Earth and Moon Patterns

In this unit, students explore observable patterns that result from Earth’s rotation and the moon’s orbit around the sun. They use these patterns to make predictions about the future appearances of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky.

This page is a high-level extract from the first lesson of the unit in which students are introduced to Earth science as they use models to explore the causes of day and night and the moon’s changing appearance in the sky.

Science Background for Teachers:

The science background provides teachers with in-depth explanations of the phenomena being explored in the unit. It helps teachers answer the “how” and “why” questions they may have about the topics being studied. 

The two most important tools scientists use are observation and experimentation. An observation is information gained through the senses. It can produce qualitative (non-numerical) or quantitative (numerical) data. An experiment is a specific procedure that tests if a hypothesis is true or false. Scientists follow a process to guide them through their experiment from their question to a data-based conclusion. Students will be introduced to this process in the next unit. Observations often lead to new questions and hypotheses. A hypothesis is a statement that can be proved true or false. Scientists test their hypotheses by designing experiments.

Day and night occur in a regular and repeated way because of Earth’s motion in the solar system. As Earth and the other planets orbit the sun, they are also rotating on their axis. To rotate means to make one complete turn on an axis, which is a straight line that an object rotates around. Earth’s axis is an imaginary line, and the planet completely rotates around it about once every 23 hours and 56 minutes (one Earth day). As Earth rotates, we move from a position that faces the sun to a position that does not. The sun always shines, but its light only hits one half of Earth at a time. This creates the phenomenon of day and night.

Supports Grade 1

Science Lesson: Discovering Earth and Moon Patterns

In this unit, students explore the phenomena of patterns in the appearance and motion of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky. They begin by modeling Earth’s position in the solar system relative to the sun and the moon. Then students use their model to explain why day and night happen in a regular and repeated way. 

Science Big Ideas

  • Science is the search for explanations about the world around them, and scientists ask questions that they try to answer with evidence from experiments. 
  • Day and night are patterns because they happen in a regular and repeated way. Day is the time between the sun’s rising and its setting. Night is the time between the sun’s setting and its rising.
  • Earth is in constant motion. It orbits the sun. To orbit means to travel in a circle around an object.
  • At the same time as Earth orbits the sun, it is also rotating on its axis, which changes which parts of Earth receive light from the sun. 
  • The sun isn’t the only object that we can see in the sky. The moon and stars are also objects that appear in the sky at different times.
  • We can observe the moon from Earth, and that it appears to change in a regular and repeated way.

Sample Unit CTA-2
Discover Complete Hands-on Screens-off Core Science Curriculum for K-8 Classrooms

Prepared hands-on materials, full year grade-specific curriculum, and personalized live professional development designed to support mastery of current state science standards.

Science Essential Questions

  • What do scientists do?
  • Why is it important that scientists ask questions?
  • What do scientists use to answer questions?
  • How is day different from night? What causes daytime on Earth?
  • Why are day and night patterns?
  • How do we know that the sun will always rise in the morning? 
  • What objects have you observed in the sky?
  • What objects have you seen only during the day, never at night? What objects have you observed only at night, and never during the day? 
  • Why can’t we see the sun when it is night? 
  • Are there any objects you have observed both during the day and at night?
  • How have you observed the moon appear to change? Is the moon actually changing?
  • How does the moon move around Earth?

Common Science Misconceptions

Misconception: The sun and the moon move around Earth, which is why their positions change in the sky over the course of a day.
Fact: Earth’s rotation is why the sun, moon, and stars appear to move across the sky.
Misconception: The moon can only be seen at night.
Fact: The moon can sometimes be seen in the sky during the day.
Misconception: Stars appear in the same place in the sky every night.
Fact: Just like the sun, the stars (and the moon) appear to move across the night sky over the course of a night as Earth continues its rotation.

Science Vocabulary

Axis : a straight line that an object rotates around

Day : the time between the sun’s rising and its setting

Moon cycle : the changing appearance of the moon (as seen from Earth) as the moon orbits Earth

Night :  the time between the sun’s setting and its rising

Orbit : to travel in a circle around an object

Pattern :  something that happens in a regular and repeated way

Rotate :  to move in a circle around an axis

Science : all knowledge learned from experiments

Shadow :  a dark shape created when an object blocks light 

Sun :  a star at the center of the solar system

Lexile(R) Certified Non-Fiction Science Reading (Excerpt)


Earth and the Sun

The sun always shines. But it only lights up half of Earth at a time. This is because Earth rotates. To rotate means to move in a circle around an axis. An axis is a straight line that an object rotates around.

Day happens for the half of Earth that faces the sun. Night happens for the part of Earth that faces away from the sun. It takes Earth one complete day and night to rotate once.


The Night Sky

The sun is the only star we can see during the day. At night, we cannot see the sun. We can see other stars. These stars appear smaller than the sun because they are so far away.

The moon also appears in the night sky. Sometimes we can see the moon during the day as well.


Earth and the Moon

The moon orbits Earth in the same way that Earth orbits the sun. But the moon does not shine like the sun.

The light of the sun bounces off of the moon. It is the light from the sun that makes the moon appear to shine at night.


Hands-on Science Activity

As part of this lesson, students create sun, Earth, and moon models that demonstrate how Earth rotates on its axis and orbits the sun. Students explore this concept through the models they make to explain and discuss why we have day and night on Earth. Students also investigate how the moon orbits Earth to understand how we can see phases of the moon during different times of the month. Students are able to witness the predictable patterns that the Earth experiences throughout the year. This hands-on activity provides students a foundation to continue exploring Earth Science topics in future lessons.

Science Assessments

KnowAtom incorporates formative and summative assessments designed to make students thinking visible for deeper student-centered learning.

  • Vocabulary Check
  • Lab Checkpoints
  • Concept Check Assessment 
  • Concept Map Assessment 
  • And More...


Science Standards

See How KnowAtom Aligns to NGSS Science Standards

Discover hands-on screens-off core science curriculum for student centered K-8 classrooms. KnowAtom supports classrooms with all hands-on materials, curriculum, and professional development to support mastery of the standards.

Download the Alignment to NGSS

Standards citation: NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Neither WestEd nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.