Similar & Different Stars

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SWBAT describe how stars are similar and different.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students explore how stars are similar and different by researching online sources. Then, students construct evidence-based arguments using their research.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students begin by studying the location of the Earth in the Universe. Then, students learn about the brightness of stars through investigations and research. At the end of this unit, students explore the patterns on Earth, such as day/night and the length of shadows. 

Summary of Lesson

Today, I open the lesson by introducing vocabulary and guiding students to develop a common research question. Students then explore how stars are similar and different by collecting facts using online resources. At the end of the lesson, students reflect and apply their new understanding of stars by constructing and sharing evidence-based arguments. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-ESS1-1. Support an argument that the apparent brightness of the sun and stars is due to their relative distances from Earth.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practices:

Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence & Science & Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information 

After reading texts to obtain ideas, students will develop an evidence-based argument, explaining how stars are similar and different. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 1: Patterns 

As students study how stars are similar and different, they learn about different ways in which stars can be organized and classified into groups based on size, color, temperature, and distance from Earth. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS1.A:  The Universe and its Stars

The sun is a star that appears larger and brighter than other stars because it is closer. Stars range greatly in their distance from Earth. (5-ESS1-1)

ESS1.B:  Earth and the Solar System

The orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year. (5-ESS1-2) 

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.7: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently. In this lesson, students will be using multiple resources to locate key information involving Earth's location. In addition, this lesson supports CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. After researching Earth's location, students write an informative paragraph to convey their ideas. 

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


20 minutes

Partners & Computers

During today's lesson, students will be working in teams of two students (elbow partners). Each team of students will have one laptop computer to share. While we have enough computers for all students, I have found that partners are more successful collaborators when they are sharing one device. 

Envelope Book

For the Sun and Earth's Patterns Unit, students are creating an envelope book to help organize new information and to support an inquiry approach during the learning process. Prior to the unit, I used a plastic comb binding machine (pictured below) to create envelope books using 10 envelopes for each student's book: Envelope Books. During today's lesson, students will be working with the second envelope in their books. 

Vocabulary Cards

For each envelope, students are provided with up to 3 vocabulary cards: Vocabulary Cards (I copied these onto green card stock paper & cut each page into 10 cards: Vocabulary Cards). For easy distribution, I placed these cards into ziplock baggies so that each group of students could easily take cards out as needed: Vocabulary Cards in Bags. As an opening to the lesson, I write the following vocabulary words on the board:

  • star
  • celestial body
  • light year


Students work together with their partners to discover the meaning of each word, using their computers and/or dictionaries as resources. As students are ready, they share definitions out loud with the rest of the class. We discuss student findings and then I construct a student-friendly definition (using student input) for all students to record on their cards. This process is important for two reasons: (1) sometimes students record definitions that are difficult to understand due to complex language and (2) this also allows students to see how important it is to use multiple sources when conducting research. 

Here's an example of student vocabulary cards: Student Vocabulary Cards.

Developing a Guiding Question 

To support an inquiry-based learning model and Science & Engineering Practice 1 (Asking Questions and Defining Problems), I explain: Today, you will be learning about stars. First, let's talk about the questions you have about stars. What guiding question do you think we should research today? Student questions include:

  • What is a star made of? 
  • Can a star be engulfed by a black hole? 
  • How many stars are in the Universe?
  • Why are there so many stars? 
  • What's in the stars? 
  • How are stars made? 
  • Are all stars to solar systems?
  • Are any stars cold? 


As students share their thinking, I'm hoping that with some teacher guidance, students will reflect upon the vocabulary words and ask, "How are stars similar and how are stars different?" Sure enough, one student shares the question, "How are stars the same?" I explain that this student has brought up the first half of our guiding question, "How are stars similar... and how are stars..." I guide students to say the second half, "and how are stars different?" 

Here's a video of this question-development process in action: Students Brainstorming Questions

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

Now that students have helped develop a guiding question, I introduce today's learning goal: I can describe how stars are similar and how stars are different. 

