The Location of Earth

165 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT explain the location of the Earth in relation to the sun, solar system, galaxy, and universe.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students explore the location of Earth by learning new vocabulary, watching a video, researching online sources, and sharing fact-based arguments.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students begin by studying the location of the Earth in the Universe. Then, students learn about the brightness of stars through investigations and research. At the end of this unit, students explore the patterns on Earth, such as day/night and the length of shadows. 

Summary of Lesson

Today, I open the lesson by introducing vocabulary and showing a video on Earth's location. Students then explore where Earth is located by researching online links. At the end of the lesson, students reflect and apply their new understanding of Earth's location by constructing a fact-based argument. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support 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.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practices:

Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence & Science & Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information 

After reading texts to obtain ideas, students will develop an evidence-based argument of where Earth is located.

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 4: Systems and System Models 

By studying the Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, and Universe, students begin to recognize each as a system of related parts that make up a whole. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS1.A:  The Universe and its Stars

The sun is a star that appears larger and brighter than other stars because it is closer. Stars range greatly in their distance from Earth. (5-ESS1-1)

ESS1.B:  Earth and the Solar System

The orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year. (5-ESS1-2)

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.7: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently. In this lesson, students will be using multiple resources to locate key information involving Earth's location. In addition, this lesson supports CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. After researching Earth's location, students write an informative paragraph to convey their ideas. 

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


40 minutes

Partners & Computers

During today's lesson, students will be working in teams of two students (elbow partners). Each team of students will have one laptop computer to share. While we have enough computers for all students, I have found that partners are more successful collaborators when they are sharing one device. 

Envelope Book

For the Sun and Earth's Patterns Unit, students are creating an envelope book to help organize new information and to support an inquiry approach during the learning process. Prior to the unit, I used a plastic comb binding machine (pictured below) to create envelope books using 10 envelopes for each student's book: Envelope Books. During today's lesson, students will be working with the first envelope in their books. 

Vocabulary Cards

For each envelope, students are provided with up to 3 vocabulary cards: Vocabulary Cards (I copied these onto green card stock paper & cut each page into 10 cards: Vocabulary Cards). For easy distribution, I placed these cards into ziplock baggies so that each group of students could easily take cards out as needed: Vocabulary Cards in Bags. As an opening to the lesson, I write the following vocabulary words on the board:

  • solar system
  • universe
  • galaxy


Students work together with their partners to discover the meaning of each word, using their computers and/or dictionaries as resources. As students are ready, they share definitions out loud with the rest of the class. We discuss student findings and then I construct a student-friendly definition (using student input) for all students to record on their cards. This process is important for two reasons: (1) sometimes students record definitions that are difficult to understand due to complex language and (2) this also allows students to see how important it is to use multiple sources when conducting research. 

Here's an example of student vocabulary cards: Student Vocabulary Cards.

Teacher Note: One student asks, "Do all solar systems have eight planets?" To clarify, we insert the word "our" before Solar System on the vocabulary card.  

Developing a Guiding Question 

To support an inquiry-based learning model and Science & Engineering Practice 1 (Asking Questions and Defining Problems), I explain: Today, you will be learning about the planet, Earth. First, let's talk about the questions you have about our planet. Think about the vocabulary words that we've discussed so far and think about what they have to do with planet Earth. What guiding question do you think we should research today? Student questions include:

  • I wonder how small the Earth is compared to all the other planets. 
  • How was the Earth made? 
  • If the Earth gets destroyed, is there another Earth-like planet? 
  • How far is Earth from other planets? 
  • How are we all here? 
  • Is Earth more gas or terrestrial? 

As students share their thinking, I'm hoping that with some teacher guidance, students will reflect upon the vocabulary words and ask, "Where is Earth located?" Sure enough... after giving students the first word of the question, "Where," one student offers, "Where is Earth located in the Universe?"

Here's a video of this question-development process in action: Brainstorming Questions about Earth

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

Now that students have helped develop a guiding question, I introduce today's learning goal: I can explain the location of the Earth in relation to the sun, solar system, galaxy, and universe. 

Envelope Cover 

I continue on by passing out an envelope picture to each student: Envelope 1 Pictures. Pictures add an element of excitement to learning and they provide support for students who learn best using visual aids. 

