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Science Lesson Plan: The Solar System, Grades 4-5

Science Lesson Plan: The Solar System, Grades 4-5

This lesson serves as an introduction to an astronomy unit for grades 4-5. The featured informational text, Journey Through Our Solar System, provides an overview of historical discoveries, the inner and outer solar system, and ongoing space exploration. Included are elements of complex nonfiction text (with table of contents, chapters, headings, vocabulary, timeline, glossary, index); images (with charts, captions, labels); close reading; text-dependent questions; informational writing; companion text; research; and cross-curricular activities. These elements relay foundational science content; weave in photography, poetry, biography, and more; and meet many 4–5 ELA CCSS.

Featured Key ELA Common Core Standards

  • RI.4.1/RI.5.1: Refer to/quote accurately details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • W.4.2/W.5.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
  • SL.4.5/SL.5.5: Add multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
  • L.4.4/L.5.4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4/5 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

Lesson Content Objectives

  • Describe the inner and outer solar system, including the sun and eight planets
  • Identify some of the probes and other spacecraft used in exploration, and some of their discoveries
  • Explain why there has been so much exploration of Mars and why the discovery of water on Mars, Uranus, and Saturn’s Enceladus is so significant
  • Write a short informational report about a chosen aspect of the solar system
  • Conduct further reading and research about the solar system and space exploration

Duration: 3 days (may be taught during language arts, science, and/or other related blocks)

Materials: Copies of Journey Through Our Solar System by Dr. Mae Jemison and Dana Meachen Rau; chart paper; markers; copies of companion text, Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca (optional)

Vocabulary: See glossary and index on pp. 46-47; additional words may be gathered and discussed.


  • Share the cover, title, title page, and author of Journey Through Our Solar System. Ask students to describe what they see on the cover and title page, and to predict what this book is about and if it is fiction or nonfiction.
  • Ask students what they know and want to know about the solar system. Create a KWL chart to capture the information, and tell students you will revisit after reading.
  • Read the ‘Find the Truth’ page together and have students make predictions. Preview the Table of Contents, glossary, and index, and ask again if the book is fiction or nonfiction.
  • Read Chapter 1 aloud while displaying the images on a smart board/projector. Tell students to look and listen for the key topics of ‘The Solar Neighborhood.’ You may have students take turns reading selections aloud. Point out the images and features of the book: title, headings, captions, labels, and bolded vocabulary words.
  • As you read, or after you are finished, jot down the key topics of this chapter: the sun; the inner solar system (rocky planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars); the outer solar system (gas giants – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, dwarf planets); and asteroids and comets. Point out how the headings help organize the main topics and break down the information so it is not as overwhelming, and how the questions in the table of contents are answered by the content. List and look up vocabulary words in the glossary (revolve, atmosphere, elliptical).
  • You may choose to share a pneumonic device for remembering the sequence of the planets in relation to the sun, such as “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles.”
  • With your guidance, have students work individually or in groups to create four text-dependent questions, one from each main topic. Explain that the questions need to be specific and rely upon the reading of the text in Chapter 1 for answers. For example, “What is a meteor called once it reaches Earth?” (meteorite, p. 10)
  • Swap questions among students/groups and have them answer in writing. Tell students to cite the evidence and page number from the text. Have students share their questions and answers, referencing images as needed.
  • Proceed with the same process for Chapter 2, modeling how to read for main topics using the headers and key words, and how to unpack complex text by reading in sections. Point out the timeline, list topics, look up vocabulary, and guide students in creating, answering, and sharing text-dependent questions.
  • Revisit the KWL chart to confirm, correct, or add information.


  • Begin with a brief overview of the previous lesson, referencing the KWL chart and topic lists as needed.
  • Have students read Chapters 3 and 4 individually or in groups. Remind them to look for headings to organize the main topics, and to examine images, captions, and labels.
  • Have students answer the following text-dependent questions, citing evidence and page numbers and sharing:
    • What are the main topics in these chapters? (Add to classroom list.) How are these similar to and different from the topics in the first two chapters?
    • What are the names of some of the probes sent to the inner and outer solar system? What kinds of things have these probes observed and discovered?
    • What is gravity assist, and how has it been used in space exploration?
    • Read these sentences on p. 39: “Cassini’s images also showed geysers erupting from Enceladus’s surface. Scientists didn’t expect this from a moon they thought was frozen and still.” From this context, what does the word geysers mean? Check the glossary to see if you are on the right track.
    • Using the chart on pp. 30-31, determine which planet has been explored the most. Why do you think there is such a high level of interest in exploring Mars?
    • Why is the discovery of water on Mars, Uranus, and Saturn’s Enceladus so important? (Revisit predictions from the ‘Find the Truth’ section at the beginning of the book about water.)
  • Revisit the KWL chart to confirm, correct, or add information.


  • Begin with a brief overview of the previous lesson, referencing the KWL chart and topic lists as needed.
  • Read Chapter 5 together, discussing the main topics, vocabulary, and images of “The Journey Continues.”
  • Have students create, answer, and share text-dependent questions for the chapter as done previously.
  • Revisit the KWL chart to confirm, correct, or add information.
  • As a culmination, have students or groups choose a particular planet, probe, spacecraft, mission, or other aspect of the solar system and research to learn more about it. During the extension, students/groups will conduct additional research and write an informational report with multimedia components to present to the class.

Featured Extensions (optional)

Reading: As a companion text, read Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca (featured as a complex informational text in the CCSS). Compare and contrast the two texts and set of images, perhaps using a Venn diagram. Some students may write a compare/contrast essay.

NASA: Explore the NASA website: http://www.nasa.gov/. Read about current discoveries and browse the image and multimedia galleries. (You may choose to show selections from this website each day as related to the topics being studied.) Check out the NASA Kids’ Club for fun, educational games.

Research: Have students continue researching their chosen aspect of the solar system, using print and online sources. You may choose to share the international Mars One mission for human settlement on Mars by 2023 with students: http://www.mars-one.com/. Have students/groups write an informational report about their chosen topic and present it to the class with audio recordings and visual displays.

Differentiation: Create an informational report together, modeling how to conduct research and include key points and multimedia components. You may assign various extension activities to different groups of students by ability.

Cross-Curricular Connections

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