Phases of the Moon Lesson Plan

Aim: To learn the phases of the moon and the relative motion of the Earth, Sun and Moon for each phase. To understand that the phases of the moon are cyclical.

NY Learning Standards
Standard 4: The Physical Setting
Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.
Key Idea 1: The Earth and celestial phenomena can be described by relative motion and perspective.
Performance Indicator 1.1: Explain daily, monthly and seasonal changes on Earth.
Major Understanding 1.1g: Moons are seen by reflected light. Our Moon orbits Earth, while Earth orbits the Sun. The Moon’s phases as observed from Earth are the result of seeing different portions of the lighted area of the Moon’s surface. The phases repeat in a cyclical pattern in about one month.

Movie or graphic showing the changing phases of the moon
Power point enabled classroom (see attached presentation)
Activity handout for “Patterns of Moonlight”
Model of Sun, Earth and Moon for Teacher Demo
Several models of the Moon for students
An strong light source (overhead projector or lamp)
Activity handout for “Phases of the Moon Lab”
Ticket to leave handout
Summary Notes for students
Web quest for Enrichment study

Engage and Activate Prior Knowledge
Activity “What about my perspective?” Ask students to think in terms of differing perspective by finding their right hand vs the hand to their neighbor’s right.
Repeatedly show a movie of the changing phases of the moon from NASA satellite images. Ask students to write down at least 5 words they associate with the movie of the moon.
Ask students about the source of moonlight.

Historical Perspective
Show the students drawings of the phases of the moon made by Galileo.

Establish Framework for Development of Scientific Vocabulary
Define “waxing” and “waning”.
Ask students to describe which direction the light moves across the moon.
Ask students to determine how much time the moon is waxing. …waning

Reinforce and Assess
Activity – “Patterns of Moonlight” Give the students a set of images of various phases of the moon. Ask them to put the images in chronological order.
Assess the student understanding and adjust the lesson accordingly.

Explain and Connect
Use models of the Sun, earth and moon to explain:
The reason for day and night on earth.
The time for one earth rotation (24 hours)
The time for one moon orbit (29 ½ days)
The time for one moon rotation (29 ½ days)
The “far side” of the moon.
Connect the use of these models to the opening activity on perspective.

Walk around a chair or desk and keep facing it while you circle it to illustrate how the moon always “shows” one side to the earth.

Define Terminology and Connect
Give students the basic definitions for new moon, full moon, crescent moon, quarter moon and gibbous moon.
Ask students to also remember the definitions of “waxing” and “waning”

Activity –“Phases of the Moon Lab”. Let the students explore phases of the moon by letting them experiment with models of the moon, and a light source.
Reinforce concepts of perspective, and cyclical patterns.
Scaffold the exercise with a worksheet that includes vocabulary for phase names.

Recap the key concepts and terms of the lesson. Answer any questions the students may have.

“Ticket to Leave” – Allow the last 5 minutes of the class to allow students to reflect of their learning. Ask them to write 2-5 sentences about what they learned in class today and hand it to you before they leave. Use this information to modify the lesson plan and adjust teaching strategies for the next lesson.

Give students the “Phases of the Moon” web quest to allow them the opportunity for further study.


Moon Phases diagram animation that shows the relative positions of the sun, the earth and the moon.

NASA animation of Phases of the Moon using satellite images

Today’s phase of the moon (apparent disk of the moon)

Phases of the moon web page