The Planets of our Solar System

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SWBAT identify the planets and other components of the Solar System by using trading cards

Big Idea

What are the objects that are a part of our Solar System and how do they compare in size to the Earth and Sun?

Lesson Overview-5E Lesson Plan

5 minutes

Unit 2 :Sun-Earth Connection (Solar System)

Lesson 13 : The Planets of our Solar System.

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 and 9 are lessons about Orreries, lessons 10 and 11 cover solar eclipses, lessons 12 and 13 are about the moon, lesson 14 discusses the other planets in the Solar System, and the last 4 lessons; 15-18 are about stars and constellations.  

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson students will learn about the other objects that make up the Solar System. They have already learned about the Sun and the Earth's connection to it. 

You will also need the following materials to complete this lesson: 

  • 8 sets of the solar system cards (one set for each science group)
  • handouts of the solar system sorting sheet
  • pencils

Next Generation Science Standards:

This lesson focuses on the Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts of the NGSS but not any specific performance expectations of the NGSS Standards. However, it is good background information for students for when they start learning about the NGSS Standard

5-ESS1-1:Support an argument that the apparent brightness of the sun and stars is due to their relative distances from the Earth. Planets can be observed in the night sky and are brighter than most stars. It also supports 5-ESS1-2: Represent data in graphical displays to reveal daily changes in the length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky. Some planets are more visible in the night sky during certain times of the year.

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 and Engineering Practices:

Analyzing and Interpreting data.



10 minutes

We have been doing a lot of learning about the Solar System with the main focus being on the Sun, Earth, and the Moon. We have been discussing the fact that there are other objects in our Solar System and that some of these can be seen in the night sky. I mention to the students that during their moon observations, they may have also seen Venus and Mars nearby in the early evening and that the planets can sometimes look like stars. 

I tell the students that they are going to get a set of cards that I will hand out to each group. I tell them that I only want them to look at the picture side of the card and that they will work with their science groups to sort these cards into categories of their choosing. The cards that I use are from our curriculum (we use Full Option Science Systems- FOSS) but a free set of cards can be downloaded and used.  Here is another link to free cards that have more information that can be used for the sorting activity later. For the 2 free sets of cards, I would suggest covering up what the objects are so that there can be more novelty in the initial sorting.

I give them 5 minutes to sort the cards and this starts an involved discussion about how they should be sorted. Some students sort the cards by the size of each of the objects, some sort by the color, and another group decides to sort them based on how pretty or ugly they think the pictures are. Others decide to open their Science Resource book to help them (I don't discourage this, but it informs me of students who may not enjoy the novelty or challenge of coming up with their own strategies for sorting). 

After the students organize their cards, I first ask what these cards are- and I call on a few students to explain what they are. They should figure out that these cards are the planets of the Solar System and that there are some other objects included. I write down Solar System and tell the students what it means. I then ask for a few students to share how they organized their cards and why they did it this way. I remind them that there are no right or wrong answers and that this was and exploration of the cards. 

A few students share that they sorted the cards by size, others by shape and some sorted the cards based on colors. I tell them that as scientists, they know that things can be classified and categorized in many different ways and they will be doing that next. Here are students sorting the cards and another partnership sorting cards.





30 minutes

I ask the students about what they think the cards are and many of them know that they represent planets and other space objects (asteroids, comets, and moons). I tell the students to turn the cards over to look at the different data on the back of the cards. I tell the students to talk to their science groups about what they see on the backs of the cards. After talking to their groups I bring the class together to talk about what data is on the cards and we list these on the board:

  • distance from the Sun
  • type of planet (gas or rocky)
  • diameter of the planet (size)
  • time of orbit around the Sun
  • temperature 

We review what diameter means and what orbit means (we have learned these terms in previous lessons).

I give the students the Solar System worksheet that will help them with sorting the cards based on the data on the back of the cards.The students then use their Solar System cards and sort them based on these properties. I tell them to first sort them based on their distances from the Sun. I walk around and assist as needed. 

I then tell them to sort the cards by the sizes of the objects. They look for the diameter property that is listed on the back and sort the objects this way. I ask the students to think of other ways they can sort the cards and to try those methods. 

I then give them a notebook sheet that they can use to sort the cards. This worksheet has the students putting the solar system objects in order based on their distances from the Sun. Here is  a student's solar system sorting cards and data sheet. Here is another student's Solar system data.

I explain to them that the planets can be categorized in 3 main categories- terrestrial planets, gas giants, or ice giants.




20 minutes

I make sure that everyone has completed the Solar System worksheet and a lot of questions come up about the different planets and especially about Pluto since it is still included in the cards

This lesson of course leads to more curiosity about the planets, so I decide to incorporate a math lesson of Master Teacher Cathy Skinner where the students make 2D Models of the planets. 

Of course the students are curious about Pluto and we have a discussion about "Poor Pluto" these are the NASA links that give an explanation about Pluto as well as what defines a planet Pluto and What is a planet? I tell the students that if they want to do more research on Pluto or other planets that they can do this independently. 

I use the worksheet as an evaluation tool to make sure they were sorting the planets correctly.