What Makes Day and Night?

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SWBAT explain that day and night are caused by the rotation of the Earth on its axis.

Big Idea

The rotation or spin of the Earth on its axis is the movement that causes day and night.

Lesson Overview- 5 E Lesson Planning

5 minutes

Unit 2:Sun-Earth Connection (Solar System)

Lesson 4: What Makes Day and Night?

5E Lesson Planning:

I plan most of my science lessons using the BSCS 5E Lesson Model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.For a quick overview of the model, take a look at this video.

I use this lesson model because it peaks the students' interest in the beginning during the "Engage" portion and allows for the students to actively participate in the investigations throughout the subsequent steps. The “Evaluate” component of the 5E Lesson Model can be used in many ways by the teacher and by the students.

A great resource for lesson plan frameworks and explanations is the Community Resources for Science. The 5E Lesson Planning Template and 5E Lesson Planning Prompts come from this website. 

Unit Overview:

In this Unit students will learn about the solar system by studying the sun, the moon, planets and stars. In the first three lessons the students will learn about the Sun. Lessons 4 through 7 focus on the movement of the Earth around the Sun. Lessons 8 is about Orreries, lessons 9 and 10 cover solar eclipses, lessons 11 and 12 are about the moon, lesson 13 discusses the other planets in the Solar System, and the last 3 lessons (14-16) are about stars and constellations.  

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will learn about the rotation and the revolution of the Earth and that this is what causes day and night. They will participate in a classroom demonstration during this lesson that will help them understand the difference between "rotation" and "revolution". The materials that are needed for this lesson are:

  • a lamp with a bright bulb (the lamp shade is removed)
  • 1 wrap around map per student partnership or group. ( I made enough copies for each of my science groups, so I made 8 copies of the maps).
  • tape or sticker to connect the ends of the wrap around map
  • a globe

 Next Generation Science Standards:

This lesson provides background information for NGSS Standard 5-ESS1-2- Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.

The Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts of the NGSS that this lesson covers are described below. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas: This lesson aligns to the Disciplinary Core Idea from the Earth and Space Science:

ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System. The Earth’s orbit and rotation,and the orbit of the moon around the Earth cause observable patterns.

Crosscutting Concepts:


Similarities and differences in patterns can be used to sort, classify, communicate and analyze simple rates of change for natural phenomena. (5-ESS1-2)

Science & Engineering Practices:

 Developing and Using Models

Modeling in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to building and revising simple models and using models to represent events and design solutions.



10 minutes

I show the students this quick video from the International Space Station. I then tell them to think about what is happening in the video and how the Earth goes from day to night and back again.

I do a "Timed-Pair-Share" cooperative learning strategy and have the students talk with their shoulder partner to discuss what is happening in the video. I give each student 30 seconds to share their ideas and then I ask if anyone wants to share what their partner told them. I record the students' ideas that are shared on an anchor chart so that we can look over it later to see if their ideas were correct.

I then ask them to draw or write in their Science Notebooks a description of how day and night occur. This can be used as a quick pre-assessment to see what the kids already know about day and night.

I tell the students to also write any questions they may have about what is happening when there is day and night and that they can continue to write these questions on our "Unanswered Questions anchor chart while we are learning about day and night.




30 minutes

After we have talked about what the students think causes day and night, I tell them that we will be doing an activity that will help them learn more about these causes. I explain that the objective of our lesson is to practice the movement that the Earth makes to cause day and night.  I explain to them that they will represent the Earth by using a wrap around map. This map will go around their body and it shows the different continents of the world. I ask them if they think the map is to scale and they respond with a resounding "NO". I tell them that the map is not to scale and that we are just using it so they can learn more about what causes day and night.  I show them the wrap around map and explain how it needs to be put together. I explain that they will be working in their science groups and will take turns being the "Earth".

I show them the lamp and that it represents the "Sun" in our activity. I tell them that they should not touch the lamp or go too close to it since it gets hot. I then ask for a volunteer to demonstrate the wrap around map. I place the map around the student and make sure that the location of our city is visible. I mark this on the map with a small sticker (you can do this ahead of time, or have the students do this when they are preparing to do the activity). I have the volunteer student start with his back to the lamp and I ask the class if they think it is night or day in our city. I then have the volunteer rotate slowly in a counterclockwise direction until his left arm is on the same side as the "Sun" and I ask the students again whether they think it's night or day in our city. The volunteer student continues to rotate in a counter clockwise direction until he faces the "Sun". I repeat the question to the students about whether they think it's day or night and I ask them what time they think it is. The volunteer student then rotates slowly until his right arm is towards the "Sun" and I repeat the question about whether it is day or night. Finally, I have the volunteer student rotate to his beginning spot with his back to the "Sun". 

I also demonstrate this rotation of the Earth with a globe as the student volunteer is rotating so that the students can compare the 2 models. I also display this drawing of Earth's rotation about its axis

I distribute the wrap around maps to each science group and tell them that they will take turns being the "Earth". I place the lamp in the center of the room and make sure that there is enough space so that the students can all practice this model. I give the students about 10 minutes to complete this exploration and I remind them that they need to discuss in their groups what time of day it is as the student "Earth" is rotating. I also remind them that they need to rotate in a counterclockwise direction. It's helpful to review clockwise and counterclockwise with the students before they practice with the wrap around maps. Here is  a photo- Day and night student investigation #1 it is a bit grainy since the lights were off in the classroom. 

I make sure to check in with each group to see that they are moving in the right direction and that they are understanding the different times of day that they are representing. I also let students use the globe to demonstrate night and day. I try to borrow other globes from teachers so that I have a few available. 



20 minutes

After the students complete the exploration, we have a class discussion about what is happening to the Earth when we have day and night.

We add the words axis, rotation, spin, clockwise, counterclockwise, midnight, noon,  sunrise, and sunset to our word wall. I also add any words that the students didn't understand and any "Unanswered Questions" they may still have about the exploration.

I then distribute the Day and night worksheet for them to complete for them to show what they learned about the rotation of the Earth. I had to give them an explanation of worksheet to help them know that they need to draw 2 arrows to show rotation and revolution. Here are some examples of student work: Day and night student drawing #1Day and night student drawing #2, and Day and night student drawing #3.

I then show them a longer version of the video from the International Space Station (it's 6 minutes long.)