Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Where in Our Solar System Are We?

Karen Cook


Are you lost in space? See a class activity that demonstrates the relative positions of the planets in our solar system. Stop here for help to find your way home!


The student knows the relative positions of all the planets.


-Freestanding models or pictures of the sun and planets
-Toilet paper (one roll per student or one for each pair of students)
-Assessment sheet,Positions of the Planets (see Associated Files)
-Scotch tape
-(Optional) Gustav Holst: "The Planets Suite"


1. Prepare freestanding models or pictures of the sun and the nine planets of our solar system.
2. Purchase 2-ply toilet paper. (enough for each student or every two students)
3. Have encyclopedias available.
4. Print the assessment sheet, Positions of the Planets, for each student.


SPECIAL NOTE: Prior to this lesson, students should have been introduced to the planets and given an acrostic sentence to help remember the order of the planets in our solar system:
My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas!

Day 1
1. Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 students to allow them to brainstorm after the presentation.

2. To create interest, wrap approximately 24 sheets of toilet paper around your waist and tie loosely. Have enough rolls of toilet paper stacked in front of the class for each child in your class to have one roll apiece.

3. Ask the students to guess what we are doing with all this toilet paper during science time? List their ideas.

4. Have students discuss different units of measure (inch, feet, yard, miles, centimeter, meter, kilometer, hands when measuring horses).

5. Tell students to think of ways they could use the toilet paper to measure the distance between the sun and the planets. Let them brainstorm ideas in their groups. Then suggest that they may use the toilet paper as a unit of measure if they have not discovered it themselves.

6. Inform students that they will be given an assessment sheet [Positions of the Planets] after the activity to assess whether or not they know the position of the planets in relation to our Sun. Show them the assessment sheet.

7. Inquire of the students where they may find information about the distance between the sun and the planets. Let the same small groups research in the encyclopedias the correct distances of each planet from the sun in kilometers (give each group a different planet/s).

(in millions of kilometers) Mercury-58, Venus-108, Earth-150, Mars-228, Jupiter-778, Saturn-1,427, Uranus-2,869, Neptune-4,505, Pluto-5,890.

8. Let the small groups suggest how much each sheet of toilet paper should stand for in our distance scale. If they do not come up with a reasonable result, suggest that one sheet of toilet paper should stand for 50 million kilometers in our distance scale. Explain to them each sheet will be an estimate (1 sheet= 50 million kilometers), not an exact number. Let them continue to use that as a guideline to compute how many sheets each planet would need. (For the teacherís reference: Mercury-1 sheet from the Sun, Venus-2 sheets, Earth-3 sheets, Mars-4 sheets, Jupiter- 15 sheets, Saturn-28 sheets, Uranus-57 sheets, Neptune-90 sheets, Pluto-117 sheets.)

Day 2
1. Optional: Play the music Gustav Holst: "The Planets Suite" (just to set the mood).

2. Take freestanding labeled models or pictures of the sun and the planets outside on the sidewalk. Place the sun at the beginning of the sidewalk and place it on top of the beginning of one roll of toilet paper. Roll out the sheets and place each planet where it comes according to the information gathered yesterday. Start a new roll when needed to complete the positions of the planets in relation to our Sun. Extra paper is needed because some may tear. Use Scotch tape if needed to tape sheets together.

3. Have one student stand at each of the planet locations so that the class can see the relative positions of the planets from the Sun.

4. After collecting all the material and going back in the classroom, hand out the assessment sheet, Positions of the Planets and let each student fill in the blanks. Collect and assess.


Assess the Positions of Planets assessment sheet in the Associated File. Students should score 70% or better. Students may share their answers in a list on the dry-erase board (the Sun and the nine planets in correct positions in relation to our Sun) after the assessment sheet has been collected in order to provide feedback.


Social Studies-Create distance scales for maps or create map keys to explain symbols.
Math-Use estimation to guess and check distance of planets from the sun.
Return to the Beacon Lesson Plan Library.