Reading and Writing About the Solar System
- Grades: 1–2
- Unit Plan:
Teach about the solar system with picture books, poems, and other creative activities.
- Listen to a read-aloud book.
- Write in response to the book.
- Listen to and read poems about the solar system.
- Write in response to the poems.
- Books from booklist, especially Magic School Bus books.
- Copies of poems Planet Roll Call (PDF) and Solar System in Motion (PDF)
- Black construction paper
- White copy paper
- Scraps of brightly colored (red, orange, yellow) construction paper
- Scissors and glue sticks
- Tracing pattern in school bus shape
- Lined paper, pencils
Set Up and Prepare
- Make a sample of school bus launching into the solar system on black paper. Use scraps of colored paper to make rocket flames and other details.
- Make copies of poems.
- Read books.
- Make School Bus stationery by tracing school bus onto copy paper and making copies.
Read the The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System aloud. (Suggestion: There's a lot happening on each page, from sidebars and additional facts to student "reports," so I generally read through the main text the first time to acquaint students with the flow of the story. Then I read it again, including a few of the other details in my reading this time around.)
Read the book a second time, adding more of the details to this reading. Introduce students to the Magic School Bus Web site.
Have students write about one of their favorite planets.
- Hold a discussion about the planets and make a list with all of the planet names.
- Talk about students' personal favorites. Ask students to turn and talk to person next to them about their favorite planet and why they like it. Then have two or three children share their favorite planet with the entire class.
- Show students a sample drawing of a school bus rocketing into space on black paper with flames of red, orange, and yellow paper trailing behind it.
- Generate a word bank with students' help. Pay special attention to powerful verbs: swirl, blast, spin, climb, soar, zoom, propel, etc.
- Ask students to write about their favorite planet and why they like it. Have students use school bus stationery in order to do so.
- Then have students cut out and color the school bus, glueing it to black paper.
- Students should add details with colored paper and crayons.
Other suggestions for writing topics:
- Compare and contrast two planets. How are the planets similar and different?
- Write a narrative from an alternative perspective. What if planets could talk? What would they say about one another?
- Lead a choral reading of the poem, "Planet Roll Call."
- Read through the poem again having one student take the teacher part, with small groups of students assigned to play the parts of planets, so that everyone has a speaking part.
- Then sing "Solar System in Motion."
- Repeat the song with two students standing and playing the parts of the sun and the earth.
Write a poem.
- Using the word bank generated from the previous writing assignment, add additional adjectives to the word list.
- Then have students write their own poems. Here are some ideas for poems:
- Start with the name of a planet and write lines that consist of "as ___________ as a _____________," to help students write with similes.
- Write from the perspective of a planet and have every line begin with "I wish...".
- Write a conversation between two neighboring planets.
- Acrostic poem using the name of a planet.
- Group poem you write together as a class.
Use your imagination and play around with these and other ideas.
- Allow 25 minutes for writing and 10 minutes for sharing.
Supporting All Learners
Among the difficult concepts for children (and adults) to takeaway from this lesson are the immense distances and tremendous sizes of the planets. The idea that the earth is 93 million miles from the sun, for example, or 1 million earths will fit inside the sun! Another concept that's difficult is that some planets are composed of gases. These are new, far-fetched ideas for the children and tough to wrap one's mind around at any age. For most second graders this will be the first time they have studied the solar system, so make sure that you have realistic expectations and expect misconceptions. Having a KWL chart and adding to it each day may help students form questions as well as see their newly acquired knowledge.
Solar System Journal
By the spring of second grade you'll have students who want to write more than is assigned. I have a stack of blue exam books for this purpose. I introduce science journals to a few students apart from the class and make journaling seem very special. Soon, classmates are asking for their own journals. I don't correct journals but I do read and respond to them in writing.
Although few parents probably read my newsletter, I accept that and continue to write and send it home every Friday. In it, I tell parents what we've accomplished during the week, preview upcoming events, and ask for their help in some small way. While parents are busy with other responsibilities, there are those who want to work with their children at home and I encourage that. I have high expectations of my students and of their parents as well.
When you think about your teaching, ask yourself these questions:
- Listen attentively to students?
- Clear up misunderstandings about content?
- Spend sufficient time talking through writing assignments and modeling before asking students to write?
- Provide a rich bank of words?
- Encourage original thinking?
- Provide support for struggling writers?
- Set aside time for sharing?
- Listen to books?
- Participate in choral reading?
- Make an effort during writing time?
- Ask for help as needed?
- Generate original ideas?
- Share what she wrote?