Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Rolling Through Space

Terrie Lyons
Santa Rosa District Schools


This lesson uses a common roll of toilet paper to give students a practical means of visualizing the vast distances that separate the sun and the planets of our solar system.


The student understands the distances of the planets and the asteroid belt from the Sun are vast.


- One roll of toilet tissue for each group (at least 500 sheets)
- 10 push pins for each group
- Labels or cut outs to represent the sun and the 9 planets (see attachment)
- Planet Data Table 1 handout for each student (see attachment) To save paper you might consider putting both data tables on the same sheet of paper, back to back.
- Planet Data Table 2 handout for each student (see attachment)
- Calculators, one per student if possible, otherwise students may do the calculations in groups.
- Answer key (see attachment)
- You need to do the first part of the activity that involves making the model outside or in a long hallway.


1. Begin by assembling materials. You will need 1 roll of toilet paper and 10 pushpins for each group. Students will also need calculators and something with which to write.
2. Prepare copies of Data Table 1 (from attachment) for each group and Data Table 2 (from Attachment) for each student. Note: you may have students complete Data Table 2 as a group if you would prefer.
3. Prepare copies of the planet labels. (from attachment)
4. Remember you will need to do the first part of the activity outside or you will need to secure a long hallway to construct your model.


1. Begin the activity with a discussion of the typical model of the solar system and how the planets are shown in close proximity to each other. You may even have a model or a picture you can display. Remind the students that in reality, the solar system is spread out over millions of miles of space.
2. Remind the students that when we refer to the time it takes to travel to the other planets, we have to think of it in terms of years.
3. Define the term -scale model-. Explain to the students that they will be making a scale model of the solar system, which will help them visualize the vast distances between the planets.
4. Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 students.
5. Furnish each group with a roll of toilet paper, 10 pushpins, one calculator and a set of planet labels. (From attachment)
6. Explain to the groups that the scale that they will be using for their model will be: one sheet of tissue equals 10,000,000 miles.
7. Hand out the document that has Data Tables 1 and 2 (From attachment)
8. Explain to the groups that they will place the sun label on the first sheet and secure it with a pushpin. From there they will use Data Table 1 to see the number of sheets they must roll off to mark each of the nine planets. This part should be done outside or in a long hallway.
9. Have the groups label and mark each of the planets on their toilet paper roll.
10. Allow the students to share and discuss some of their thoughts and feelings about the distances they have observed among the planets. This is also a good time to review the term scale model.
11.From this point on the students may return to the classroom to complete the rest of the activity. Make sure that you collect the pushpins and have the students clean up all of the toilet paper.
12. Hand out the calculators.
13. Instruct the students to complete Table 1 and calculate the distances on Table 2 and the time it would take them to travel these distances. Remind the students that the time it takes to travel the distance is based on a speed of 70 miles per hour, the speed of a car on the interstate, not the speed of a rocket. The first one has been calculated for them.
14. Wrap up the activity with a discussion on some of the problems that would be associated with traveling these distances in space. Students may also want to share with others how this activity has impacted their perceptions about distances in space.


As a formative assessment, students can be observed for participation as they count off and place the planet markers and for participation in class discussion. The answers to Data Table 2 and the guided questions on the same sheet can be used for a summative assessment if the teacher believes the benchmark has been achieved with this lesson. The answers to the questions will assure that students have gained understanding of the concept of distance in space.


This lesson can be accomplished as a joint project with the math classes because of the measurement, multiplication, and division calculations that are involved with it.
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