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teaching through trade books

Exploring Eclipses

Science and Children—Fall 2023 (Volume 60, Issue 7)

By Christine Anne Royce

Eclipses will be the talk of the science world this fall and into the spring of 2024. Although the core idea of eclipses is addressed at the middle school level, younger students can still engage in the excitement around this topic through developmentally appropriate activities focusing on patterns found within the sky and the Earth, Moon, and Sun system.

Catch the Sun! A Story About One Eclipse

Catch the Sun! A Story About One Eclipse

By Penelope Dyan
ISBN: 978-1-61477-295-8
34 pages
Grades preK–2


Through a fictitious story, young readers are introduced to the idea that the Sun and Moon move in predicted patterns in the sky. Through discussions and questions, the cast of characters describes how the Sun and Moon have moved since the beginning of time.

When the Sun Goes Dark

When the Sun Goes Dark

By Andrew Fraknoi and Dennis Schatz
Illustrated by Eric Freeberg
ISBN: 978-1-68140-011-2
36 pages
Grades 4–8


This narrative story helps bring the excitement of eclipses to the reader as they become part of the story about how multiple generations of a family explore this natural occurrence. The book includes investigations that are utilized in the lesson.

Grades K–2: The Sun and the Moon

Purpose: Students describe what causes shadows and the relationship of shadows to the position of the Sun.


  • Catch the Sun! A Story About One Eclipse
  • chart paper
  • flashlight
  • small objects to create a shadow
  • paper cutout of the Moon
  • Online Resources: 2017 Solar Eclipse Video


Begin a discussion with the students by asking them if they have ever noticed patterns in the sky, such as changes in the position of the Sun or the appearance of the Moon at different times. Allow them to describe their own experiences and record them on chart paper with the heading of “Patterns We See in the Sky.” As this might be the first time students have discussed patterns about the Sun and Moon, guide students in a brainstorming session about when and where they see these objects. Share Catch the Sun! A Story About One Eclipse with the students. Point out at the beginning that this book is fictional and ask them to explain what that means. For young children, it is important to explicitly discuss fiction and nonfiction so as not to create misconceptions. Discuss the following points:

p. 2 (Introduction) Ask the students to think about “can the Moon really dream?” Connect this to the idea that this story is fictional, but the book can still be a good way to think about how the Sun and the Moon move through the sky.

p. 5 Think about the Sun during the daytime, can you describe what it looks like outside? What do you think would happen if the Moon could cover the Sun after catching it?

p. 13 Why do you think the elephant says the Sun is being chased by the Moon? When do you see each? When do they appear in the sky?

p. 15 The young boy said that when the Moon covers the Sun, it is an eclipse. Have any of you witnessed an eclipse?

p. 19 This is a perfect spot to point out the safety note in the story and remind students in real life that they should NEVER look directly at the Sun.

p. 21 The lion points out that it (the eclipse) would happen after “dawn’s early light?” When do you think that is? Nighttime, morning, afternoon.

p. 29 Describe where the Moon was in relation to the Sun and the Earth.


To help students understand that a light source can be blocked out by an object, students will be asked to explore the idea of how shadows form first, which is part of the standard at this level. Using a full class discussion and investigation, gather students in a circle or at their desks and bring out a strong flashlight. Use the flashlight to demonstrate how shadows are created by positioning the light source (Sun) and objects (students’ hands or small objects) at different angles. Ask the students to start to predict where a shadow will fall and explain why they think that. Using big objects and small objects, have the students make observations and explain answers to questions such as:

What happens when an object “gets in the way of” or blocks the light beam? Is there a difference when the object is small or large?

When the object is in front of the light, what do you notice about the shadow it creates?

Ask the students to think about what each object might represent if they were in the sky (flashlight = Sun; object = Moon). Ask them to think about when they see shadows on the ground made by the Sun and an object such as themselves or a tree. Have them share their answers. Once they have shared their thinking, take the students outside on a Sunny day and ask them to stand in a particular spot and mark where their shadow falls on the ground. Have them mark the length of their shadow with chalk. Point out where the Sun is in the sky (repeat the safety warning that they should never look directly at the Sun). Repeat this later in the day and have students discuss how the position of the Sun affects the length and direction of shadows during different times of the day. Prompt the students to think about what would happen to the shadow if they were standing near a tree or house and that object was between them and the Sun. Ask the students to explain why objects being in a line is needed for a shadow to occur.

