Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Zipping Through Our Solar System and Beyond

Richard Angelini Sr.


A team-structured inside and outside classroom activity incorporating the concepts of scale, and ratios and proportion. Students construct many solar system models to scale and see our solar system as an action location in the vast void of space.


The student understands the vast size of our Solar System and the relationship of the planets and their satellites.

The student understands that our Sun is one of many stars in our galaxy.


-Research materials: Any text or web source that will furnish you with information about the planets construction and other properties. You get to pick it. Research materials are not used as a teaching instrument, but only as information sources for completion of the activities.

-Pre and Post test (see associated file)

Activity #1. Constructing models of the nine planets. (supplies per team)
-Paper or construction paper sufficient to make nine balls, ranging in size from a pea to a softball.
-Wire coat hanger
-Five feet of kite string
-Coloring pens or pencils, 6 to 8 colors

Activity #2. Scale modeling the vastness of our solar system. (supplies per team)
-Manila file folder
-Glue or tape
-Coloring pencils

Activity #3. Scale model of Earth and our Sun. (supplies per class)
-Popsicle stick

Activity #4 Distance to Our Near Neighbor, Alpha Prixima, The Nearest Star to Our Sun. (supplies per team)
-Road map of the State of Florida

Activity #5 Forces Within Our Solar System (supplies per class)
-6 feet of rope
-1 pound weight, (or anything compact that weighs 1 pound)

Activity #6 Discovering the Proportions in Our Solar System (supplies per team)
-Pencils and paper


1. All 8 activities need not be done. Each can stand alone; kind of a-la-carte.

2. Devise a method to team students. Team size will depend on the size of your class and the developmental level of students. Teams can be sorted by any one of the following: learner level, hair color, numbering (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), etc.

3. A road map of Florida, one per team of students.

4. Peruse Web links for additional teacher information and to decide if they are appropriate for student use.


Administer pre-test (20 minutes)
Begin with a class discussion using modified KWL (What Do You Know, What Would You Like to Know, and What Have you Learned) that incorporates what the class knows about our solar system.

A) Write down in columns on the board facts about our solar system.

1) List them according to planet or sun or relationship to each other, ex:
Planets Sun Planents/ Sun

(Note: If a student says that Mercury is the first planet around the Sun, that is a Planet/ Sun relationship. If she says that Mars is the red planet, that is listed under planet.)
2) Include simple drawings of the planets and the Sun drawn on the chalkboard.
B) Ask if anyone can define an Astronomical Unit, (AU), or a light year.
C) Next, remember to write down at least 5 things that the class as a whole would like to learn.

Pre-Activity (25 minutes)
Have a class reading of your chosen reference source. Any book or website that describes the planets and sun of our solar system will do. Allow the students to keep their reference source handy during the lesson. During the reading, have the students define the following by assigning two terms to teams (team size will depend on your class size):
Satillites, (natural and man made), Planets, A.U., Light-Year, Astroid Belt, Rocky Planet, Gaseous Planet, Orbit, Revolution, Solar Systems, Galaxies, and Rotation.

Prior to beginning the activities, discuss with the class effective leadership and stress the fact that the next few activities stress team effort. You may find it beneficial to appoint a team leader for each team. Encourage each team member to help each other learn. In this setting, talking is encouraged. There is no such thing as cheating when giving answers to another student and all opinions have great value.

Activity #1 (25 minutes) Construction of Model of the Nine Planets
1. Instruct each team to make paper ball models of the nine planets.
2. They should make the choice on size, (scale). Several attempts will have to be made to find the right scale of the models in order for the models to fit hanging from the coat hanger.
3. Tell the students they should color each model.
4. Demonstrate how to hang their models from a coat hanger using string and tape to attach the models to the coat hanger. (Accurate demonstrations of the scale of the diameters of the planets, is the goal.)
5. Using tape, hang a sign on each planet that states the following: (Information can be gotten from their textbook or another resource.)
Planet Name
Distance in AU, kilometers and miles from our sun
Planet composition, (rocky or gaseous)
Period of revolution
Number of satellites, (natural)
Any dominent feature for identification, (rings)

Activity #2 (35 minutes) Scale Model of the Vastness of Our Solar System
Preparation: Each team needs to build a paper cone stand. Simply roll up a Manilla file folder into a cone and staple or tape, or glue to hold its shape. This will serve as a stand for the planet models. Choose one or two planets from each team made in the previous activity. Have the students attach them to the cones with tape.
1. Bring class outside to a large open area: a baseball field is perfect.
2. Explain to them that our solar system does not look at all like the models they have already built. It is huge in volume and mostly empty. There are vast distances between planets.
3. Define an A.U. to them. A.U, (astronomical unit), is the average distance between the center of the Sun and the Earth. Explain that inside our solar system distances are measured in A.U. It is like a foot or a meter or a mile. It is a measurement of distance.
4. Begin at home plate and walk three (3) steps toward second base, (directly toward the pitcher’s mound). Explain to the class that the Earth is one A.U. from the Sun and in this activity you will use three steps to represent one A.U.
5. Next, begin with the planet Mercury. Pace out all the planets according to the following:

Mercury distance in A.U. 0.39, steps 1.5
Venus distance in A.U 0.72, steps 2.3
Earth distance in A.U 1.00, steps 3
Mars distance in A.U 1.52, steps 4.5
Jupiter distance in A.U 5.20, steps 20
Saturn distance in A.U 9.54, steps 30
Uranus distance in A.U 19.18, steps 57
Neptune distance in A.U 30.06, steps 90
Pluto distance in A.U 39.44, steps 119

6. Now explain to the class that 98.8% of all matter in our solar system is in our sun. Explain to the class that the planets revolve around our sun at different speeds and so at different rates. This means that at any given time any planet can be at the other side of its orbit from another planet; making our solar system almost empty indeed!
7. Next, have two students move Earth and Saturn ¼ around in their orbits. This will demonstrate the vast empty spaces within our solar system.

