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Teaching Moon Phases

By Angela Bunyi on March 4, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Moon phases seem to be taught across the grade levels. My son is in 2nd grade and recently completed a study, which included keeping a moon phase log each evening and creating moon phases using Oreo cookies. As I have taught grades 2–6, I dedicate this post to the various ways you can teach moon phases in the classroom. This includes my FAVORITE activity, building a moon phase transporter, as well as some great music resources and videos (four videos, to be exact).




Here are a few of my favorite activities for teaching moon phases. Please share any ideas not mentioned here in the comments section. 

Let's Go to the Moon: Moon Phase Story

This production only required the help of two students. One played an astronaut and the other recorded the voice of the animated moon (using a program called CrazyTalk). I simply took green cloth and covered the classroom door with it. Each clip was completed in one attempt and took fewer than ten minutes. We recorded the audio for the moon in a special area in a few minutes. One of my talented students helped put the video together.  

Moon Phase Story

New Moon — A girl earns a new job . . .

Waxing Crescent — where she is asked to wax the crescent.

First Quarter — Her boss is pleased so she earns her first quarter.

Waxing Gibbous — Her next job is to wax the gibbous.

Full Moon — Again, the boss is pleased, so she earns her first full paycheck.

Waning Gibbous — Then she gets lazy. She begins to wane the gibbous.

Last Quarter — So the boss says, "You're fired. This is your last quarter. Finish the job and leave."

Waning Crescent — She wanes the crescent before leaving . . .

New Moon — to find a new job.


Make Your Own Moon Phase Transporter

My students were mesmerized by this simple gadget, and of course, everyone wanted to try it out. The cool name — "moon phase transporter" — counts. One of my students came up with it, and it has stuck with me. To build one of your own, you need these materials:

~8 ping-pong balls.

~A large foam poster-board.

~8 medium screws.

~A box cutter.

~Strong flashlight (to represent the sun).

~The "sun" is optional, but can be placed on a ruler.

Directions: Find the center of the board and strategically place eight balls around it in a circle. You can go the glueless route by sticking screws up through the board and pushing balls onto them. Mine are very secure. Once that is completed, cut a circle in the middle for viewing.

You are now ready for the viewing. Using one student to hold the flashlight, two to hold the board, and one to get into the moon phase transporter, you can actually see the moon phases lit by the flashlight. For example, in the picture below, I can see the new moon and waxing crescent. The student, not the board, turns around to see the phases. Rotate students out, if you have time.


Above: From this angle, the viewer sees the new moon and waxing crescent.


All the cool kids are wearing it.


My view of the new moon using the moon phase transporter.


Note: The toothpick signs are not needed. In fact, they may block light from the flashlight.

Moon Phase Music: Songs of Higher Learning

If you watched our moon phase story above, you may have noticed the catchy song playing in the background. At Songs of Higher Learning you can hear the song and view printable lyrics. They have music covering the entire spectrum of subjects and skills.


Moon Phase Cookies

I believe the Oreo is a staple for teaching moon phases. The day we used the Oreos, only 16 students were present. Strep throat was going around. I offered fresh, un-strep cookies after the job was completed. Strep cookies went to the trash after a moment under the camera.


What do you do with foam plates provided at the last classroom party? At least they are a teaching tool.



Picture 7

Holding a styrofoam ball on a stick — a moonsicle — while standing in front of a bright lamp, students can rotate themselves for a good look at the different phases of the moon. 

Moon Phase Puppet Show

Picture 8

I love creating content-specific videos with my students because I can continue to use them for years to come. In addition, it is sweet to hear the young voices of people who are now grown and driving around town. 

Scholastic's StudyJams: An Awesome Free Alternative to Brainpop

I am still surprised that this is a FREE resource. I depend on it for both science and math instruction. Much like Brainpop, videos are offered along with short quizzes. The reason I prefer StudyJams is that it is geared to grades 4–6, so the material is more challenging and the students enjoy watching it more. Of course, there is a clip on moon phases. You can find that link herePicture 6

Teaching That Reaches the Moon: Challenging the Basics With Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas

So, your students understand the moon phases, and they've created the phases with Oreos. What's next? If you haven't meet Mrs. Marcia Krech, you are missing out! Talk about taking the work out of planning a science unit. You can find just about anything under the science umbrella in Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas. Her resources are challenging and she's thorough, offering a variety of ways of teaching the material. PowerPoints, lab activities, assessment, printable notes, pacing guides: everything is included in her science packets. For example, our grade is responsible for understanding the tools for identifying constellation patterns. Marcia's site addresses this is in a fun and engaging way. Well worth your time if you haven't found her yet. There is a unit on teaching moon phases.

Solar System and Beyond

Picture 9

What else have you tried in your classroom? For example, I had a teaching peer inform me that Bill Nye the Science Guy has an excellent clip on moon phases. He likens it to a baseball field — Earth is always the pitcher, the sun is always the catcher, and the moon is running the bases. 1st base = first quarter, etc. What suggestions do you have? It's always fun to learn from each other!

If you would like to learn more about our classroom, visit us anytime. 


Comments (7)

Please drop the Oreo activity. It's rote memorization and does nothing to illustrate the spatial concepts involved.

You can skip the flashlight and instead use a ping pong ball that is half blackened (with marker). Just use ONE moon-ball in a single orbital position at a time. [You could put a Velcro dot in each of the 8 orbital positions and make sure the students always stick the moon down with the illuminated half pointing towards the sun.] I have gone a step further and cut a face-sized hole in a piece of cardboard to simulate their horizon-to-horizon view of the sky at their location on Earth (basically from where their nose is on their head-planet). So when the student's head is in position to look straight ahead at the full moon, the cardboard blinder thingee reminds them that the full moon is directly overhead at midnight (because the back of their head is facing the sun). And, with the moon still placed at the full moon position, but with the student's nose rotated around to be in the sunrise position, they can just see that at this time, the full moon is sitting in their peripheral vision to their right (west, assuming the top of their head is the N pole) and about to rotate out of sight as the day continues and they turn their nose towards the sun. You can label East and West on the face cardboard. The students observing what their colleague is doing might have some ah-ha moments too (when they've seen the demo from both points of view). I certainly illustrate with a ball and flashlight that a sphere is always half lit, but when using the cardboard wearable model, I prefer to draw a giant sun on the board at one end of the room to at least try to remind them of the scale (rather than have a tennis ball so close to the earth). I wouldn't recommend adding the times of moonrise/moonset until 8th grade at least.

Coco's visit to the Moon video is good, but one thing is incorrect. The Moon does have gravity, it's just 1/6 of what we have on Earth.

I tried to make this moon transporter but I have no idea how you are "seeing" the phases of the moon with the flashlight.

My class loves the "moon phase transporter." They couldn't wait to take their turn sticking their heads in! Some of the kids have decided that they are going to go home and make their own. Thanks for the great idea!

Good one! Especially when Moon Pies are a Tennessee icon. However, we created that movie on a total whim. I believe Junior Achievement was cancelled for the day which left us with one hour. The idea of a movie was born and it was written, directed, and filmed in less than an hour. We didn't even have a cookie...just a cracker which was used in the film.

So much fun...glad to hear your class enjoyed it as well.



I think Coco should have eaten a "Moon Pie"! :) Great puppet show guys! My class loved it!

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