Without diving into the topic of specific types of eclipses or the idea of an eclipse being either total or partial, transition the discussion to eclipses by explaining that they occur when the Sun, Moon, and Earth align in specific ways and help the students consider how a flashlight, object, and shadow also are aligned. Share with the students the short video 2017 Solar Eclipse (see Online Resources) beginning at 0:08 seconds with the sound off. This is recorded in a playback speed that shows the entire eclipse in about one minute. Play it back several times and ask the students questions including “What is happening to the amount of Sunlight the Earth gets at the beginning of the video and toward the end of the video?” “Why do you think it became dark during the day?”


After students have had a chance to view the video several times, ask them to refer to the story where the elephant says that the “Moon is chasing the Sun” and ask them why the animals in the story might think that the Moon was chasing and catching the Sun and that the Moon “caught the Sun.” Be explicit in helping students understand that it is not a chase, and then reread the page where it says, “and strangely enough, the Sun did NOT run, as the Moon moved to the front and COVERED the Sun!” Replay the video one more time and ask the students to explain why the statement that the Moon COVERED the Sun is accurate from what they see.

Questions to continue to help students explain their understanding include:

  • What from the video supports the boy’s statement that the “Sun did not run?”
  • When we went outside and you looked at your shadows on the ground, what did you notice about the shadows at different points in the daytime?
  • When the Moon moves in front of the Sun, why does it get dark out during the daytime?
  • Why do you think that the Moon, Sun, and Earth need to be lined up for an eclipse to occur? What if the objects are not in a straight line? Can you show me what happens with a flashlight and object?

Again, the general concept of shadows and how different objects in alignment with a light source will create shadows is the focus of this lesson.


Returning to the idea of shadows, divide students into small groups and provide them with paper cutouts that represent the Moon and a flashlight. Ask the students to model the following statements and be able to explain what is happening.

  • The Sun provides light to the Earth during the daytime.
  • The Sun can cause a shadow when an object moves in front of it.
  • The Sun and the Moon are in the sky at the same time, but no shadow is created.
  • The Moon blocks out the Sun’s light and the Earth is in the Moon’s shadow (during an eclipse).

After groups have had a chance to develop their models, ask them to share their thinking with the entire class.


Initially, students are describing their understanding of patterns of objects in the sky and then connect this understanding to how shadows form. Students describe and explain what creates a shadow and what happens if objects are not lined up. Throughout the lesson, the teacher is assisting students in understanding that for a shadow to occur an object must move in front of a light source and that is why when the Moon covers (moves in front of) the Sun, an eclipse occurs.

Grades 3–5: What happens when the Earth, Moon, and Sun align?

Purpose: Students will investigate models of what happens when the Earth, Moon, and Sun align and describe how the location of these objects in the sky influences phases of the Moon, which affects when eclipses occur.

Teacher’s Note: The core idea of eclipses is one that is addressed fully at the middle school level. However, it can be introduced at this level as it relates to understanding how the regular movement of objects creates patterns.

Safety note: While not directly observing the Sun in these activities, it would be important to point out that students should never look directly at the Sun.


  • When the Sun Goes Dark
  • Per group: lamp or light source
  • tennis ball
  • small ball (ping-pong ball)
  • Supplemental Resources: Observation Chart
  • Online Resources: 2017 Eclipse Simulation, 2024 Eclipse Chart


Read When the Sun Goes Dark to the students and stop at the following pages to discuss the questions.

pp. 4–5 The authors describe how the Sun looked like it had a bite taken out of it until it only looked like a ring. The sky got dark like nighttime in the day. Does anyone know what this event might be like? Have you ever witnessed a solar eclipse? Allow students to share their prior knowledge and experiences.

pp. 6–9 What are the objects that the ball, lamp, and person represent? Where are these objects located in reality? How do these three objects interact as a system? Terms such as new Moon, full Moon, phases, and others are mentioned. Allow the students to discuss these terms.

pp. 10–15 The grandfather was having the children test how they see an object based on where a source of light is positioned. He called this a point of view. Ask the students to discuss point of view and what the term means.

pp. 16–21 Point out in the story that eclipses happen when the Moon, Earth, and Sun are all lined up. Ask the students to consider why things being in alignment are important. Prompt them with a question such as, When we are all standing in a very straight line, can you see what is happening at the end of the hallway? What do you do if you were to hear a noise at the end of the hallway when you are in a straight line? (Most students step out of line or tip their heads out of line to see.)

pp. 22–33 As this section relates to additional information about the study of eclipses and how people view them, students can share their own experiences if they have witnessed an eclipse.

pp. 34–25 Point out the pictures of the phases of the Moon on this page spread and ask them why knowing the phases of the Moon is also important for understanding eclipses.


