5 Effective Lesson Plan Ideas for Teaching Rotation and Revolution

Rotation and revolution are vocabulary words that often confuse students when discussing the movements of the Sun, Earth, and Moon. Knowing the difference between these words is necessary to develop a deeper understanding of how these movements affect our lives. I’ve put together some of our best lesson plan ideas for teaching rotation and revolution to your students.

Model Rotation and Revolution with Objects

toys to teach rotation and revolution PIN


There are lots of options for objects that can model rotating. We like to use a fidget spinner since they are so popular right now but you could also use a toy top or a coin.

Provide each group, or individual, with a fidget spinner and give them a minute or two to play with it.

Guiding questions for peer to peer discussion:

  • What kind of movement do you see?
  • Can you identify the center of the movement?


Now that we have kids, we like to borrow their toys to help demonstrate things in our classroom. Our favorite way to model revolution is to use wooden, interlocking train tracks and push a train around the track with a toy building in the center.

If you don’t have access to a train set, no worries! You can also use a foam ball attached to a piece of string.

Provide each group with a 2-3 inch diameter foam ball and about 24 inches of yarn. Students use a pencil to push a hole through the center of the foam ball. Then, pass the yarn through the hole and tie it against the ball to secure it. They should have a loose end of yarn available to hold.

Have students take turns holding the end of the string and moving their hand in a way that causes the foam ball to move in a circle around their hand. You will probably want to demonstrate how to do it and go over behavior expectations.

Guiding questions for peer-to-peer discussion:

  • What kind of movement do you see for the sphere?
  • Can you identify the center of the movement?
  • How is this different from the movement you saw with the fidget spinner?

Define Rotate and Revolve

After interacting with real-life objects that demonstrate rotation and revolution, help students define their observations. Have students draw a 2-by-2 table in their notebooks with room to write definitions. Write or tell them the words that you will be defining and give them time to discuss what they think the words mean. Then, guide students as they write the definitions in their notebooks.

Definitions for rotate, axis, revolve, and orbit

Use Body Modeling to Teach Rotation and Revolution

We use body modeling A LOT to help students visualize concepts in science. For this activity, partner students in groups of two and assign one student to be Earth and the other to be the Sun. Be sure to remind students of the expectations for behavior.

ideas for teaching rotation and rev
  1. Rotate:
    • both students should spin slowly in a counterclockwise motion
  2. Revolve:
    • the student who is the Sun stays in place as the student who is Earth slowly walks counterclockwise around them
  3. Rotate and revolve:
    • the students combine the two movements so that the Sun is rotating and Earth is revolving around the Sun while rotating.

Guiding questions for peer-to-peer discussion:

  • When your position on Earth is facing away from the Sun, what do you see in the sky?
  • When your position on Earth is facing toward the Sun, what do you see in the sky?
  • Rotate to model sunset.
  • Rotate to model sunrise.
  • Rotate to model noon.
  • Rotate to model midnight.

More Body Modeling

Body modeling is my favorite. Can you tell? This modeling activity will show the movements of the Sun, Earth, and Moon. You will need lots of space. A large grassy area outside would be best but both Marquise and I have worked with our respective PE coworkers to use the gym during bad weather. In my case, my coworker wove my content and activity into her class time with me as the co-teacher.

It is so important to go over behavior expectations ahead of time and to explain that all movements should be done slowly and with thought to prevent falls.

  • Divide your class into 3 groups: 1 student will be the Moon, 3 students will be Earth, and the remaining students will be the Sun.
  • Have the students who are modeling the Sun hold hands and form a large circle. Direct them to rotate their circle counterclockwise. Let them rest in place while you set up the Earth model.
  • Next, have students who are modeling Earth hold hands and form a circle. Direct them to rotate counterclockwise and then have them continue to rotate while moving as a group to revolve around the Sun. Let them rest in place while you set up the Moon model.
  • Then, direct the student who is modeling the Moon to rotate counterclockwise while revolving counterclockwise around Earth.
  • Finally, have the class do all the movements together so that the Sun is rotating in place, the Earth is rotating while revolving around the Sun, and the Moon is rotating while revolving around the Earth.

Reflection prompt for student notebooks:

  1. Describe the movement of the Moon.
  2. Describe the movement of Earth.

Sing-a-longs and Videos

I love a good sing-a-long. Students might protest and complain that science songs are lame but, in the end, they always participate. And… they always learn!

Here are two songs by Mr. Parr on YouTube. He provides his lyrics so you can print them out for your students. Always exercise caution when showing videos on YouTube and use an ad filter if available to you.

Short and sweet videos are also a great way to serve up content in a way that students enjoy.

Comparing Rotation and Revolution

foldable notes for teaching rotation and revolution PIN image

We both allow our students to access their interactive notebooks during class (even during short assessments like quizzes). So it is really important that the information in them is correct and easy to understand.

We do this by guiding note-taking during whole-group instruction and providing foldable note templates for students to use. By using foldable templates that have options for differentiation, we make sure that each student is successful at getting the correct notes they need for their notebooks.


By now students have created models using their bodies and everyday objects, watched videos, sung songs, and taken detailed but simple notes for their notebooks. It is time to practice their newly acquired knowledge. Providing opportunities to practice before assessing helps build confidence and gives you an opportunity to look for any misconceptions that students may have.


Sort text and image examples of rotation and revolution of the Sun, Earth, and Moon.

Sorting is a skill that requires students to organize their knowledge about a concept. They have to be able to group pieces of information by how they are the same. We love to use a mix of text and image cards for rotation and revolution so that students can build their scientific visual literacy skills.


Vocabulary puzzles for rotate and revolve

Matching also requires students to organize their knowledge, but now they are deciding how pieces of information are different from other pieces of information. Vocabulary puzzles have 4 pieces that students have to match. Each puzzle includes the vocabulary work, an illustration, the definition, and facts or examples. After students have time practicing the key vocabulary words for rotation and revolution, we give a short vocabulary assessment to see if any students need extra help.

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