I chose this picture in particular as it is a fun mnemonic device that helps students remember the inner and outer planets. Students loved it! 

On the front cover of the first envelope in student envelope books, I model how to paste the picture and write the investigative question for today's lesson: Where is Earth Located? (Guiding Question on Envelope).

Fact-Based Argument Cards

For most envelopes, students are provided with a Fact-Based Argument Card: Fact-Based Argument Cards (I copied these onto yellow card stock paper & cut each paper into 3 cards: Argument Cards). As I pass this card out to each student, I explain: At the end of today's lesson, you will each have the opportunity to construct a fact-based argument, explaining where Earth is located. Remember, as scientists, it is important to make sure that your arguments and explanations are based on evidence and research findings! 

Teacher Note: By asking students to develop explanations based upon evidence and research findings, I am supporting Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence. Also, passing these cards out at the beginning of the lesson helps prepare students for what is going to come at the end of the lesson. This way, students pay close attention to any evidence that they can later use to support their argument. 


I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show students the following video. I chose this video because it beautifully illustrates the location of Earth in the solar system, galaxy, and universe.



Prior to this lesson, I sketched the following picture on a poster so that students can visualize how the Earth is part of the solar system, how the solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy, and how the Milky Way galaxy is part of the universe: Diagram of Earth's Location. (I skip discussing the Local Group and Local Supercluster to scaffold these complex concepts to a 5th grade level.) As the above video plays, I pause a few times and refer to this poster so that students can truly conceptualize the location of Earth. Between the video and poster, students begin to truly understand the location of Earth! 


40 minutes

Student Research Resources

While searching for credible information on the internet is a valuable process for students to learn, I sometimes find students spending more time finding resources instead of learning content. To make the most of student learning time, I'll often provide research links. So, prior to today's lesson, I email the following research links to all students. 



Now that students understand that Earth is located in the Solar System, which is located in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is then located in the Universe, I want them to investigate each of these locations further. I pass out a copy of Where is the Earth Located? to each student. 

Following the same sequence as the video and poster, students study each of the above research links and recording notes starting with the Earth and working their way out to the universe. 


To model expectations, I guide the class as they use the first link to take notes on Earth. I project and write student suggestions on my paper as students take similar notes: Notes on Earth.

Teacher Note: The most challenging aspect of this research process is finding facts that answer the guiding question, "Where is Earth located?" For example, when studying the Earth link, we found two facts ("Earth is the 3rd planet from the sun," and "It is the 5th largest planet in the Solar System.") that helped answer the guiding question. We discuss how some facts may not answer the guiding question, but they could will help us build a greater understanding of Earth itself. For example, the fact, "Earth is the only planet in our Solar System that has life," does not help us understand the location of Earth, but it helps us understand how Earth compares to other locations in the solar system. 

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What patterns have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. What conclusion can you draw about ____?
  8. Can you explain where Earth is located? 
  9. How do you know? 

Student Conferences

Here, Solar System Conference, I encourage the students to make sure they are relying more on collecting exact evidence from the text than their own knowledge base. 

During this conference, Universe Conference, the students explain how all of these locations are connected! I love how they point out other objects in the Universe as getting to know the surrounding objects helps students understand locations. 

Student Work

Here's an example of student work during this time: 

Reflect & Apply

15 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to apply their findings. For this reason, I invite students to use their research to answer the guiding question, "Where is Earth located?" by writing a fact-based argument on one of their Fact-Based Argument Cards

To get students started, I model how to write the first sentence: First Sentence of the Fact-Based Argument. I also remind students once more: Remember, as scientists, it is important to make sure that your arguments and explanations are always based on evidence and research findings! 


As students begin to finish, I ask volunteers to share their arguments aloud. I also invite others to respectfully agree or disagree with other students' arguments as it is important for students to provide and receive critique from peers and to differentiate between arguments based on reasoned judgement and arguments based on research findings (Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence). 

Student Work

Here are a couple examples of Fact-Based Argument Cards during this time. I was really impressed with how dedicated students were to providing supporting evidence. In fact, most students continued writing on the backside! 


At the end of this lesson, students place the following items in today's envelope: