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Teaching Through Trade Books

Patterns From Earth’s Place in Space

Science and Children—November/December 2022 (Volume 60, Issue 2)

By Christine Anne Royce

Earth’s place in space begins by looking at patterns that emerge within the Earth/Moon system and then ventures out to encompass everything “out there.” Examining the phases of the Moon helps young students understand which patterns are predictable and begin to make connections between their observations and the motions that occur. Intermediate students are expanding on the patterns that emerge by exploring the causes of day/night, seasons of the year, and the length of shadows.

This Month’s Trade Books

Moon – Earth’s Best Friend

Moon – Earth’s Best Friend
By Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Stevie Lewis
ISBN: 978-1-250-19934-3
Henry Holt
40 pages
Grades preK–2

Students read about the Moon in a way that allows them to identify different characteristics of Earth’s natural satellite. As they learn about these characteristics, they are introduced to the idea that patterns emerge from what they observe. The story is presented in a fun and engaging way that provides a narrative as if the Moon was an actual person who is the best friend of the Earth.

On Earth

On Earth
By G. Brian Karas
ISBN: 978-0142410639
Puffin Books
32 pages
Grades K–4

Using the Earth as a spaceship that travels through the solar system, the reader considers how these travels help explain events that we experience on the Earth such as day and night and seasons of the year. Readers are introduced to rotation, revolution, seasons, and the Earth’s axis in a simple but clear way.

Grades K–2: Observing the Moon


Students will observe the Moon, record the amount of the Moon visible each night, and describe its patterns.


Moon! Earth’s Best Friend

Supplemental Resources (

  • Moon Picture
  • KLEWS Chart
  • Moon Observation Chart
  • My Moon Message Sheet
  • Parent Letter
  • Online Resources: Moon Calendar


Share a photo of the Moon and ask students to list information they know about the Moon on a KLEWS chart (see Supplemental Resaources) under the “KNOW” column. Once students have explained their initial thinking, share Moon! Earth’s Best Friend with the class and involve them in a conversation at the following points. As you discuss these points with the students, introduce key terminology where appropriate as students construct their own understanding. Terms include phases, new Moon, full Moon, crescent, and gibbous.

pp. 2–3 Why do you think the author said that the Moon is the Earth’s best friend?

pp. 4–5 According to science, how was the Moon created? If the Earth had chunks and lava thrown off it, what could you say about where the Moon came from? Think about what a satellite is and allow students to explain their thinking about this.

pp. 6–7 What is the difference between a natural satellite like the Moon and a manmade satellite?

pp. 8–9 The Moon states that you will never see its backside. What do you think this means?

pp. 10–11 Have you ever looked up at the Moon and it looked different from one day to the next? What do you think the term phase means based on your observations?

pp. 14–17 Using the following numbers, ask the students to explain what they think is meant by these: The Earth is 4× bigger around; the Earth’s gravity is 6× stronger; the distance between the Earth and the Moon can fit 30 Earths in that distance.

pp. 22–23 The text states that the Moon doesn’t disappear during the day—then why can’t you see it during the day?

pp. 26–29 Sort the things that are mentioned into items that you NEED to survive and items that are not needed to survive. What are some things that the astronauts would need on the Moon to survive?

Allow the students to return to the KLEWS chart and modify anything they need to in the “KNOW” column, and then add information that they are “LEARNING” in the L column. Finally, ask students to list their “WONDERINGS” and record them in the W column.


