By the time students get to sixth grade, they have been introduced to the concept of lunar phases. But most students often lack a real understanding of WHY and HOW the moon goes through these phases. Hands-on activities are a fantastic way to improve your lessons, engage your students, and help them better understand the science behind the phenomenon. If you’re struggling to find projects to complement your lessons, read on because you and your students are going to love choosing a phases of the moon activity from this list for upper elementary and middle school!
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Classroom Activities for Teaching About Lunar Phases
Observation is a powerful skill to develop in students. And observing moon phases helps to strengthen their understanding of cause and effect. Here are a few of my favorite moon phase activities to help your students dive deeper and understand why we see the different phases of the moon.
1. MOON MODELS
Moon models are a great way for students to explore and make connections with the moon and its phases! This is often one of the first activities I do when teaching about this topic.
Bonus! It’s also a great way to pre-assess and see how much they really know!
Materials You’ll Need:
A moon model is quick and easy to make using only:
How It Works
Once students have their moon models, place a lamp in the center of the room. I like to take the lampshade off of mine to be sure the light they are getting is direct.
Turn out the lights and spread out the students around the lamp – be careful no one is blocking their light and creating an eclipse!
Tell the students they will be using their head as the ”observer on Earth” and lamp as the sun.
Add Some Challenges!
Here are a few ideas:
- Can you simulate the phases of the moon?
- Where would the moon be in order for the observer to see a full moon?
- Where would the moon be in order for the observer to see a new moon?
- How would you position yourself so that the observer sees a first quarter moon?
- How would you position yourself so that the observer sees a 3rd quarter moon?
- Does the moon make its own light? Explain.
Sometimes I feel like so many of our students are getting burned out with the constant use of technology. Especially this year!
In this project, students read short descriptions about the phases of the moon. Then, they create and label a scientific diagram to summarize what they read.
This storyboard activity is a great way to reinforce and assess the phases of the moon with a creative twist!
3. VOLLEYBALL MOON PHASE ACTIVITY
The volleyball moon activity is a quick and easy way to demonstrate how the moon’s position, relative to the Earth, affects the phase we see.
This is especially good to do after students have learned to identify the phases of the moon.
Materials You’ll Need:
- volleyball (from the PE department….),
- strong light source, such as a spotlight or old fashioned overhead projector
How It Works:
The set up for this is simple. Place the volleyball on one end of the room. Shine the bright light on the ball.
Turn off the lights and go around the room asking students to identify the phase of the moon they see from where they’re sitting.
Because the students are seated in different areas of the room, they are viewing different amounts of the volleyball being lit up. For example, one student may see a full moon, while another sees a first quarter or a waxing crescent. Don’t forget to have a student observe the ball from a new moon position!
This quick simulation sets up for a great discussion of “who’s right?” (or wrong) since we all came up with different answers! Hint: This makes a great writing activity!
After the volleyball demonstration, students are able to easily make the connection that the moon’s position affects the phase of the moon we see from Earth.
While not flashy, the north-polar view model is one of the best lunar-phase activities to REALLY help students understand the relationship between what we see from Earth and how the moon is positioned in the sky.
I am a huge fan of students adding a concrete, written explanation to hands-on activities. The north-polar view diagram is one of the best ways I’ve found to really drive home the understanding of the phases of the moon!
5. INTERACTIVE MOON MODEL
The moon model is a huge “aha moment” for both teachers and students alike!
Honestly, I’ve had teachers share that this is the first time they “truly understood” why we see the phases of the moon.
Materials You’ll Need:
The moon model is so simple and inexpensive to make:
- Cut a hole in the middle of a black, sturdy poster board. The hole should be big enough for a student to poke their head through.
- Spray paint or use a black Sharpie marker to color 8 ping pong balls so that they are half black and half white.
- Glue them to the board around the circle (hot glue works well!). The white side of the ping pong balls should be facing the “sun.”
- Label the direction the sun is coming from on the board.
How It Works
Students take turns putting their head through the hole and rotating the board counter clockwise to see the phases of the moon.
Extend the Learning with These Ideas
- Students can make a flip grid video to explain how to use the moon model and how it works.
- Number the different phases with sticky notes (out of order) and have students work with partners to identify the different phases they see.
Task cards are one of my favorite tools to reinforce learning about a specific topic. These phases of the moon task cards are a great way to add some extra practice or review in the classroom.
Take your Moon Phase Investigation to the Next Level!
- Presentation & Foldable
- Practice Worksheets
- North Polar View
- Task Cards (digital and print)
- Storyboard Activity
Here’s what teachers like you are saying:
My students were engaged during our lessons with this resource. They were able to gain new information without me having to interpret what was said…. always a bonus! Lynn O. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
My students were very engaged and we had lots of discussion. The slides were exactly what I was looking for to aid in teaching/class discussion. I loved the differentiated notes option as my students are on all different levels of ability. Beverly C. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Need some virtual activities? Check out this post “5 Virtual Moon Phase Activities” Your Students Will Love.”
Moon Phases Posters
Posters are a great way to visually reinforce the moon phases activities I’ve listed above. Here are a few excellent ones for you to consider adding to your classroom walls.