ESS1-1 calls for students to use their observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns in the sky.  The assessment boundary for stars is simply that stars (besides the sun) can be seen at night, but not during the day.

In the previous lesson, students observed that when the overhead lights (sun) were off, they could see the beam of the flashlight (stars).  When the overhead lights (sun) were on, they could not see the beam of the flashlight (stars).  Through this experience, they came to the conclusion that they can not see stars during the day because the sun is so bright that it blocks them.

Today we read a fictional text that reinforces this conclusion.  As the father and son go towards brighter areas, like the city, they can see fewer stars.  As they go into the country, they can see innumerable stars.  When day comes, they can see only one star-- the sun.

As we read, we will describe how changes in the setting affect the amount of stars.


  • How Many Stars in the Sky? by Lenny Hort

Warm-Up (The Launch!)

5 minutes

First, we review the conclusions we made in the previous lesson about the pattern of the stars in the sky.

Yesterday, we found a pattern that repeats for stars.  Tell the friend next to you about the pattern for stars. (You can only see stars at night.)

Discussion is so important!  It gives *all* students the chance to process the information, 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 refresh their memories another way.  I have students turn-and-talk, and then I call on a few to share with the larger group. 

Then, I introduce a pattern that will not be assessed.  I think it is important to expose students to some of the more complex ideas too.  In this case, stars move across the sky similarly to the way the sun and moon move across the sky.  

Stars have another pattern too.  Remember how the earth rotating makes it look like the sun and moon move across the sky?  Well, we are still spinning at night, so it makes the stars appear to move too.  There's a special kind of video called time-lapse, which means that it shows a lot of time going by really quickly.  Here's a video showing a whole night, in less than a minute!  See how the stars appear to move.

Here is a short video clip where students can observe this phenomena.

After viewing, I ask students to tell a friend what they observed.  Then, I ask, "Why did the stars move?  Do the stars really move?"  By this point, a good number of them do understand and can explain that the stars are not actually moving-- we are!

Exploration (The Space Walk!)

20 minutes

First, I introduce the graphic organizer.  What makes this story special is the fact that the setting is at night in various locations.  In other words, if the locale didn't change, or the story was set during the day, the events couldn't happen!  So, it makes sense to describe the changing settings as a focus for the lesson.  I set the purpose for learning by going over the objective.

Today we will use the text and illustrations to describe the setting.  The setting in this story changes.  Who can remind friends what the setting means?  (Where and when the story take place.)

Here is how I use the Graphic Organizer.

Before reading, we preview the cover and the title.  

What do you notice when you look at the cover and hear the title?  What can you predict about the story?

Students turn-and- talk.  While they are talking, I listen in for comments that will take our understanding further or support students who have comments that don't make sense.  Then, I call on a few students to share with the whole group.  We've talked a lot about how good predictions don't have to come true in the story, but rather, good predictions are those that use clues from the text and illustrations.

During reading, I pause when the setting changes.  Today to describe the setting, we describe the time and place.  For the first setting, the neighborhood, I model describing the setting.  For the next setting, I begin to release the skill by having students turn-and-talk to describe the setting.  We also use the text and illustrations to describe how many stars are in the location and why.  By the end of the story, the chart should look something like the attached sample.  Here is our final chart.

Closing (Prepare for Landing)

5 minutes

After reading, I ask, "Why did the number of stars vary so much?" and "Do stars really disappear when there are bright lights?"  I want students to come to the enduring understanding that just like the sun and moon are there even when we can't see them, the stars are always out there too.  In fact, they are up there right now!

In closing, students will draw and write one of the settings from the story in their journal.  I provide a sentence starter, "In the _____, you can see _____ stars."  This description and drawing of one setting aligns to the Common Core ELA standards RL3 and RL7.  

You will see that my students had only 3 choices on their journal question.  After the lesson, I added more options to match the chart.

Here, I model the student response and leave it on the whiteboard.

Here are some student samples:

As a home-school connection, I will be sending home the attached homework sheet for math tonight.  It includes star-related math story problems, and it also asks for students to go outside and count the stars they can see.  We will share our observations during our morning message time the following day, and we'll be sure to compare our work in order to infer why any discrepancies occurred (maybe some students live on brighter streets).