Discuss with the students that they are going to participate in this investigation throughout the month and also send the parent letter (see Supplemental Resources) about this investigation. Before they start, remind students about the safety guideline that they should only go outside at night with an adult who will help them with making observations. The teacher should also discuss how to fill in the Moon Observation Chart (Supplemental Resources). If asking students to complete this at home presents a challenge, alternate strategies can be done in the classroom including a teacher taking a photo of the Moon each night and using it in the classroom, online Moon calendars (see Online Resources) or even finding a calendar that would demonstrate what the Moon phase was and revealing only a day at a time. Model for the students how to fill in the amount of the Moon that is “dark” or not visible. Ask the students to keep their observation charts in a place where they can complete them each night and also bring them to school the next day. Every few days, revisit the topic and ask students to share their observations. As the students share their observations, ask them to also describe the pattern that they are observing. Questions such as “Are you seeing more or less of the Moon each night?” “What do you notice happens after we can see either ALL of the Moon or none of the Moon?” After a few days of discussing the patterns, ask the students to make predictions about what will happen to the amount of the Moon they can see and explain their reasoning for their prediction.


Once students have had a chance to make observations about the Moon over a period of time, which could be a week or the entire month, ask them to return to the KLEWS chart and begin to discuss their questions that they were wondering about and also engage them in a discussion about the following questions (which may be in the “learning” column): What did you notice about the amount of the Moon that is visible? Did the amount of the Moon visible always increase? Did it always decrease? Can you describe a pattern?

Return to pages 10–11 in the book and ask the students to look at the images and compare them to their own Moon observation sheet. Engage the students in a discussion about the order that the phases appear in and where their observations started. Review the KLEWS chart with the students and determine if there are things that need to be changed in the KNOW column based on their observations and the discussion. Review the points that are listed in the LEARN column. Support these points with the EVIDENCE that they have collected from their observations. Points in the LEARN column should include: The Moon moves through a set pattern of phases. We can predict when the Moon will be full or new based on this pattern. Ask the students if their WONDERINGS were answered and if they have others record them. Finally, ask the students to think about their explanations and the terms assigned to them and include those in the SCIENCE column.


Return to the book and ask the students to think about why the author said that the Moon is Earth’s Best Friend.  Answers that might be provided include: the Moon and Earth are near each other, the Moon and the Earth stay together, etc. Tell the students that they are now going to be reporters that are on the Earth and describe in a message (this could be a letter, postcard, social media post, etc.) the different phases that are seen as the Moon revolves around the Earth. Help them get started by using descriptive words such as more, less, increasing, and decreasing and how they can be used to describe the cycle for the lunar phases. Ask them to complete the My Moon Message (see Supplemental Resources) student sheet and then share them with the class.


Students first explain their thinking regarding the Moon by listing items that they think they know on the KLEWS chart. After listening to parts of the book and discussing focus questions, they make their own observations over time about the phases of the Moon and return to describe the pattern that occur. Finally, they write a descriptive message about the Moon phases from the perspective of a reporter on Earth.

Grades 3–5: Constantly in Motion


Students use models to determine how the motions of the Earth and the Moon result in events that are predictable.


  • On Earth
  • chart paper

Supplemental Resources (

  • KLEWS Chart
  • Day & Night Demo Directions
  • Earth’s Place Student Sheet
  • Earth Events in Motion Student Sheet
  • Online Resources: Day and Night World Map
  • Earth’s Orbit; Making a Sun Dial


Share with the students the idea that there are regular events that happen every day on Earth, every year on Earth, and also regular things that we can observe when we look at the night sky or even during the daytime. (Safety note: Remind students never to look directly at the Sun.) Ask them to generate a list of things or events and record them on chart paper or the board. Ask them to explain what time frame it occurs in: day, month, year, etc. Read On Earth to the students once through as a story and ask them to describe what they heard in the book and connect it to any of the events that are on the list. For example, the Earth spins on its axis would connect to the idea of a day, or daytime and nighttime. This allows students to share their ideas around topics that can have misconceptions that need to be addressed. As they are sharing their ideas, help them fill out a KLEWS chart in the “KNOW” column. Ask them what they are wondering about as well from the story or about the events they started to discuss and complete the “WONDERINGS” column.


