MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Moon Phases Box

Moon Phases Box

John Mettling
Pine City Elementary
Pine City, MN
Based on original activity found at the following site. (I googled "moon phase box")
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I used the moon phase box along with a lesson on the phases of the moon. Small groups of students were given time to peer into each of the holes in the moon phase box and observe the varying degree of illumination visible on the ball, which represented the moon.
You will need to consider into which hole the students will peer first. You may wish to have them start opposite the light source. This would be the new moon. Then determine in which direction students should progress around the box to observe the phases in the correct order.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed to allow students to observe the phases of the moon.
Goal: Students will develop a better understanding of the relationship between the position of the earth, moon and sun and how that affects the area of the moon that is illuminated and visible to us.
Goal: Students will be able to recognize and label various phases of the moon.

Skills: Synthesis of ideas, observation

Key Concepts: Revolution of the moon around the Earth is responsible for the moon phases we observe. Position of the moon in relation to Earth and the sun determines the amount of illuminated surface -if any- that is visible.

Vocabulary Words: Moon phases-Gibbous, Crescent, Waning, Waxing, First Quarter, Third Quarter, New Moon, Full Moon, Revolution, Illumination

Context for Use

Educational level: K-3
This is a lab observation opportunity for students
Time needed: 1-2 minutes for each student in class to observe the moon phases.
Equipment: Light source, (flashlight, etc.) Box with holes on sides, ends as shown in diagram on web site, ball (golf ball or Styrofoam ball, tennis ball) string or platform to hold ball in the box.
Concepts needed: Moon revolves around the earth. The sun is the light source that lights the visible part of the moon.
This activity was used to reinforce the concept of moon phases.

Subject: Geoscience:Lunar and Planetary Science
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Grade Level: Primary (K-2), Intermediate (3-5)

Description and Teaching Materials

To prepare for this activity collect a box with lid, a golf ball, some fishing line, glue gun and a flashlight. Make a moon phase box following the instructions found at
I used the moon phase box as a visual reinforcer for a lesson on the phases of the moon. Students worked on a diagram along with taking notes in their journal and were then given procedures for looking into the moon phase box located in the back of the room. While waiting for their turn to look into the box students finished coloring their moon phases diagrams.
Students were encouraged to make frequent observations of the moon as it progresses through its phases outside of school.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Be aware that this activity requires the students, acting as the Earth, to revolve around a stationary moon. This is of course the opposite of what actually occurs. Some students may be aware that the moon revolves around the Earth, others may not, so you may want to clarify the actual movement.
In the past I have not pointed that out to the students, but will do that in the future.


Students will correctly label diagrams of the phases of the moon.


1.III.C.1 Positions of moon
3.III.C.1 Rotation and Revolution
3.III.C.3 Sun supplies light

References and Resources

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