I take a moment for students to hypothesize how stars are similar and different. Students share the following comments: 

  • All stars are hot.
  • I think stars are different because think of our sun and the stars in the night sky. They look different.
  • Stars might come in different sizes.
  • All stars have five or six points. 
  • I think stars can be different colors. 
  • Stars can be different in the amount of heat they give off. 


Envelope Cover 

I continue on by passing out an envelope picture to each student: Envelope 2 Pictures. Pictures add an element of excitement to learning and they provide support for students who learn best using visual aids. 

On the front cover of the second envelope in student envelope books, I model how to paste the picture and write the investigative question for today's lesson: How are stars similar and how are stars different? Here's an example of a student's envelope: Student Envelope #2.

Fact-Based Argument Cards

For most envelopes, students are provided with a Fact-Based Argument Card: Fact-Based Argument Cards (I copied these onto yellow card stock paper & cut each paper into 3 cards: Argument Cards). As I pass this card out to each student, I explain: At the end of today's lesson, you will each have the opportunity to construct a fact-based argument, explaining how stars are similar and how stars are different. Remember, as scientists, it is important to make sure that your arguments and explanations are based on evidence and research findings! 

Teacher Note: By asking students to develop explanations based upon evidence and research findings, I am supporting Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.


Now that all the materials are passed out for the lesson and students have developed today's guiding question, I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show students the following video on stars. (By learning vocabulary and the guiding question ahead of time, students are provided with background information and a purpose for learning & watching the video.)

Students are now ready to explore how stars are similar and different with their partners! 


40 minutes

Student Research Resources

While searching for credible information on the internet is a valuable process for students to learn, I sometimes find students spending more time finding resources instead of learning content. To make the most of student learning time, I'll often provide research links. So, prior to today's lesson, I email the following research links to all students. 



I also pass out a copy of the Star Facts Graphic Organizer to each student. Immediately, students want to know about the "star ratings at the bottom of the page." To keep it simple, I tell students that I'll explain the rating process after they've completed their research. (Later on, students will be asked to rate the strength of each piece of collected evidence on how well it supports the argument that stars are similar and different.)

At this time, each pair of students use one computer (Students Researching) to compile facts that help answer the guiding question, "How are stars similar and how are stars different?" 

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What patterns have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. What conclusion can you draw about ____?
  8. What evidence have you collected that supports the fact that stars are alike/different?

Student Conferences

Here, Students Specifying Gases, I recognize students for providing exact details collecting facts on how stars are similar and different. Elaboration is key when constructing strong arguments. 

During this conference, Student Conference on Providing Examples, I encourage the students to think about how they can make their evidence even stronger by providing examples. 

Student Work

Here are a few examples of student research notes during this time. About half of the class was able to compete every box on the handout. Others had some blank boxes. However, the goal was to research the guiding question - which doesn't necessarily require students to find a certain number of facts! 


Star Ratings

Prior to moving on, I ask students to rate the strength of each piece of collected evidence (in each box) on how well it supports the argument that stars are similar and different. I am glad that I included this component in today's lesson as it truly required students to evaluate each of their recorded facts. 

Reflect & Apply

15 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to apply their findings. For this reason, I invite students to use their research to answer the guiding question, "How are stars similar and how are stars different?" by writing a fact-based argument on one of their Fact-Based Argument Cards

I ask students: What could be the first sentence in your argument? Having had practice with developing main idea sentences by restating the question, one student offers, "Stars are similar and different." All students then write this as the first sentence on their fact-based argument cards. 

I remind students once more: Remember, as scientists, it is important to make sure that your arguments and explanations are always based on evidence and research findings! 


As students begin to finish, I ask volunteers to share their arguments aloud. I also invite others to respectfully agree or disagree with other students' arguments as it is important for students to provide and receive critique from peers and to differentiate between arguments based on reasoned judgement and arguments based on research findings (Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence). 

Here are a few examples of students sharing: Student Sharing 1 and Student Sharing 2. Both students are about halfway done with their arguments, but still willing to share what they have written so far. 

Student Work

Here are a couple examples of Fact-Based Argument Cards during this time: 


At the end of this lesson, students place the following items in today's envelope: