Lesson 1: An explorative journey through the solar system


This activity requires approximately three to four 30-minute classes

  • 1 or 2 Classes for planet research
  • 1 Class for planet model construction
  • 1 Class to pace out the solar system


Demonstrate the importance of using the languages of science and technology to compare and communicate ideas, processes, and results (e.g., use appropriate terminology such as "constellations," "planets," "moons," "comets," "asteroids," and "meteors" to describe objects in space)
Identify and use a variety of sources and technologies to gather pertinent information (e.g., use electronic and print resources or visit a planetarium to gather information on the visual characteristics of planets)
Describe the physical characteristics of components of the solar system - specifically, the sun, planets, moons, comets, asteroids, and meteors

General Objectives

Through this lesson, students will become more familar with the physical characteristics of the nine planets as well as an appreciation for the distance scales within the solar system. The activity attempts to provide students with a kinesthetically interactive and shared learning experience, as well as to model the correct size of and distance between the planets, and lastly, to show why it's called "space;" the vast emptiness between the planets.

Curricular Connections

  • Language Arts
    • Descriptive writing
  • Social Studies
    • Research and reporting
  • Visual Arts
    • Constructing the planet models

Lesson Overview

The lesson involves dividing students into groups of 3 and assigning each group a planet to research (ensure that all nine planets will be covered). The groups will research their given planet for important characteristics and qualities and they will also construct a model of that planet out of Styrofoam balls. After completing the models, the teacher will guide the students on a walk, placing the planets at their correct distances from the sun as you go. As the planets are placed, the group that researched that planet will provide the rest of the class with information corresponding to it.

Materials and Resources

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  • CDROMS and Internet websites including planetary information
  • Astronomy textbooks and library resources, including encyclopedias
  • Computer demonstration of the solar system
  • Poster of the solar system with distances from sun indicated
  • Materials for students to create planetary models
    (including known planetary features).*
  • List of internet websites applicable to planetary research

* Note: each group will be given a Styrofoam ball to build a model of their respective planet.

Developing the Lesson

Explain to the students that by the end of this activity, they will all be planetary experts and will have had the chance to share their knowledge with others.

Begin with focus questions:

Ask students if they know why the other planets are so vastly different from Earth. Ask the students if they have ever wondered how far it is to Mars, Jupiter or Pluto.

  1. Tell students that they will be doing research using the computers or other materials in the class.
  2. Give a quick introduction to using the computer to find the websites.
  3. Divide the class into small groups of 3 students.
  4. Assign each group a specific planet to research and explain to them that they will be required to maintain a logbook throughout this activity.
  5. Give the students at least 40 minutes to do their research. If more time is needed, devote another 40 minutes to the research. The research is a very important component to the overall activity.
  6. Provide each group with materials to construct their model planet (including known planetary features).
  7. Monitor students' research progress and reassemble the class at an appropriate time.
  8. Tell them they are now going to start constructing their planet model.
  9. Monitor students' model construction and after a respectable time, reassemble the class
  10. Tell students that the class will begin pacing out the solar system
  11. Have one student place the Sun Styrofoam ball at one end of the classroom.*
  12. As a class, pace the distance to Mercury (4 paces from the sun); here have Mercury group place their planet and give a list of 4 interesting facts about the planet. The other students in the class should make a few notes in their logbooks according to the information they just learned about the planet.
  13. Continue placing the planets at their corresponding distances from the Sun and having the groups present their findings.
  14. When the class reaches the asteroid belt, place a marker and tell the class that they will be learning about asteroids, comets and the asteroid belt at a later time.
  15. Continue the walk until the class reaches Pluto.
  16. Discuss how far apart the planets are.**
  17. Try to have the students comprehend the vast distances in millions of kilometers or miles.

* Note: the sun ball was constructed last class when students were learning about how the sun works and about its structure.

** Note: At this point, comment that the Jovian planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) are at much greater distances from each other than the terrestrial (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) planets.


Students will be evaluated on their participation in the group activities.

The students' logbooks will also be evaluated for accuracy of information and correct tabulation of the numerical answers for distance measurements.

Lastly, the students will be asked for their opinions on the effectiveness of the activity and will be asked to offer further suggestions for future activities.

The following rubric may be helpful for evaluations.

Cooperative Learning Rubric
CATEGORY Excellent Good Satisfactory Needs Improvement
Contribution to Group Regularly provides useful ideas to group; contributes a strong effort Often provides useful ideas to group; tries hard Sometimes provides useful ideas to group; does what is required Rarely provides useful ideas to group; may refuse to participate
Quality of Work Highest quality work High quality work Work sometimes needs monitoring or re-doing Work usually needs monitoring or re-doing
Effectiveness Regularly paces work well; does not need to be encouraged to get work done on time Usually paces work well; may have needed some encouragement to get work done on time, but does not hold up group's progress Tends to procrastinate, but always gets work done on time Rarely paces work well; group's progress is held up by inadequate time management
Attitude Never openly critical of project or others' work; positive attitud Rarely openly critical of project or others' work; mostly positive attitude Sometimes openly critical of project or others' work; partially negative attitude Often openly critical of project or others' work; mostly negative attitude
Preparedness Always ready to begin tasks Almost always ready to begin tasks Almost always brings needed materials, but distractions sometimes slow progress Often forgets to bring materials or is rarely ready to begin tasks
Collaboration Almost always contributes to group dynamic by listening, sharing, and supporting others' efforts; encourages  group unity Usually contributes to group dynamic by listening, sharing, and supporting others' efforts; does not create problems for group Sometimes contributes to group dynamic by listening, sharing, and supporting others' efforts; sometimes a poor team player Rarely contributes to group dynamic by listening, sharing, and supporting others' efforts; often a poor team player