MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > The Earth and Sky in a 24 Hour Day

The Earth and Sky in a 24 Hour Day

Laura Greene
Taylors Falls Elementary
Taylors Falls, MN
Adapted from a lesson on the Sky from the Houghtom Mifflin Science Curriculum- First Grade Unit on Weather and Sky.
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In this activity students will be doing a quick outdoor activity on the distance between the Sun and Earth. Students will do an indoor activity on the rotation of the Earth and its relationship to the Sun. They will be able to see how, although the Sun appears to be moving in our sky throughout the day, it is actually the Earth that is rotating on its axis.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to understand how far away the Earth is from the Sun.
Students will be able to explain why the Sun rises and sets in our sky.
The students will be able recognize the changes in the sky in a 24 hour day.
The Earth rotates once completely in a 24-hour day.
The Sun does not move, but appears to be moving in our sky.
The Sun is much larger than our Earth, but is very far away.
Vocabulary Words:

Context for Use

This lesson is a 40 minute indoor and outdoor activity for a first grade class. Students should understand that the Sun is a light and heat source for our Earth prior to this lesson. You will need a basketball, pea, globe and flashlight for this science activity.

Subject: Geoscience:Lunar and Planetary Science
Resource Type: Activities:Field Activity, Classroom Activity:Short Activity:Demonstration
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Primary (K-2)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Planetary Science

Description and Teaching Materials

The lesson will start off outdoors with the basketball and the pea with an activity on the distance between the Sun and Earth. Tell students that the basketball represents the Sun and the pea represents the Earth. The teacher stands with the basketball in one location. Have the students stand where they think the Earth (the pea) should be if the Sun and Earth were really that small. After the students make their predictions, count off 100 ft from the basketball and show the students that this is the distance the Earth would be from the Sun. This helps them understand that even though the sun looks small and close, it is really much larger than earth and millions of miles away. The lesson will conclude in the classroom with the flashlight and globe in an activity on how the Earth rotates in a 24-hour period. Bring the students in the classroom where you can make the room dark. Have a flashlight that represents the Sun and the classroom globe. (Make sure to show the earth tilting on its axis as an intro to another science lesson on seasons.) Ask the students why we have night and day. Why does it appear that our Sun is moving in our sky? Show them by rotating the globe that it is not the Sun that is moving but the Earth that is rotating (spinning) on it's axis. Point to where we live on the globe. Mark the location on the globe so that all the students can see it clearly. Show, by spinning the globe, how sometimes it is in the light of the flashlight (sun) and how it is sometimes in the shadow or darkness, hidden by the Sun. Explain that this is what happens in our 24 hour day. Half of the time we see the sun, and the other half we do not. At different parts of the day, the Sun is in a different location in our sky. Stress the fact that it is not the Sun that is moving, but the Earth that is rotating causing the light of the Sun to change. I sometimes go a step further and have the students draw a picture of a time of day and where the sun is in the sky. (If the sun is in the middle of the sky, it is in the middle of the day. If it is morning or evening, the sun should be low in the sky, etc.)

Teaching Notes and Tips

You really need to stress to the students that the Earth rotates once in a 24 hour day which makes our night and days. Something that is really helpful to them is to tell a story of "Susie" and her day while you rotate the globe. "Susie is getting up, the sun is started to come up, Susie is eating breakfast, going to school, eating lunch, going home, eating dinner, and going to bed and the sun is going away day...sun is starting to come up...etc" It helps the students understand what is happening in their own day.


You can do formal assessment with this lesson; however, I like to use the student drawings as a guide to their understanding. I have them draw a picture of a time of day, (.i.e morning, noon, or evening) and have them draw where the Sun is at that part of the day (low, high).


Grade 1 III. Earth and Space Science- The Universe

References and Resources