MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Modeling Earth's Seasons by Rotation and Revolution

Modeling Earth's Seasons by Rotation and Revolution

Leigh Jackson, North Shore Community School, Duluth, MN, based on an activity from Rochelle Moravec, Elementary Educator, North Shore Community School
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The students will discuss, define, and demonstrate the Earth's rotation and revolution around the sun. The students work as a whole class and in small groups to determine Minnesota's seasons in relationship to its revolution around the sun. Each group will write a paragraph explaining their reasoning (prediction). After whole group discussion, each student will reflect on his or her prediction (correct or incorrect and why).

Learning Goals

-The students will be able to define rotation and revolution.
-The students will be able to demonstrate how the Earth rotates and revolves around the sun in a counterclockwise position.
-The students will be able to predict which season each piece of tape represents based on the amount of light that hits the Earth.

Context for Use

This lesson meets the MN State Standard for third grade. The standard states that the student will recognize the difference between rotation and revolution and their connection to day, night, seasons, and the year. The length of the lesson is 1 hour. The lesson includes whole group and small group discussion and demonstration. It would work with any number of students and could be adapted for younger or older grade levels, inside the classroom or outside. Materials needed include a lamp, a globe, masking tape, a paper star (the North Star), and student journals (optional). The activity would most likely be completed in the spring.

Subject: Geoscience:Lunar and Planetary Science
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Planetary Science

Description and Teaching Materials

Ask the students to describe the word rotation (spinning). Have a student show rotation using his or her body. Have another student show rotation with the globe. Tell the students that the Earth rotates counterclockwise on it axis and demonstrate with the globe. Ask students to describe revolution or revolve (to move around something). Have two students demonstrate. Ask a student to show the revolution of the Earth around the sun using the globe and lamp. Tell the students that the Earth also moves around the sun counterclockwise and demonstrate.

Have a student put a piece of tape on Minnesota. Tell the students to watch this location and the light it receives.

Place one piece of tape on the floor on each side of the lamp. Tell the students that each piece of tape represents one season. They will not know which is which. Tape a paper star on the wall nearest to the lamp.

Ask the students if the Earth sits straight up and down on its axis (No. It is always tilted at 23.5 degrees with the North Pole always facing the North Star).

Choose one student to slowly walk around the lamp to show the Earth's revolution while spinning the globe quickly. Ask what each spin or rotation represents (one day passing). Ask what each revolution or full circle around the lamp represents (one year passing).

Have one student stand at one of the pieces of tape and rotate the earth to show two days coming and going. Have another student take the globe and move counterclockwise to the next piece of tape and do the same. Repeat for the last two seasons. Always keep the North Pole pointing to the North Star. Tell the students to watch the sun's relationship to Minnesota during each season.

Divide the students into groups. Have them talk about which pieces of tape are which season and why and make a prediction in their science journals. Have each group write a label for each of the four seasons and put them face down on each spot. Turn over the labels, one by one, and ask each group to explain their decisions. Students should recognize that winter would be on the spot where Minnesota sees the shortest amount of light and summer should be when Minnesota receives the most amount of light. Spring and fall receive the same amount of light (equinox = equal).

Teaching Notes and Tips

Some students may need more than one demonstration. It is helpful to show the whole class twice and then again with small groups, if needed. Take each group one at a time and have them demonstrate and explain their answers before bringing the whole class back together.


The students will describe and explain their predictions of the seasons in relation to the revolution of the earth around the sun in their science journals. The students will reflect on their predictions (correct or incorrect and why) after the whole class discussion in their science journals.


3.III.C.1. Effects of the Earth's Rotation and Revolution

References and Resources