Investigation #1: Day & Night

Ask the students to look at the Day and Night World Map (see Online Resources) and make initial observations. Supporting questions include: What do the different shaded areas represent? and What happens to the areas if we move ahead 10 minutes or one hour (options to do this are at the bottom of the map). After students use the online map, set up the Day and Night Demonstration (see Supplemental Resources) and ask the students to make observations about what happens to the location marked on the Earth representing where they live. Begin by having the light shine directly at the location marked and then rotate or spin the Earth on its axis slowly until the location is on the opposite side and not being hit by the light. Ask the students to record their thinking on their Earth Events in Motion student sheet (see Supplemental Resources).

Investigation #2: Around the Sun in 365 Days

Ask the students to view the animation about Earth’s orbit (see Online Resources). As they are observing this animation, ask them to make notes about what is happening to the Earth on its path around the Sun. What do they notice about the axis? Which direction is the northern hemisphere facing? Ask the students to record their ideas and sketch the position of the Earth in its orbit on their student sheet.

Investigation #3: Shadows from Sundials

Pose the question: How did people know what time it was before we had watches? How can the Sun’s position in the sky help us answer this question? This investigation asks the students to use a sundial to make observations about the position of the Sun in the sky at different points in the day. Directions for making and setting up the sundial can be found in the Online Resources. Once the location is set up, students will need to be able to observe their shadows from the same spot several times during a sunny day as they will need to measure their shadows.


After students have participated in the different investigations, ask them to return to the KLEWS chart and complete the column for “LEARNING” based on their observations. Then reread the book to them and discuss the following points:

pp. 1–2 What do you think the author means when they stated that “we go for a giant ride in space, spinning like a merry-go-round? How do these ideas connect to the investigations?

pp. 3–4 What are the two motions described in the text about the Earth? What events occur because of these motions?

pp. 7–8 From your investigations, when did you see the longest shadows? Where was the Sun in the sky when the longest shadows occurred?

pp. 11–12 What is an orbit? Where did you see an orbit described in the investigations? How long does it take the Earth to orbit the Sun?

pp. 17–20 Look at the photo in more detail. As the Earth orbits the Sun, what do you notice about the hemisphere of the Earth facing or tilting toward the Sun?

pp. 21–22 Explain why nights are longer and days are shorter in winter in the northern hemisphere.

pp. 27–28 Point out that Earth doesn’t “fly” through space but does travel through space. Ask the students to explain the statement “as night becomes day, summer becomes winter, and years go by” and give examples from their investigations to support their explanation.

Revisit the KLEWS chart and ask students to check to see if there are any changes that need to be made to what they KNOW (which corrects incorrect information), add information to what they LEARNED, and now fill in the EVIDENCE column after completing their investigations and discussion. Students can also add in the SCIENCE terms or ideas in the last column.


Putting all of the different motions that are the basis for events together requires students to understand each and how each impacts the other. For example, there are different amounts of daytime/nighttime depending on where in the orbit the Earth is around the Sun. Ask students to demonstrate an understanding of these concepts when integrated, working in four different teams. Each team will be responsible for explaining how the Earth’s revolution around the Sun impacts the amount of daytime/nighttime on the Earth in your local area. Explain that they are going to create a book for use in the class now and in the future. Ask them to put together their section of the book on the Earth’s Place student sheet (see Supplemental Resources). As they assemble their pages, they should also make sure that they:

  • Describe the movement of the Earth.
  • Incorporate the key terms rotate, revolve, season, axis, day/night.
  • Include an illustration/sketch showing the correct placement of the Sun and Earth along the orbital path.

After each group has completed their pages, ask them to hold a conference with the groups on both sides of their pages (e.g., the Summer group needs to meet with Fall and Spring groups). Have them complete a peer review to make sure the information is accurate.


Students uncover misconceptions by completing the KLEWS chart. Through the investigations, students explore the motion of the Earth both on its axis and as it travels around the Sun. Finally, students observe how their shadow changes depending on where the Sun is in the sky. Students apply their understanding as they combine the different concepts into an informational document and do peer reviews.

Online Resources

Day and Night World Map:

Earth’s Orbit:

Making a Sun Dial:

Moon Phases:

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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