Teaching About the Eight Phases of the Moon: Science Lesson Plan for Grades 3-5

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Students will explore the different phases of the moon. They will understand and differentiate between waxing and waning. Through observation students will discover the daily changes in the moon. Students theorize on the element of the environment block, the moon from visibility.


Two 50 minute class periods.


Teacher should supply or have students get a notebook or sketchbook to draw moon observations. Photos, drawings, or models of the moon in various phases should be displayed. Books about the moon displayed for students to use.


  • Talk with class about planets, stars, etc. Ask students what they know about them, planet names, constellations, phases of the moon.

  • Discuss with the class what they know about the moon.

  • Ask questions like: Is it always the same? How does it change? What are different things you’ve noticed about the moon? What makes it change? What’s your favorite thing about the moon? Which phase do you like best (shape)?

  • Show students a chart, or photos of the different moon phases.

  • First Quarter, waxing crescent, new, waning crescent, last quarter, waning gibbous, full, waxing gibbous.

  • Talk about why we see the moon in different phases. (Location of the earth to the moon.)

  • Discuss with class what each phase looks like.

  • Define waxing and waning; crescent and gibbous.

  • Waning gibbous moon usually comes into the sky between sunset and midnight and is illuminated from the left (usually).

  • Waxing gibbous moon is nearly full and illuminated from the right. This phase is seen in late afternoon or just after sunset.

  • The waxing crescent moon is very thin and silvery. This moon phase is seen soon after sunset and not visible after midnight.

  • The waning crescent moon is straight overhead as early as 9 am and more visible after sunset.

  • Ask students to use their books to sketch their favorite phase of the moon and write a description of that phase and reasons they like it.

  • Ask the class to use their sketch books to draw a rough picture of the moon that night.

  • During the next class discuss the drawings. What phase was the moon in that night? How do they know? Could they notice which side it was illuminated from?

  • Continue to sketch moon phases for the next week, two weeks or even month. Intermittently discuss what phases the moon is in nightly.

  • Open discussion about how the students know the phases, what are characteristics of each phase.

  • Show photos of moon phases and have students tell what phase it is and how they know. Ask them which phase came last? Next?

  • On a night that the moon wasn’t visible discuss what obscures the moon; clouds, humidity, pollution, light reflections, etc.

Finish the lesson by a discussion of the phases of the moon. Ask students to sketch a complete moon cycle using all eight phases. Have them write common characteristics of each. Read a book about the moon.

Suggested books:

  1. The Rabbit in the Moon found in The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales From Around the World by Naomi Adler
  2. The Moon and her Mother found in Aesop Fables by Lisbeth Zwerger
  3. Calendar Moon from Holt, Rinehart and Winston
  4. Moon Was Tired of Walking on Air by NataliaBelting