Planets & Moons

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Planets & Moons
Earth Science
Grades 4-5 | 40 sessions

Students learn about the Solar System, the movement of planets and moons, and how science and technology advance our knowledge of space. They also learn to visualize, set goals, use text features as they read, and to write scientific explanations. They learn and use scientific vocabulary, such as orbit, gravity, evidence, and model.

Click Here to Download the Correlation of Planets and Moons with the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts Grade 4

Click Here to Download the Correlation of Planets and Moons with the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts Grade 5

» Download Unit Description


Do it:

Students engage in hands-on activities, such as modeling how the rotation of the Earth creates day and night. Students also design a lander to explore a planet or moon.

Talk it:

Students are provided with many opportunities for small group discussions to help them make sense of science ideas. For example, students discuss lunar phases, and present their lander designs to the class.

Read it:

Students read nine science books, including Planetary Scientist, about how a real scientist uses models. Students use comprehension strategies such as visualizing, and learn how to navigate informational text.

Write it:

Students write scientific explanations, including an explanation about the phases of Jupiter’s moons. Throughout the unit, students write to record observations and reflect on their learning.

Student Books

Learning Goals

Science Literacy
Science Knowledge
  • Solar System
  • Movement of Planets and Moons
  • Science and Technology

Science Inquiry

  • Visualizing
  • Making Explanations from Evidence
  • Using and Evaluating Models
  • Comparing and Contrasting

Nature and Practices of Science

  • Understanding that Science Knowledge is Based on Evidence
  • Distinguishing Observations from Inferences
  • Recognizing that the Scientific Community Seeks to Improve Explanations
  • Understanding How Scientists Engage in the Practices of Science
  • Setting Goals
  • Synthesizing
  • Visualizing
  • Using Photographs and Illustrations
  • Using Data Tables


  • Writing Scientific Explanations
  • Using Scientific Language and Vocabulary


  • Participating in Scientific Discourse
  • Making Explanations from Evidence
  • Using Scientific Language and Vocabulary

Science Content

The Planets and Moons unit teaches students important space science concepts related to the solar system, the movement of planets and moons, and science and technology related to the investigation of space.

Movement of planets and moons: Most objects in the Solar System move in regular and predictable ways. The Sun is at the center of the Solar System and all the planets orbit around it. The time it takes for a planet to orbit around the Sun is called a year. A year on Earth is 365 days, but other planets take different amounts of time to orbit the Sun. The Earth and the other planets also rotate as they orbit. The amount of time it takes a planet to rotate is called a day. A day on Earth is 24 hours, but other planets take different amounts of time to rotate. Light shining from the Sun on the rotating Earth is what causes day and night- it is daytime on the side of Earth facing the Sun and nighttime on the side of Earth facing away from the Sun. Moons orbit planets. The way Earth’s Moon looks to us changes in a regular cycle, called phases. The Moon’s phases are caused by the Moon’s changing position relative to the Sun as the Moon orbits Earth.

Solar System: The Solar System includes the Earth, Moon, Sun, other planets that orbit the Sun, moons that orbit these planets, and other smaller objects such as asteroids and comets. The planets that orbit around the Sun are (in order): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. All moons and planets, including Earth, are spheres. Earth appears flat to us when we are standing on it because Earth is so large. Solar System objects have distinguishing characteristics including composition, surface features, size, atmosphere, temperature, and amount of gravity. On all Solar System objects, including on Earth, gravity pulls things down toward the center of the Solar System object. On Earth, air resistance slows falling objects, and this is why a feather falls slower than a hammer. On Solar System objects without atmospheres, such as the Moon, there isn’t air resistance so everything falls at the same rate.

Science and technology for space exploration: Students learn about missions to space, use of models, and tools and machines that help answer questions about the Solar System. Knowledge of science and of technology are used together to explore the Solar System. Engineers use scientific knowledge, creativity, and technology to find out about the Solar System. Engineers use scientific knowledge about the characteristics of planets and moons to design probes to explore planets and moons.