Lesson 3: The phases of the Moon


This activity will require approximately three 30-minute classes*

  • 1 class to introduce the topic, demonstrate the processes with flashlight and globe and to introduce the applet (activity   & 2)
  • 1 class period to have students work with the applet describing the reasons for the phases (activity 3)
  • 1 class period for closure activity (activity 4)

*Note: Approximately 2 weeks before attempting this lesson, print and distribute the "Charting the Moon" handout to the students and have them track the appearance of the moon on consecutive days.


Observe and explain how the relative positions of Earth, the Moon, and the Sun are responsible for the moon phases, eclipses, and tides.

General Objectives

Students will observe, sketch and explore the phases of the Moon via the interactive applet, in an attempt to better understand the relationships between the Sun, Moon and Earth relating to the phases of the moon.

Curricular Connections

  • Information and Communication Technologies
    • Use of interactive applet
  • Language Arts
    • Descriptive writing

Lesson Overview

By engaging students in a variety of activities targeting different learning styles (kinaesthetic, visual, and technological), students will become familiar with the phases of the moon, and will be able to explain the reasons for the lunar phases depending on the orientation of the sun, moon, and Earth.

The lesson plan is divided into four separate activities:

  • Activity 1: demonstration of the phases (students participate)
  • Activity 2: introduce the applet to later be used by students
  • Activity 3: in the computer lab, students work with the phases of the moon applet in groups of two
  • Activity 4: closure activity, teacher uses the applet in a lecture-style delivery format stopping the animation at key moments and eliciting feedback from the students as to an explanation for the observed phase

Materials and Resources

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Student handout:


Other Resources:

  • Globe, model of the moon (a simple ball will do), and a bright flashlight


  • lunar phase
  • synodic month
  • lunar cycle
  • crescent
  • gibbous
  • blue moon

Developing the Lesson

Begin with focus questions:

  • Have you ever noticed that the moon looks different from night to night?
  • Have you ever noticed that some nights, there doesn't appear to be a moon at all?
  • Have you ever seen a beautiful full moon rising from the eastern horizon?
  • What makes a full moon look so big?
  • Have you ever seen the man in the moon?

Explain the nature of the activities that will be used to help students become better acquainted with the phases of the moon:

  • Activity 1: students participate in a visual demonstration of the moon's phases with globe and flashlight
  • Activity 2: teacher uses computer with projection system to display the "Phases of the Moon" applet. Teacher explains how the applet works and what students will do with the applet in Activity 3
  • Activity 3: teacher demonstrates the applet and distributes the "Phases of the Moon" handout to the students. The students are given approximately 40 minutes to complete the handout using the applet.
  • Activity 4: simply mention to the students that there will be a finalactivity that will help to reinforce what they have learned about the phases of the moon (Activity 4 should follow approximately 2 days after the completion of Activities 1, 2 and 3.

Commence the activities and remember to have fun.

Activity 1: click here for diagram (GIF format, 5 KB)

  1. arrange students into a large circle (students will need a piece of paper and a black marker)
  2. place one student at the centre to hold the ball (explain to students that they will be using the ball as a model for the moon)
  3. place the bright flashlight at one corner of the room
  4. darken the classroom and turn on the flashlight
  5. instruct students to observe the globe and to draw on their paper the shape of the shadow they see
  6. once all students have completed their drawings, have the students share their drawings with the class, beginning with student closest to the flashlight (proceed clockwise around the circle until all students have shared their drawings)
  7. initiate a short discussion as to why the shadows appear as they do and the progression of the shadows around the circle
  8. have students write the phase on their diagrams (new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, last quarter, waning crescent, new moon)

Activity 2: Phases of the Moon applet (SWF format, 139 KB)

  1. with the classroom back in order, the teacher begins demonstrating the applet
  2. identify the key elements (Moon, Earth, and Sun)
  3. play the applet animation straight through at least two times
  4. have the students focus first on the phases shown on the bottom right
  5. then have the students focus on the progression of the moon around the Earth.
  6. run the animation a few more times stopping at key stages (new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, last quarter, waning crescent, new moon)
  7. as class is dismissed, distribute Charting the Moon handout and instruct students to monitor the phase of the moon over the next month (PDF format, 11 KB)

Activity 3:

  1. provide students with a brief review of the applet's functionality
  2. distribute the Phases of the Moon handout (SWF format, 388 KB)
  3. explain that students will be required to complete the handout by the end of the current class time

Activity 4:

  1. repeat steps as per Activity 2


As a closure to the activities, the teacher uses the applet in a lecture-style delivery format, stopping the animation at key moments and eliciting feedback from the students as to an explanation for the observed phase.


Evaluate both student participation and the completion of the Phases of the Moon and Charting the Moon handouts. Student participation can be evaluated during activities 1, 2 and 3, even when the students are working with the applet. Students could also be presented with a short quiz in which they would have to correctly identify and explain the phases of the moon.