Part 2- 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 distances 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

In this lessonPart 2-The Structure of Our Solar System, begins with a quick analysis of the matrix we created in class yesterday. I engage them in a discussion on the distances between Jupiter and the sun to help them conceptualize the distance between them. We talk about the numbers being abstract and how to make them more tangible. This is where I talk about scale models and explain that our task is to create a scale model of the planets' distances in the solar system. The students reflect on the scale model by answering questions about what they learned.

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 a scale model of the solar system to recognize and distinguish the distances between the planets

4.) Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Students analyze the distances between each planet in our scale model and how these distances account for their length of year and temperature.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Part 2- Structure of Our Solar System lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

3.) Scale, Proportion and Quantity:  Students create a scale model of the planets and distances between them and the sun. They use this scaled model as a concrete way of studying the sizes and distances of the planets. They represent this model by creating a graph.

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.


45 minutes

Eliciting Higher Order Thinking

I begin by noting that we gathered a lot of information about the planet's size, composition, and distance from the sun in yesterday's lesson.  I have them take out their matrix chart they created yesterday. I ask the following question:

  • How far is Jupiter from the Sun?  A volunteer reads the distance, then I ask:
  • How big is that? I listen to how they grapple with the concept of size.


I explain that while we know the distance in number sense, it is hard to really get the sense of just how far that really is. So to get a better idea, I share that our task today is to build create a scale model of the distances between the planets and the sun. I explain that a scale model is a way to show large sizes and distances in a small area.

Determining our Scaled Distance

I pose the question: "How much space do you think we need to find the distances?" I want to get a sense of how they conceptualize distance.  I explain that we need to use the outdoor space for scaling the distances between the planets.

Before we go outside, I explain to students that we are scaling the distances between the planets using a walking pace. I share that pace is about two walking steps (one step with each foot) and measures about one meter. Then, I hand them a pace card chart and Pacing Our Way Through the Solar System recording sheet. I review the pace chart and recording sheet before we go outside. I point out how many paces we are walking from one planet to the next. I review this so they start to recognize the number paces necessary between each planet and their distance from the sun. 

I begin by placing the Sun at a starting point. I ask the students holding the Mercury card to tell us how many paces we need to travel from the Sun to Mercury's location. They share 6 paces. As a class we walk six paces to Mercury's location and place the Mercury model down. (I bring cones labeled with a planet ). I have students analyze the distance between themselves at Mercury and the Sun and write an observation on their recording sheet. We briefly discuss what they notice 

Then I have the next planet, Venus, share the number of paces we need to travel from Mercury to find its location and repeat the process as we did for Mercury. We continue our pace model for the remaining planets. As we continue on, students recognize that the distances from the planets increase and realize the further we go, the sun appears to get smallerand smaller from our viewpoint.

When we get to Jupiter, I have students note the distinctions between the planets distances. For instance there is a large gap between Mars and Jupiter. Here I note that this gap defines the inner planets and outer planets. I share that astronauts believe asteroids, rocky masses that orbit the Sun, are in this space and it is called the asteroid belt. We continue pacing the remaining planets and noting observations.

Student sample-Observations of the planets' distances on the scale model


When we complete our scaled model, I have students observe how far we walked and the distances between each planet.  


15 minutes

Reflecting On Our Scale Model

After some discussion, I have students complete a Pacing Our Way Through the Solar System Reflection. These reflection questions helps students synthesize their obersvations and help them develop their understanding of the distances between the planets in the solar system. 

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