Rotation and Revolution of the Earth around the Sun

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SWBAT demonstrate the movement of the Earth around the Sun.

Big Idea

The movement of the Earth around the Sun is the basis for understanding other solar system patterns that relate to day and night, the length of day, shadows, eclipses, and other phenomena.

Lesson Overview- 5 E Lesson Planning

5 minutes

Unit 2:Sun-Earth Connection (Solar System)

Lesson 5: Rotation and Revolution of the Earth around the Sun.

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 how the Earth orbits or revolves around the Sun while including the rotation of the Earth that they learned about in the previous lesson. They will learn that the Sun also rotates, but at a much slower rate than the Earth. The materials that are needed are:

  • different colored chalk (sidewalk chalk works best)
  • measuring tape
  • string
  • wrap around map from previous lesson
  • globe (optional)
  • lamp with shade removed
  • Science Notebooks
  • Pencils 

 Next Generation Science Standards:

This lesson focuses on 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 moonaround 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 start this lesson by turning on the lamp from the previous lesson and I have the students form a circle around the lamp with their backs to the lamp. I then ask them to demonstrate how the Earth moves to make night and day. I ask the students to stop at different intervals and describe what time of day or night it would be if our city was on the front of their body, reminding them of the wrap around map we used in the previous lesson. I make sure that they are moving in the right direction (counterclockwise) and that they are using the terms we discussed previously (rotation, spin, axis, midnight, noon, sunrise, sunset). Here is our rotation and revolution review. Here is a video of the day and night demonstration

I then ask if they have any questions about this activity and then tell them that we will be adding another movement of the Earth around the Sun but that we will be doing this outside on the playground. 


20 minutes

I tell the students that they now have to come up with a plan to demonstrate how the Earth moves around the Sun and that we will be doing this outside on the playground. I tell them to work with their science group and one other group to plan this activity (this will make 4 groups of 8 students each). I tell them that they can use their wrap around maps from the previous lesson if they need it. They also will have chalk, measuring tapes and string available to them. My criteria for their model is that the Sun has to be in the center, the Earth needs to be at least 1 meter from the Sun and that the orbit needs to be drawn around the Sun and include the Earth. I tell them that it does not need to be a scale model, we are just focusing on how the Earth moves.

I give the students 10 minutes to make their plans and ask them to draw the plan in their Science Notebooks. I walk around to help as needed and give suggestions if the students are having a hard time. I also listen for key words such as orbit, revolution, rotation, spin, and other key vocabulary. If I don't hear these terms, I remind the students that they need to use them in their discussion and planning. Here is student plan #1 and student plan #2.

Before we head outside for the playground exploration I set up an expectation for learning. I do what's call a "CHAMPS". Our school district has adopted the Safe and Civil Schools classroom management strategy of CHAMPS. This represents an acronym that helps teachers create expectations for students with C representing "Conversation", H representing "Help", A stands for "Activity", M is for "Movement", P is for "Participation" and S stands for "Success". Here is the CHAMPS Expectations for Outside Learning.

We then head out to the basketball court where I explain the activity to the students. I tell them that they will be putting their plan into action by drawing the Sun, Earth and the orbit of the Earth around the Sun based on the plans they drew in their notebooks. They will need to work together to complete the task in 20 minutes so we can go on to the next part.


30 minutes

After the students have completed their chalk drawings on the playground, I gather them near one of the drawings. I ask for 2 volunteers, one to be the "Sun" and the other to be the "Earth". I have the student who is the "Sun", stand on the drawing of the Sun and the "Earth" volunteer stand on the Earth.

I ask the students about the location of the Sun and remind them that it's at the center of the Solar System. I tell them the the Sun rotates once approximately every 27 days. I then ask the students if that's fast or slow? I tell the student who is the "Sun" to rotate counterclockwise very slowly. I ask the students to tell me how fast the Earth rotates and whether that is faster or slower than the Sun. Several students say that the Earth rotates every 24 hours and that this is faster than the Sun. I then tell the "Earth" to start rotating faster then the "Sun" in a counterclockwise direction. I then ask the students what other movement the Earth makes around the Sun. Some say that it circles around the Sun and other say that it orbits around the Sun. I clarify that it orbits or revolves around the Sun while it is rotating. I tell the Earth to now continue to rotate but also start to revolve around the Sun. I ask the students how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the Sun. I hear a few say 1 year and other say 365 days and others aren't so sure. I tell them that it takes about 1 year or 365 days for the Earth to revolve around the Sun. Here are 2 students demonstrating the playground model.

After the demonstration, I have the students return to their own chalk drawings and tell them to take turns being the "Sun" and the "Earth" to practice the rotation and revolution with their groups. I give them about 15  minutes to practice and I make sure that they are understanding the difference between rotation and revolution.

We then return to the classroom and I ask them about the investigation. I ask them if it was more challenging to be the "Sun" or the "Earth" in the model. 

As an extension to the activity I show them this video a group of 5th graders made about rotation and revolution. I tell the students that they should think of some ways for them to remember the difference between the 2 terms and that we would share these in the next science class. 

The evaluation for this investigation is done primarily through observing the students while they are planning and carrying out the model. I make a note of any students who may be struggling with the concept. (I almost always carry my iPad with me or a clipboard so I can write these notes).

In the next lesson after we add the Moon, I will do an evaluation through a worksheet they will complete at the end.