Part 1- The Structure Of Our Solar System

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SWBAT identify and sequence the sun and planets in our solar system.

Big Idea

Students will create a scale model of the solar system to distinguish the distance of each planet from the sun.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Out of This World-A Journey Through Our Solar System unit focuses on students recognizing that Earth is a part of the “solar system” that includes the sun, planets, moons, and stars and is the third planet from the sun. Through models, investigations, graphing, and computer simulations, students learn that Earth revolves around the sun in a year’s time, and rotates on its axis once approximately every 24 hours. They make connections between the rotation of the earth and day/night, and the apparent movement of the sun, moon, and stars across the sky, as well as changes that occur in the observable shape of the moon over a month. The unit wraps up as students learn about the brightness of stars, patterns they create in the sky, and why some stars and constellations can only be seen at certain times of the year.

Lesson Synopsis

This lesson, Part 1-The Structure of Our Solar System, begins with a quick video to spark students curiosity about the solar system and then  generate questions about the parts that make up our solar system: sun, planets, moon, stars, and other.  To find answers to these questions, students go through a scavenger hunt to find the information about each component. After discovering and developing an understanding about the parts of our solar system, students select two planets to compare and write a "text message" sharing the details about the planets they are comparing. I collect this assignment and use it to check for understanding.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support future lessons on 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.


  • 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.

  • 5-PS2.1: Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.


Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering practices

2.) Developing and Using Models: Students create an orbital model to use and learn about a planet's orbital path around the sun.

8.) Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information: Students obtain information about information about all of the planets in the solar system and use a matrix to organize their information to compare and contrast them.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Part 1- Structure of Our Solar System lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

4.) Systems and Systems Models:  Students identify parts that make up a solar system and these related parts make up our galaxy, the Milky Way

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS1.A:  The Universe and its Stars

ESS1.B:  Earth and the Solar System


Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirection.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


15 minutes

Sparking Curiosity

To begin, I show students a video from National Geographic  It is a brief synopsis defining the solar system and the components. I use this to peak students interest and curiosity.  

Once the video ends, I ask: "In three words, What was the video about?" I want them to recognize that they viewed the solar system. I then ask, What is the solar system? Where is located? I look for students to share a definition. After some shares, I define it on the board as:

  • solar systemincludes the Sun, planets, and all of the objects that orbit around the Sun due to its gravity

I also define the words galaxy, universe, and gravity as these words are used in conversations, discussions, and investigations throughout the unit.

  • galaxy: a huge system of stars, dust, and gas held together by gravity; some form in different shapes like elliptical and spiral; Earth is located in the Milky Way galaxy, which is spiral shaped.


  • universemade up of everything that exists, including planets, stars, galaxies and all forms of matter and energy.


  • gravity: the force of attraction that exists between two objects.


Students set up a four-square in their interactive notebook and define the terms.

Eliciting Curiosity

I then have students set-up a 5 column chart in their notebook that has the following topics on it: sun, planets, moon, stars, other.  

5 column chart

I ask them to think about all of these components of the solar system and write down any questions they are curious to know more about under each column. To encourage higher order thinking questions, I give students a Bloom's taxonomy die.  Each side of the die has question stems related to one of the categories: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Students roll the die, select a question stem, and write a question on one of the topics from their notebook chart. They continue until each topic has a few questions written under it.

After some time, I have students turn and talk with their group about the questions they created. Then I ask for volunteers from each group  to share questions created by group members.


45 minutes

Exploring the Planets

To set our goal for today, I direct students to the standards board and ask a student to read aloud: "Today we will gather data about the planets in our solar system and use the information to create a scale model of each planet's distance from the sun."

I explain, "You are going to go on a scavenger hunt through the solar system to find out about each planet." I point to nine stations in the room. Each station consists of chrome books and approved websites, Kids Astronomy, Planets For Kids, Space Kids, The Planets, Kid Zone, The Nine Planets

I continue, "You are visiting each planet's station and reading information about each planet. Then you are recording details about the topic on this matrix chart." (I hold up and then hand out) Student rotate through each chromebook station, read and record the main ideas under each heading in the matrix.  

When our matrix is filled out, I tell students we are using the information to help us create a scale model of the solar system tomorrow. The distances between planets help students recognize why planets have certain lengths of days, years, and temperatures.

(The chromebooks were not up an running at this time I taught this lesson, so I used books from the library, The Solar System by Delta Publishing)

solar system

Explain to Summarize Our Understanding

We reconvene as a class and review the information they found by visiting each planet. I ask questions to help students synthesize their learning and follow up with brief explanations.

  • What are the planets that make up our solar system?
  • How do the planets differ from one another?
  • Compare /Contrast the inner planets with outer planets. Give two ways they are alike... different.
  • What is Earth's position in our solar system?
  • Name the planets in order from nearest to farthest from the sun.


To help my students remember the order of the planets, I teach them this mnemonic device. We practice it together. 

★ My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas

★ Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto

I do tell them they can create their own if it helps them to remember it better.


5 minutes

Checking For Understanding

Once they complete their scavenger hunt, I tell them they are going tocreate a text message to a friend about their scavenger hunt. They select two planets from their scavenger hunt. They compare them using information they collected on their scavenger hunt and give three reasons why life couldn't exist on those planets.  

Here are some student text message written samples:

1.)  Student text message sample 1-frontside Student text message sample 1-backside

2.)  Student text message sample 2- frontside Student text message sample 2-backside

3.)  Student text message sample 3-frontside Student text message sample 3- backside  Student text message sample 3- last page


I collect their ticket at the end of class and use as a formative assessment.