Modeling the Earth and Sun

Guiding Question:  What is the earth, and where is the earth in space?

Objective:  Students will be able to identify how the earth and the sun interact.


  • Bag of "solar system" materials (one bag per group)
  • Wiffle ball on a string
  • "Kinda Quick Tour of the Solar System" movie created by Como Planetarium
  • Computer and Projector

Vocabulary: sun, earth, planet, model

Safety: Be careful swingin' the wiffle ball around your head!!

Preparation: Practice swingin' the wiffle ball around your head!

Activity - Prior Knowledge:

  1. Have the students view this youtube video
  2. Ask the students to Turn and Talk...discussing what they observed in the video
  3. Have students share what they observed.  If no student mentions it, be sure to mention that this is a model of our Solar System.
  4. Ask “What is a model and why do we use them?”
  5. Have the students watch the video a second time, but this time pause the video at the 25 second mark.  Tell the students to look for “things that are wrong” with this model.
  6. Have the students Turn and Talk...sharing what is wrong with the model at the 25 second mark (planets are too close to the Sun, planets are not the correct size, planets are orbiting at the same rate, planets are sharing one orbital path)
  7. Have students share with the larger group.


Activity - New Knowledge:

  1. Tell the students that we are going to start with a look at just one of the objects in our solar system.
  2. Ask the students, "What is the Earth, and where is the Earth in space?"
  3. Instructs students to draw a diagram of their current understanding of what the Earth is and where it is in space.
  4. Assemble class ideas on chart paper as individual students share their diagrams.
  5. Tell the students that they are going to create a model of the "Sun and Earth relationship" using the materials in the bags
  6. Distribute bags of materials to student groups of four
  7. With the materials in the bag, have the students model the relationship of the Earth and Sun (where the two are in relationship to each other, how they move, don't move, etc...)
  8. Have student groups share their model with the large group (identifying things such as what objects they used, what size objects they chose, how far apart the objects were, did the objects need to be moved over time, etc…)
  9. Instruct the students to use the remaining materials in the bag to add the planets to their solar system model.
  10. Watch the Kinda Quick Tour of the Solar System movie created by Como Planetarium that illustrates the motion of the Earth and other planets in our solar system.
  11. Ask the students if they would like to make any changes to their model, allow a few minutes for students to make the changes.



Have one or two student groups share with the large group their model.

Assessment:  Have students make claims about their understandings of the Sun and Earth relationship citing evidence base on the model activity and the Como Planetarium Solar System movie.  Possible claims will be:  The Sun and Earth are objects in the solar system. The Sun is a star at the center of the Solar System and all objects in the solar system orbit the Sun. The Earth orbits the Sun. Other planets orbit the sun...but not in the same place as Earth.


Extension 1:

  1. Take the wiffle ball on a string and swing it around your head
  2. Tell the students that the wiffle ball represents Earth
  3. Ask the students "What represents the Sun in the model?
  4.  Ask the students "What does the string represent in the model?"

Extension 2:

  1. Pose this question to the class:  "Are there other objects in the universe that behave the way the Earth, Sun and Moon do?