What our Solar System lesson plan includes
Lesson Objectives and Overview: Solar System teaches students about the eight planets and other parts that compose our solar system. Students will discover facts about each of the planets and learn about the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This lesson is for students in 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.
Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and the number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand.
The Solar Systems lesson plan requires quite a few extra supplies and some preparation. In addition to the handouts, you will need compasses, string, plain white paper, glue or tape, black construction paper, scissors, rulers with millimeter units, and other supplies students would need for their planet presentations. You also need to ensure they have access to the internet or other sources for research purposes.
To prepare for the lesson, create labels for the eight planets, the sun, and the asteroid belt. Locate an area to do a scale model of planet distances from the sun, such as a large field near the school. Collect compasses and string to draw circles with, and create a scale model of the sun to display in the classroom. Alternatively, you could ask for a student volunteer to create it during the lesson using yellow paper. Make sure the “sun” is 54.8 inches in diameter.
Options for Lesson
The “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page lists several suggestions for additional activity, alternate ways to approach aspects of the lesson, and so on. Most of the suggestions relate to the activities specifically. Students could work alone for one or both activities if you prefer. You could also eliminate one of the activities if you don’t have time to do both. For the second activity, you may want students to turn in their work rather than present them to the class. Alternatively, you could require students present during the second activity using PowerPoint or similar presentation software. One option that doesn’t relate to the activities suggests making Step 16 of the classroom procedure guide a writing assignment rather than just a discussion point to wrap up the lesson plan.
The paragraph on the teacher notes page provides an extra bit of information or guidance as you prepare. It suggests you take advantage of the abundance of information online about the solar system. It advises you to make this lesson as hands-on and creative as possible to fully engage students as they learn. Use the blank lines on this page to write down any other ideas or thoughts you have before delivering the lesson to your students.
SOLAR SYSTEM LESSON PLAN CONTENT PAGES
The Solar System lesson plan has two pages of content. The lesson introduces the topic by describing how many stars are visible in the night sky. These stars are millions and millions of miles away. They are all part of other solar systems, not ours. A solar system includes a sun (which is a star itself) and the planets and other objects that travel around it.
Our sun is a star just like all the others in the night sky. The sun is far closer to the Earth, which is why it is so much bigger and brighter than the others. It is mostly a big ball of gases, which includes hydrogen and helium. The planet that orbits closest to the sun is Mercury. The next one, and the hottest of the eight planets, is Venus. Following Venus are Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
Speaking of orbits, an orbit is the path a planet takes when traveling around the sun. It takes on more of an oval shape than a perfect circle. Not every planet’s orbit takes the same amount of time. For Earth, it takes about 365 days to orbit the sun, which is why we consider one year to be 365 days long.
A Year and a Day
A year for Earth is not the same as a year for other planets in the solar system if a year equates to the time it takes a planet to completely orbit the sun. However, it is useful to compare the orbits of other planets using what we call Earth years and days. The lesson provides a chart that lists the planets’ orbits using Earth days and years as the unit of measurement.
Mercury’s orbit takes 88 days total. That means that it orbits the sun just over four times in a single year. It takes Venus 224 days to completely orbit the sun, and Mars takes 687 days. The outer four planets take much longer. Jupiter’s orbit is 11.8 years, Saturn’s is 29.6 years, and Uranus’ is 84.3 years. Neptune takes the longest at 165 Earth years! The further away the planet is from the sun, the longer it takes that planet to orbit the sun.
The lesson then provides students with a chart of the planets’ daily rotation times. The amount of time a planet takes to rotate on its axis differs from other planets just as its orbit does. This amount of time is what we consider the length of a day. For Earth, of course, it takes 24 hours to spin on its axis in a full rotation. Again, the length of a “day” for other planets is not the same as it is for Earth, but the lesson compares each planet’s day using Earth’s time units.
Mercury takes 60 whole days to rotate once around its axis. Venus takes 243 days. Students may recognize at this point that a day for Venus is actually longer than a year! Mars takes about the same time as Earth. It rotates fully in 24.3 hours. Jupiter only takes 9.8 hours. Saturn spins completely around on its axis in 10.2 hours. Uranus spins in 17.1 hours, and Neptune takes 16 hours. This time, the further a planet is from the sun, the less time it takes to rotate (except for Neptune).
Other Cool Facts about the Solar System
The last page describes the types of planets that our solar system contains. Our planets come in different sizes and are comprised of various substances. The four inner planets are made of rock that contains many different minerals. The four outer planets, on the other hand, are mostly made up of gases. Jupiter specifically is mostly helium, hydrogen, and water. The outer planets also have rings that encircle them.
Students will learn a little about other objects that float around in the solar system. Six planets have moons, for instance. A moon is an object in space that orbits another body (like a planet) in space. Earth only has one moon, but other planets have many more.
The asteroid belt is another interesting feature of our solar system, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It contains thousands and thousands of asteroids, which are space rocks that scientists believe are leftovers from the beginning of the solar system. Some are very large and can be miles and miles across, but most asteroids are small.
Here is a list of the vocabulary words students will learn in this lesson plan:
- Star: a big ball of gas burning in space
- Orbit: the path a planet takes to travel around the sun
- Moon: a celestial object (object in space) that orbits another body in space
- Asteroid belt: a belt of tons of asteroids that float between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter
- Asteroid: a space rock that scientists believe are leftover pieces of rock from the beginning of the solar system
SOLAR SYSTEM LESSON PLAN WORKSHEETS
The Solar System lesson plan contains three worksheets—two activity worksheets and a homework assignment—and an address card. The worksheets will help students solidify the concepts they learned about throughout the lesson. The address card is for the opening of the lesson. The guidelines on the classroom procedure pages explain when to hand out the worksheets to the class.
COMPARING PLANET SIZES ACTIVITY WORKSHEET
For this activity, students will work with a partner to create a poster that shows the different sizes of the planets in the solar system. First, they will draw the circles to the scale on the right side of the worksheet. Then they will cut out each circle and glue them onto black construction paper in order. Then, they will label the planets and title the poster. Finally, they will answer four questions on the second worksheet.
PLANET RESEARCH ACTIVITY WORKSHEET
For the next activity, students will work with a partner to research a specific part of the solar system. You will assign each group a specific piece of the solar system to research and present on. The worksheet lists the instructions and provides a number of data points that the students should include in their presentations. They will need to be creative, rather than simply gathering the information and reading it off to the class.
SOLAR SYSTEM CROSSWORD PUZZLE HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
The homework assignment requires students to solve a crossword puzzle. There are 19 words and descriptions in total.
Worksheet Answer Key
The lesson plan document provides an answer key for the homework worksheet near the end. It provides the answers in red to make it easy to compare with students’ responses. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits this page. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep this as reference for yourself when grading assignments.
There is an address card at the very end PDF that you will use at the beginning of the lesson. Follow the instructions on the classroom procedure page for guidance.