How to Teach Moon Movement, Phases, Tides, and Eclipses

Use a model to conceptualize relative motion in the Moon – Earth – Sun system. Your kids will really understand phases, eclipses, and tides.

Ms. Sneed Teaches About the Moon

Our favorite fourth grade teacher stood on her tiptoes and reached into the back of the cabinet. Then she pulled out a miniature model of the Moon. “We’ve finished our earth science activities,” she said to her co-teacher. Now it’s time to for space science!” she said to her co-teacher.

Introducing the Moon and Its Movement

Mr. Frank opened his laptop and pulled out their Moon activities. “Okay, let’s write up our lesson plans,” he said.

“First, we’ll read ‘Jamal Watches the Moon.’ Every year, this generates great discussion in my class. The kids always say, ‘Yeah! That happened to me too.’ What a great beginning.”

Kids read a story to learn about the Moon.

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Both teachers added the read-aloud to their plans for the first day.

Building a Model of the Earth, Moon, and Sun

“On the second day,” Mr. Frank continued, “we’ll build Moon-Earth-Sun models.”

Ms. Sneed pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil. “I’ll make a list of stuff we need. First up, paper plates, cardstock, and metal fasteners.”

As she wrote, Mr. Frank read the directions aloud:

Teacher Prep:
  • Print copies of the Moon, Earth, and Sun Model reproducible page on cardstock. In addition to this page, give each student three metal fasteners and a paper plate.
Student Directions
  • Cut out the two strips, Earth, and Moon from the reproducible page. In addition, cut out the middle section of the paper plate, as shown to the left.
  • If desired, color the paper plate circle to represent the Sun, as well as the Earth.
  • Using a metal fastener, connect one end of the longer strip to the center-back of the Sun. (To make this easier, poke a hole in the strip and paper plate section with a the tip of a pencil before attaching with the fastener.)
  • With a second metal fastener, connect one end of the shorter strip to the center-back of the Moon.
  • Using the third fastener, attach the opposite ends of both strips to the center-back of Earth. To allow the Moon to revolve around the Earth, it must be attached on top of the Sun and its strip.
Kids build a model of the Earth, Moon, and Sun to explore their relative movements.

“After the kids construct their models, we’ll discuss Earth’s revolution around the Sun, as well as the Moon’s revolution around Earth. Then they can try that out.

“Next, we will explain that the lit side of the Moon always faces the Sun. From there, we can talk about the side that’s visible from Earth. Day 2 is sort of a test drive.”

Learning About the Moon’s Phases

“On to Day 3,” Ms. Sneed prompted.

“Okay,” Mr. Frank said. “Using their models, kids will move the Moon counterclockwise around the Earth. This shows how it revolves. In this exercise, they’ll continually adjust the position of the Moon so the lit side faces the Sun. Then they’ll draw the phases on a note-taking sheet.”

Kids learn about and identify phases of the Moon.
Studying Eclipses

“On the fourth day,” Mr. Frank continued. “we’ll move on to eclipses. After phases, this seems pretty simple. Again, our students will use their models. First, they’ll manipulate the model so the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon. This will show a lunar eclipse. Second, they’ll put the Moon in the middle to show a solar eclipse. For both, they’ll draw diagrams.”

Kids manipulate their Earth-Moon-Sun models to show solar and lunar eclipses.
Exploring Tides

“On the fifth day, kids will add the hydrosphere to their models. Actually, it’s just a piece of blue construction paper.”

“I’ll add that to our supply list,” Ms. Sneed said.

“Kids manipulate the blue oval to show how the Moon’s gravity affects the hydrosphere. Then, to complete the corresponding worksheet, they graph tides.”

“Great math tie in,” Ms. Sneed commented.

Kids add the hydrosphere to their models and graph tides on a worksheet.

“That’s the last day they’ll use their models,” said Mr. Frank. “All this hands-on experience should drive the concepts home. After that, the kids review and take a quiz.”

Ms. Sneed added the remaining activities to her lesson plans. Then she sat back in her chair and smiled. “These models make such a difference. I’ll take any chance I can to ditch the textbook. Next up? A model of the solar system!”

Enjoy Teaching

For more than 30 years, I enjoyed teaching fourth grade. Now I tell my tales through a fictional teacher, Ms. Sneed. Like you, she struggles with day-to-day classroom challenges. And like you, she meets those challenges head-on. Hopefully, each of her stories will give you ideas and inspiration.

To learn more, explore six ways to enjoy teaching: organize, plan, and simplify, learn, engage, and dive in.





Brenda Kovich

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