The Moon and Its Phases

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SWBAT identify patterns in the phases of the moon. They will determine what causes the changes in the moon's appearance in the sky by tracking the moon's appearance nightly.

Big Idea

Students will graph the changes in the moon's appearance over 28 days and use the data to identify patterns among the monthly phases.

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

In this lesson, The Moon and Its Phases, students begin with a brainstorming activity about the moon to activate their prior knowledge. They take part in a fishbowl think aloud to encourage conversation and questioning from one another. From there, students create moon phase cards, which is used to track their learning of the moon. Through discussions, reading, and demonstration and simulation models, students define and describe the moon and identify its phases. They note these facts and information on their cards and graphic organizer. As a culminating activity/assessment for this lesson, students log the moon's appearance each night and write an analysis of the patterns illustrated in their log.

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: Student use a moon phase model to experience the appearance of the phases of the moon and describe the phase changes through a lunar cycle.

3.) Planning and Carrying Out Investigations: Students track and observe the moon's appearance for one month to provide evidence for explaining how the moon's appearance changes throughout a 28 day cycle.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Moon and Its Phases lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

1.) Patterns: Students use their own shadow models to reveal patterns changes related to time and use these patterns to explain why they repeat daily.

2.) Cause and Effect: Students conduct an investigation to determine the effect of Earth's rotation in relation of the sun's position to explain why the sun appears to move across the sky.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS1.A:  The Universe and its Stars

ESS1.B:  Earth and the Solar System


Classroom Management Considerations

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.


For time management purposes, I use “lab rats ” where each student has a number on the back of his or her chair, 1,2,3,4 (students sit in groups of 4)and displayed on the board.  For each activity I use lab rats, I switch up the roles randomly so students are experiencing different task responsibilities which include:  Director, Materials Manager, Reporter, and Technician.  It makes for smooth transitions and efficiency for set up, work, and clean-up.  


15 minutes

Activating Prior Knowledge

I begin asking students to take out their orrery model from our Sun, Earth, Moon lesson. I point out that we have been exploring a lot about the Earth's movement and motion around the Sun. I then pose the question, "What about the moon's movement?" I ask them to move and observe the moon around the Earth. Then ask volunteers to share what they notice.

Next, using, the focused listing strategy, I have students write down any ideas or experiences related to the moon. This strategy is designed to activate thinking and improve their ability to recall information from previous experiences.

focused list moonfocused list moon


Once they finish, I engage them in a fish bowl think aloud. Here I call several students to sit together in the center of the room and share their ideas. Meanwhile the rest of the class is asked to listen attentively for two reasons. One, I want them to compare what they are hearing about the moon from the fishbowl with their own list. This helps them reflect on their own thinking and make connections with others. Second, I will be asking them what they heard from the group and to share if they have a similar idea or if it was something new. While students are doing the fishbowl think aloud, I am webbing the ideas on the board as I hear them. When the think aloud is finished, the observing students can ask questions, make comments, or identify connections with the inside members.

Once we finish, I direct students to the board and point out what we already know about the moon. I check off the parts that are factual and put a question mark next to questionable ideas. I do this so students can see that some ideas may be misconceptions or inaccurate. I explain that we are exploring these ideas to prove them as factual as well.


15 minutes

Defining the Moon

I have students hand out a lunar cycle concept graphic organizer. One side has a large moon for recording facts about it and the other side is a web illustrating moons in a cyclical shape. I explain that is used in the next two parts of the lesson as we define the moon and learn the phases of the moon.

I begin with the term moon and display it on the board and ask students to write it on the back of their graphic organizer. I explain that the moon is a natural satellite, which is anything that orbits another object. It has a rocky surface covered with craters, valleys, mountains, and flat areas. It does not have water or air and is 1/4 the size of Earth. It does not have its own light, it reflects the light from the sun. It takes about twenty days to revolve around the Earth. (I have students record this information.) 

Then I ask: "Have you ever wondered why the moon appears to change its shape?" To bring this information to life and get them to start thinking about the phases of the moon, I show them this short video about the moon.

Identifying the Phases of the Moon

First, to redefine, I ask: Why does the moon shine? I want to make sure students understand the moon does not have its own light and appears light because it reflects the light from the sun. Then I ask students to use their orrery model (from Sun, Earth, Moon lesson) to move the moon around the Earth. I point out that the same side of the moon always faces toward the Earth.

Next, I hand out a Phases of the Moon Infographic and their chromebook. First, we begin to examine the phases of the moon on the infographic and identify the pattern that appears within the cycle. Then, I direct them to their chromebook to read more about the individual moon phases. With these two resources, I have students I have them set up their lunar cycle concept graphic organizer by writing title of each moon phase in the designated area. 

To give them a visual replica of the moon appearing to change shape, I project the moon moving through each phase. This helps connect the model images to the actual image.

(There is music, but it's optional. I choose to mute it so students are focused on the moon moving through the different phases.)


25 minutes

Exploring the Phases of the Moon

After they examine each phase on the infographic, I hand out images of each moon phase. (The images do not have titles on them, just a picture depicting the moon's appearance of the phase it is in. I have them glue them onto index cards to keep them sturdy and be reused for studying).

Their task is to figure out the order of moon phases by arranging them by examining the light depicted on each phase and use it to determine pattern of light as the moon's appearance changes during each phase. I ask them to use their infographic and work with their group to arrange them in the correct order. 

Next, they use their chromebook to do a self check of the phases of the moon and their moon infographic. This allows students to identify the phase of the moon and the correct order in which it appears. Once they have correctly identified each moon phase, the write a description on the back of their card.  These in turn become study cards for a future test. Students add an illustration and description to their lunar cycle concept graphic organizer

Moon Phase graphic organizer Moon Phase graphic organizer

Finally, I have them write an explanation at the bottom of their lunar cycle graphic organizer to the following question: Why does the moon appear to change shape? They write an explanation that includes details learned throughout the investigation. 


5 minutes

Real World Application-Long Term Project Task

I ask student to keep track of the moon's appearance of the next month. I hand out a moon log sheet and explain their assignment.  They are looking at the moon each night and  drawing what they see. Each day I do a quick check in with students about our observations. If a student misses or does not have the chance to observe the moon that night or it is cloudy out, I have them go on Moon Connection to see the moon from that date. After a month, we examine our log sheets and engage in a discussion about how the appearance of the moon changed throughout the month and any patterns they noticed.

I ask them to analyze their log using the following questions:

  • What can you conclude about the moon and its position in the sky throughout the month? Explain what causes this cycle to occur. 
  • What pattern do the phases of the moon create?
  • Do you think that this pattern helps us know what the moon will look like tomorrow night?
  • How long did it take for the moon to go through one cycle (look the same again)?

They identify and illustrate the patterns of the moon over a period of time, note how many days the moon appeared to to have the same shape, and then construct a written explanation about why and how the moon appears to change shape.

moon phase log