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11. Eclipse: Using a Classroom Model to Explore the Moon's Shadow
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See the Activity in Action Summary of Activity:
This lesson provides students with a concrete model of the Sun, Earth and Moon and their interaction during a solar eclipse. Students observe and manipulate the 3-D model and simulate the movement of these bodies during an eclipse.

Duration of Activity:
40 minutes.

Student Prerequisites:
After completing the "Eclipse: An Introduction" lesson, students should have an emerging understanding of how rotation, revolution and the position of the Sun, Earth and Moon can result in a solar eclipse. This activity reinforces what students have learned in the previous lesson.


  • Earth globe (approximately 14" to 16" in diameter)
  • String
  • Paperclip
  • Frame or ceiling hook (from which to hang the globe)
  • Yardstick
  • Tape
  • Thread or monofilament line
  • 3-inch Styrofoam ball
  • Lamp with a 200 watt bulb, shade removed and extension cord
  • Work sheets

Teacher Preparation:
Allow 20 minutes to locate and prepare materials, and set up the eclipse demonstration model and copy work sheets.

Work Sheets:

"Solar Eclipse" Work Sheets
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View Completed Student Work Sheets



Students will understand that during a total solar eclipse:
  1. The Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.
  2. The Moon blocks the Sun’s light from reaching the surface of the Earth.
  3. The shadow cast by the Moon covers only part of the Earth’s surface.
  4. The Moon’s shadow moves across the Earth.
  5. It becomes dark during the day.
  6. Total darkness only lasts a few minutes.

View National Standards AddressedGrade Level:
Grades 1-3


Preparing the model

  1. Choose a location in the classroom with ample room (approximately 10’ x 10’) to demonstrate the eclipse model. Students may want to sit in a circle or semicircle with the model in the middle.
  2. Hang the Earth globe from the ceiling or framework, so that it hangs about 24" to 30" above the floor. A paperclip with one side bent into an "L" shape will support the globe. Tie string to the paper clip loop, and insert the "L" into the globe’s small hole at top (North Pole point).
  3. To a chair or other sturdy object, tape a yardstick so it extends parallel to the floor.
  4. Cut a short length of thread or monofilament and attach the 3-inch Styrofoam "Moon" ball to one end of the thread. Tie the other end to the yardstick.
  5. Set the suspended Moon ball 12" - 15" away from the Earth globe.
  6. Place the lamp near the hanging "Moon" ball and globe so that the "Moon" casts a shadow on the Earth globe. (See photo)

Teaching with the model

  1. Turn on the lamp and turn off the classroom lights to make the shadow more visible.
  2. Slowly turn the Earth globe counterclockwise and begin your discussion of the model by asking students to identify the Sun, the Earth and the Moon.
  3. Ask students to use the model to explain how an eclipse takes place.
  4. Turn the globe so that the "Moon’s" shadow is covering your city. Remind students never to look at the Sun, but ask them to describe how things might look in their city during a total solar eclipse.
  5. Point to the KWL chart used in the previous introductory lesson and review what students contributed. Ask if students have learned anything new to add the chart.
  6. Possible points to elicit in your discussion of what happens during an eclipse–
    • The Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.
    • The Moon blocks the Sun’s light from reaching the Earth’s surface.
    • The Sun’s corona remains visible.
    • During the daytime it becomes dark on a small part of the Earth.
    • The shadow cast by the Moon only covers part of the daytime side of the Earth’s surface.
    • The Moon’s shadow moves across the Earth as it spins.
    • The Moon continues to move in its orbit too.
    • Total darkness of the eclipse only lasts a few minutes.
    • Some animals respond as if it were night.

7. Distribute the work sheets. The model can be left in the classroom to help students complete the work sheets.

Extension Activities:

Lunar Eclipses

  1. This model provides an opportunity to explore how lunar eclipses occur. Ask students what they think happens when the Earth gets between the Sun and the Moon.
  2. Model a lunar eclipse by reversing the positions of the Styrofoam balls representing the Earth and the Moon so that the "Earth" is between the "Sun" and the "Moon."
  3. Ask students where the Earth’s shadow is cast when the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon.
  4. Ask students to describe how the Moon would look to them from the Earth during a lunar eclipse.
  5. Ask students to explain why the moon appears dark to us during a lunar eclipse.

How Models Work

  1. Remind students that this is a model to help us learn, but the size and distance are not to scale. At this point in the unit, engage students in a discussion of scientific models and their limitations.
  2. Ask if students can identify any discrepancies with the model. Ask if there is something about the model that isn’t true.
  3. Ask students to describe a more accurate model and how they would construct it.

The Solar Eclipse work sheet will show your students' understanding of how eclipses occur.

See related books and websites.

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