In the explore stage, students will participate in a series of tasks that will help them construct their understanding of why the position of celestial objects is important and influences when an eclipse occurs. These tasks should be done in the order presented. Several tasks will have the students replicate the activities the students do in the story. The easiest thing to do, which will allow students to make notes, is to pair the students up. While one student engages in the activity, the other student can record their observations on their Observation Chart (see Supplemental Resources) and then the students can switch places.

Task 1: Place a lamp on a table as described in the story and have the students hold a tennis ball in front of their head with an outstretched arm which in this position represents a new Moon. Ask the students to try and move the tennis ball around their heads keeping their arm outstretched. Have the students stop at points and observe how much of the tennis ball is lit up by the lamp. Ask them to stop at what would be 90, 180, 270 degrees if the lamp is at 0 degrees.

Task 2: Ask the students to line up the tennis ball so that it is directly between their head and the lamp so that the lamp light (bulb) is blocked out. Questions to help student thinking focus on what is the Moon phase when the Moon is directly between the Earth (your head) and the Sun (the lamp) so that it blocks out the light? If the Moon’s path around the Earth is called an orbit, how many times in a single orbit is the Moon in the right position to block out the light of the Sun?

Task 3: Have the students stand in a very straight line facing forward. They need to keep their bodies and head in line and look straight ahead. Tell them that their head is the Earth and that the head of the person in front of them represents the Moon. This sets up the same type of alignment that was described in task two. Then have someone at the end of a dark hallway shine a light and ask the students to describe what happens and what they can see. It is likely most students will step out of line to try and see the light better. Point this out to them and ask them to consider what happens when the Earth, Moon, and Sun are not in alignment during a new Moon. Identify individual students to take a half step, full step, or several steps out of the line and make observations. Have them describe what they are observing at this point (this will help illustrate that based on how much alignment or overlap there is, partial eclipses can also occur).

Task 4: Place a lamp on a table directly in line with a picture in the classroom (it could be any picture). Then place marks on the floor at four or five different locations around the lamp/table set up. Ask the students to stand on each x and sketch their point of view of the picture and lamp that they see.

Task 5: Divide students into small groups of three or four and provide each group with a globe, a small ball representing the Moon, and a lamp representing the Sun. Ask the students to set up their own model of how the Earth, Moon, Sun system moves and where the different celestial bodies are during a new Moon, full Moon, eclipse, and so on. Ask the students to make observations of the shadows and to record their observations on their observation chart by sketching the alignments they create and the shadows that result.


Return to the questions that were posed in the engage section along with the additional ones listed and ask students to explain and use the models created to describe their understanding about the Earth, Moon, system, and eclipses.

In the story, the grandparents had just returned from viewing a solar eclipse. Based on what you learned, is this a trip that they could do every single month? Why or why not?

What are the positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun when a full Moon occurs? New Moon? What position is the Moon in when a solar eclipse occurs?

When the Earth revolves around the Sun, our point of view from the Earth is changed. Describe what happened to your point of view in the task with the lamp and picture? What is a visible result of the Earth’s movement around the Sun?

When does a total eclipse happen? Describe how standing in a straight line is similar to the alignment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.


Using the Eclipse 2017 interactive simulation (see Online Resources), explain to the students that in 2017 there was a solar eclipse that had a path across the United States. Model for the students how to adjust the time on the bottom and also select different locations and the impact that has on how much of the Sun was eclipsed. Ask the students to interact with this site using the first three locations that are provided and make observations on their sheet. Then ask the students to type in their location and compare the amount of coverage during the eclipse in their location to the three different locations provided. Have them describe their comparison of the amount of coverage on their Eclipse sheet. Allow them to continue to interact with this simulation and locate a place that did not experience the eclipse (no coverage). Now ask them to visit the Eclipse 2024 interactive map and compare the three locations given and the one that they selected using this new map. This map is not as robust but will give information on whether or not the eclipse will be a partial one, full one, or not visible from a location and provides a simulation as well.


While eclipses as a core idea are not addressed until middle school, students can begin to explore this topic as it relates to the movement of the Earth, Moon, and Sun. Students discuss their initial understanding of how these three celestial bodies interact and expand on that through participation in tasks where they are asked to sketch and describe their observations. Finally, students are expanding their understanding of how location impacts the amount of a solar eclipse that might be observed through an interactive simulation and comparison.

Online Resources


2017 Eclipse Simulation:


2024 Eclipse Map:


2017 Solar Eclipse:


Christine Anne Royce ( is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and past president of NSTA.

Astronomy Earth & Space Science Literacy Elementary

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