"Blue Marble" © 2002 NASA Earth Observatory


Many of the misconceptions about our solar system are rooted in the fact that it is large and hard to comprehend. This kinesthetic activity will demonstrate concepts like rotation and orbit, clarify movement and direction, and help students understand why earthlings see different things in the sky.


In this activity students will:

  1. understand why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
  2. understand how the earth rotates and how long it takes for the earth to rotate.
  3. discover that the stars appear to rise and set just like the sun does.
Materials & Teacher Prep
  • An object to represent the Sun at the center of the circle (i.e. lamp, yellow balloon, etc.)
  • Twelve Zodiac Signs and Four Seasons Signs from Kinesthetic Astronomy: Set Up
  • Painter’s tape (if you are taping these signs to chairs or walls)
  • Globe or inflatable Earth to show the distribution of continents on planet Earth
  • Copies of the continents (1 set per student)
Scientific Terms for Students
  • axis: the center around which something rotates
  • constellation: an identifiable configuration of stars as seen from earth
  • rotation: a single complete turn
  • rotational period: The amount of time a planet requires to make one complete spin about its axis. The earth has a 24 hour rotational period.
  • solar system: a sun with the celestial bodies that revolve around it in its gravitational field
  • sunrise: the daily appearance of the sun
  • sunset: the daily disappearance of the sun
  1. Give students printouts of the earth’s continents and have them tape them to their shirts with North America towards the top left. Explain that they are going to be the earth and will be hanging out in space for the rest of the activity.
  2. Once the students have become the earth, ask questions such as…
    • Where is your equator? – around their belly
    • Touch your north pole – head
    • Where is your home? Is that in the northern hemisphere?
    • What is on the other side of the earth from North America? – Asia
  3. Have your students stand around the kinesthetic circle and discuss the following questions with a partner:
    • Which way is east and which way is west? [east is to the left, west is to the right]
    • How does the Sun appear to move in the sky? [Rises in the east; Sets in the west]
  4. Have students face directly toward the symbolic Sun. Gesture with your hand from the middle of your face down along the front of you.
    • What time would it be along a line that runs down the middle of your front? [Noon]
    • Why is it noon? [The Sun is midway between east and west.]
  5. Have students face directly away from the Sun.
    • Is the Sun on North America now? [No]
    • What time is it now?” [Midnight] “What do you see? [Stars]
    • What time is it along a line that runs along the middle of your back? [Noon]
    • What would people there see in the sky? [The Sun]
  6. Call students’ attention to how it can be different times at different places on Earth, and how there are 12 hours between their front and back.
  7. Have the students hold up their hands alongside their eyes to create a horizon line. Explain that what is behind their hands is out of sight.
  8. Have students make a 90-degree turn toward their east.
    • What is low in your east? [stars]
    • What is low in your west? [The Sun]
    • What time of day is this when the Sun is low in your west? [Sunset]
    • Why is this sunset? [Because the Sun is disappearing in the west.]
    • Why does the Sun seem to disappear in the west? [Because I turn away from it.]
  9. Return to noon and ask: “So which way does Earth turn so that the Sun appears to set in the west and rise in the east.” Give students time to work out the answer, using trial and error.
  10. Now guide everyone in rotating through a complete day. Start with the noon position, facing the Sun. Command students in sequence:
    • Turn to sunset- what do you see? [the sun low in the west]
    • Turn to midnight-- What do you see in your sky? [Stars]
    • Come to sunrise- What do you see in your sky? [The Sun low in the east]
  1. What do we call the turning of Earth that causes the Sun to rise and set? [Rotation]
  2. How long does it take Earth to rotate around one time? [24 hours = 1 day]
  3. Do people in Asia see the same stars that people in North America do? [Yes!]
  4. What is today’s date in the US at 3pm? What would be the date in central China where it is 3am? [Tomorrow’s date]

Use the same kinesthetic set-up and combine this activity with other activities such as the Meaning of a Year, Moon Phases, Birthday Stars, Mars Opposition Dance.

Next Generation Science Standards

Fifth Grade

5-ESS1-2: Represent data in graphical display to reveals patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadow, day and night, and seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.


Image: "Blue Marble" by NASA Earth Observatory, originally sourced from

Appropriate for: 3rd Grade - 8th Grade
Standards for: 3rd Grade, 5th Grade
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Activity Time: 30 minutes
Subjects: Earth & Space Science