Solar System Sentence Strip

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Students will be able to model the relative distances in the Solar System with a sentence strip.

Big Idea

The scale distances between the planets can be modeled with a folded sentence strip.

NGSS Background

This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.

MS-ESS1-1 Earth's Place in the Universe

PE: MS-ESS1-3 Analyze and Interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the Solar System.

DCI: ESS1.B Earth and the Solar System - The Solar System consists of the Sun and a collection of objects including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the Sun by its gravitational pull on them.

SP2: Developing and Using Models - A sentence strip is being used to mark out the correct distances in our Solar System which creates an accurate model of how far the planets are from each other.

CCC: Scale, Proportion, and Quantity - When depicting the Solar System, scale is everything. Most depiction of the Solar System adjust the scale of their model to fit in a predefined space giving students the misconception that the parents are closer than they really are.

This lesson replaces student's misconception of the distances between planets. Students often believe that the planets are close to each other and an equal distance apart based on posters and models found in classrooms. These posters and models often sacrifice scale to fit all eight parents in the same frame thereby causing a misconception about the true scale of the cosmos. This activity forces the students to consider the correct scale of the Solar System by having them mark off accurately scaled distances on a sentence strip.

This lesson was originally inspired by a conference I attended several years ago that included a presentation by a NASA Educator. I have since lost that material and do this activity from memory. I found a similar lesson Sizing Up the Solar System that describes this time honored lesson.

This lesson is a follow-up activity to Planetary Distances using Toilet Paper.

Sentence Strip Directions

15 minutes

Sentence Strip Directions

1) Label one end of the sentence strip as the Sun and the other end Pluto. Yes, I know Pluto is not a planet anymore, but I include it because it gives me a chance to describe why Pluto is not a planet anymore (i.e., it has not cleared it's neighborhood of objects, lots of ice junk in the Kuiper Belt). More on Pluto is covered in the article Why Pluto is no Longer a Planet.


2) Fold the sentence strip in half and label that mark as Uranus. 

3) Fold the sentence strip in half between the Sun and Uranus and label that Saturn.


4) Fold the sentence strip in half between Uranus and Pluto and label that Neptune.

5) Fold the sentence strip in half between the Sun and Saturn and label that Jupiter.

6) Fold the sentence strip in half between the Sun and Jupiter and label that Mars.

7) Fold the sentence strip in half between the Sun and Mars and label that Venus.

8) Estimate halfway between Venus and Mars and label Earth.

9) Estimate halfway between the Sun and Venus and label Mercury.


Student Activity

20 minutes

I start this activity before I teach about the planets in our Solar System. This way my students have an understanding of where the planets are before they learn about each individual planet.

As with all activities, videos, and readings, I recommend that you do create a sentence strip first so that you have a sense of the process.

I pass out one sentence strip per student and walk them through the process. We work as a whole group. When the strip is finished they attach it to their Interactive Science Notebook and have it as a future reference.

Student Work Sample

In the past I have had the students glue the strip directly into their notebook, but I found that it was easily torn. Now I have the students create a pocket that stores the sentence strip.