Lunar cycle

The activities in this lesson involve both individual and class work to facilitate students' learning about the predictability of the moon's phases. Beginning with a hands-on activity to give students a tangible demonstration of the moon's orbit and rotation, this lesson incorporates student observation, documentation, and online activities which encourage students to recognize the pattern of the moon's phases. Class discussions encourage students to understand the lunar cycle as one example of a pattern that we can find in nature.  As students participate in modeling the way the moon orbits the earth, and then in recording over a month's time the appearance of the moon, they become aware of differences in that appearance, and of the nature of a cycle.  This complete lesson plan includes background for the teacher, activities, questions to guide the discussion, and assessment suggestions.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
GLE 0007.INQ.1
Observe the world of familiar objects using the senses and tools.
GLE 0007.INQ.2
Ask questions, make logical predictions, plan investigations, and represent data.
GLE 0007.INQ.3
Explain the data from an investigation.
GLE 0207.6.2
Make observations of changes in the moons appearance over time.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 


To familiarize students with repeating patterns in nature, namely the phases of the Moon.


Essential and guiding questions: 
  • What do you notice about the moon?
  • How much of the moon can you see?
  • How much of the moon is dark?
  • Is there any time that the moon is completely dark?
  • Is there any time that the moon is in completely light?
  • (Have the moon travel around the earth several times to allow time for observation.) What do you notice when the moon goes around the earth again?
  • What did the moon look like on the first day?
  • What did it look like at the end of the first week?
  • How does it look now, at the end of two weeks?
  • What do you notice about the amount of light/dark of the moon each day?
  • What do you think it will look like tonight? Tomorrow night?
  • Scientists call the changes in the moon "phases." Did you see phases of the moon that look like the ones you have on your calendar?
  • Did you notice that the way the moon looks as it orbits the earth creates a pattern? What pattern do you see?
  • The moon's phases create a pattern. Can you guess how the pattern goes on your Lunar Cycle Calendar (hand out the blank calendar)?
  • Point to the full moon on your Lunar Cycle Calendar. How many days are there between the full moon and the next main phase?
  • What does the moon look like on the sixth day of the cycle? How about on the twelfth day? On the eighteenth day?
  • Do you see a pattern being created by the phases of the moon? Can you describe that pattern?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 


Keeping in mind the benchmarks of this lesson, look for ways to help students build upon their current understanding of the patterns we find in nature as well as the lunar cycle. Remember that encouraging science literacy in young students includes areas we might not traditionally consider. Students can explore and communicate their scientific investigations through music, storytelling, writing, drawing, sculpting, and building as well as the more traditional ways of conducting experiments, creating hypotheses, and recording observations. Inquiry based science is most meaningful if it begins with the student's curiosity and world of reference and then branches out into unfamiliar, exciting territory. Refer to these websites to spark that curiosity!

  • Adler Planetarium
  • Astronomy Café
  • The National Air and Space Museum
  • Harcourt School Publishers
  • Private Universe

Helpful Hints


  • One lamp
  • One globe
  • One small ball the size of a softball
  • Glue