Activity #3 ( 10 minutes) Scale Model of our Earth and Sun Relationship
1. Place a basketball on home plate of the baseball field to represent our Sun.
2. Next, use a marble to represent to scale our Earth. Place the marble half way between second base and the center field fence. Mount it on a popsicle stick.
3. Say to the class: “If our Sun was the size of this basketball, then our Earth would be as big as that marble. It would be as far away as that.” (Pointing to the marble on the popsicle stick). Next, ask the question, “If our Sun was this big, how far would Pluto be away using this new scale?” (Many blocks away).

Activity #4 ( 20 minutes) Distance to Our Nearest Neighbor, Alpha Proxima, The Nearest Star to Our Sun.
1. Back in the classroom, give each team a road map of Florida.
2. Show them where they are on the map.
3. Using the distances graph, find a city about 6 to 7 hours away.
4. Explain to them that if they began traveling at 70 or so, miles per hour they would arrive at that town. (In scale, 70 MPH, for 7 hours is like traveling at the speed of light, for 4 ½ years, if our sun is the size of a basketball)
5. Next, explain to them that like the last activity, if our sun was the size of a basketball, and if we traveled at the speed of light toward the next closest star, then we would have to travel to that city to represent the distance from our sun to the next closest star.

Activity #5 (10 minutes) Forces Within Our Solar System.
1. Tie one end of the rope to the weight and twirl the weight around so that the weight stretches out the rope.
2. Explain to the class that equilibrium exists between the force to fly off and the force to fall to the floor. Centrifugal force wants to fly off into space and centripetal force is pulling the weight in, (to the ground). This equilibrium exists in every gravitational system in the universe. It is a balance.
3. Take in 2 feet of rope and spin the weight. Note to the class that now you must spin the rope faster to make the weight stay “airborne”. It is the same in a solar system. The closer planets must revolve around the sun faster than planets farther away. This is because gravity dissipates with distance. (More specifically, gravity varies, with the inverse of the square of the distance).

Activity #6 (30 minutes) Discovering the Proportions in Our Solar System
1. Challenge the students to write a ratio of distance to our sun and the period of revolution around our sun, (in earth years), for each planet.
Ex: Earth is 1 A.U. from our sun and revolves in 1 Earth year, therefore the ratio is 1:1
Jupiter is 5.20 A.U. from our sun and revolves in 11.86 Earth years, therefore the ratio is 5.2:11.86, or 1:2.28 (11.86 divided by 5.2 equals 2.28)

Planet, AU, Period Relative to Earth

Mercury 0.39, 0.24
Venus 0.72, 0.62
Earth 1.00, 1.00
Mars 1.52, 1.88
Jupiter 5.20, 11.86
Saturn 9.54, 29.46
Uranus 19.18, 84.01
Neptune 30.06, 164.80
Pluto 39.44, 247.70

2. Using a number line of their own creation, have the students create;
a) a number line of periods of revolution of the planets
b) a number line of A.U. of the planets
c) a number line of the A.U./period of revolution ratio calculated
(can be simply done by using a ruler to create an orderly spaced number line, measuring in increments of ¼ or one inch…etc.)
3. See if any student thinks she or he can draw a number line to include all our planets and the nearest star. (Hint: they cannot. They need to use an entirely different scale, that of the light year).

Teacher Summary

It is the intent of these activities to immerse the student into the subject by immersing them into the operations; to put them in to the scale various models constructed. The student will know the following:
1. Space is a vast, almost empty place.
2. Sometimes in space there are action locations.
3. Action locations are places where something is happening, orbiting, revolving, as in a solar system.
4. Gravity dissipates with the increased distance from our sun according to the inverse of the square of the distance.
5. All observations of an action location can be expressed as a ratio.
6. The universe is a place of great distances. We use different units of measurement to express those distances.
7. We measure distances within our solar system in Astronomical Units, (A.U.).
8. We measure distances outside our solar system, or distances between solar systems in Light Years, (the average distance light travels in one year).


Formative: During activities, assess on the following point system for participation
5 points for team leadership
5 points for construction of planet models
4 points for explanation of a light year or an astronomical unit, (AU) to the team
3 points for aid in proper measurements of distances
2 points for material management
2 points for clean up
A point board or a place on the chalkboard where the teacher records awarded points is advisable. Award decisions are based on common sense. This will keep the teams on task by making them aware of proper procedure.

Pre-Test: Know, What you want to know, Learned
Pre-Post: Test 10 questions (see attached file)


This lesson allows for the below average, average, and above average students to work together in teams with all students participating at their own levels. Additionally, it creates the opportunity for student teaching and leadership.

We live a time of discovery of other solar systems. Follow the hyperlinks suggested to discovery.

Web Links

Use this Website for additional information for students. If deemed appropriate, students could also use the sites for research.

Use this Website for additional information for students. If deemed appropriate, students could also use the site for research.
Solar system simulator

Attached Files

A pre and post test with an answer key.     File Extension: pdf

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