Planet Sorting Activity – Comparing, Contrasting, and Categorizing the Planets

Image Source - NASA
Image Source – NASA

I used this activity last week with my 6th graders and I was happy with how the activity went. Students were engaged, challenged, and made great observations about the planets. They came up with a variety of ways to organize the planets into categories based on data from the fact cards.

It was challenging to come up with categories that neither student had used yet once they met with their 3rd partner. This lead to longer discussions and deeper thinking between each pair, which lead to categorizing the planets in categories that were less obvious at first.

Students worked at their own pace and let me know when they needed a new partner. This staggered the pairings and allowed both the students who needed more time and the students who worked quickly to work at a pace that was comfortable for them. Students also enjoyed trading partners and changing seats.


  • Teacher or student created Planet Fact or Planet Trading Cards (public link) or (blog entry)
  • Planet Sorting Activity Handout (pdf)

Part 1

  1. On your desk, you will have a set of planet fact cards.
  2. You and your partner will sort the planets according to each category.
  3. Write down one fact for each planet within the category.

Part 2

  1. For the next 5 categories, you and your partners will create new ways to sort the planets.
  2. Create the first new category with your partner and have it approved before starting.
  3. Write the title of your category on the line.
  4. Label the headings for each column, how will you sort the planets?
  5. Give one fact for each planet used.
  6. You must use at least 5 planets to complete the category.
  7. When you and your partner are done, have your work checked and then you will be paired up with a new partner.
  8. Follow steps 2-7 above.
  9. You will create 5 different categories with 5 different partners.
  10. When you are done, you can work on the challenges in small groups.

Possible Categories that students will use:

  1. Period of revolution shorter or longer than Earth?
  2. Period of rotation shorter or longer than Earth?
  3. Number of rings – more or less than ______?
  4. Atmosphere has Hydrogen or doesn’t have Hydrogen?
    1. Helium, Carbon Dioxide, and other gases can be used, too
  5. Planet was discovered before or after ____________
  6. Planet known since Ancient Times or discovered after _________
  7. Temperature is either below or above ________ ºC
  8. Planet has one average temperature (- or +) or a range of temperatures (- to +)
  9. Average temperature of planet is colder or hotter than Earth
  10. One day is shorter or longer than a year
  11. Planet is tilted sideways or planet is not tilted sideways
  12. Planet has life or doesn’t have life
  13. Planet has liquid water or doesn’t have liquid water
  14. Planets you can see or can’t see easily without a telescope
  15. Planets that have or don’t have phases we can see from Earth

Physical & Chemical Properties vs Physical & Chemical Changes Foldable

8 1/2 x 14 Foldable


  • Physical & Chemical Properties vs Physical & Chemical Changes Foldable Notes – (link)
  • Glue
  • Scissors

How to use the foldable:

  1. This activity can be done with or without a partner
  2. Cut the tabs on the dotted guide lines, but do not fold yet, instead keep the paper flat
  3. Page 3 of the document contains the notes, Page 4 is the answer key
  4. The notes are not grouped together correctly – cut out each piece of information along the dotted lines
  5. Place the notes into the correct boxes under the corresponding tabs
  6. Do not glue anything yet, just a dry fit at this point
  7. Discuss the answers
  8. Glue the correct pieces in order, move the incorrect pieces
  9. When done,  fold the tabs so they meet in the middle
  10. Glue into notebook

Parts of the Cell: Using the Jigsaw Method to learn about Organelles

This is an updated version on how to use the ‘Jigsaw Method’ for students to learn about cell organelles that includes a tech component –  each expert group will create Power Point slides for their assigned organelles. When each expert group is done, they will have one complete set of slides that they will use to teach each other in their home groups, use as a resource to review at home, and/or print out flashcards (4-6 slides per page) if needed.


  • Desktop/Laptop/Tablet with Internet Access
  • Google Slides Template (public link)
    • One shared google doc per home group
  • Worksheet for 4 expert groups (pdf)
  • Worksheet for 5 expert groups (pdf)
    • this allows for less information per expert group, but larger home groups

Links for research 

  1. BrainPOP Cell Video (free link)
  2. BrainPOP Cell Structures Video (link)
  3. Biology 4 Kids – Cell Structure (link)
  4. Cells Alive (link)
  5. Harcourt School (link)
  6. Khan Academy Video (link)
  7. I Know That (link)
  8. Plant cell Video (link)

Group 1 contains an expert from A, B, C, & D. All of the “A” members will sit together to research their assigned organelles. Each member of group A will research and create their own slides for the Nucleus (slide 2), Nucleolus (slide 3), Chromatin (slide 4), and Centrioles (slide 5). Home group members (B, C, & D) will add their information to the rest of the slides at the same time A is adding information from the A expert group.

On each slide, they will include the following information:

  • Name of organelle
  • Location (Nucleus or Cytoplasm?)
  • Plant, Animal, or Both?
  • Function
  • Images of the organelle
  • Image of an analogy for that organelle

Encourage students to use the animation feature to have the information appear sequentially instead of seeing all the information as soon as they advance to the next slide. This will help with note taking when they are presenting their information to their home group.

After each expert group is done with their research, they will return to their home group. The member from group A will go first, and using presentation mode in Google Slides (via desktop/laptop/tablet) they will teach their home group about the nucleus, nucleolus, chromatin, and centrioles. Members B, C, and D will write their notes on the handout provided. When A is done, the member from expert group B (via desktop/laptop/tablet) will present his/her organelles in the same manner.

If possible, having each student use their own laptop or desktop for the research phase (expert groups) and then only one laptop or tablet for the presentation part (home group) would be the best option so that their focus is on the person who is presenting.

Additional Resources

  • Cells Worksheet (ScienceSpot link)
  • Animal Cell Coloring (link)
  • Plant Cell Coloring (link)
  • For more information on how to use the Jigsaw Method – (link)

Environmental Issues Research and Presentation

Image Credit: NASA
Image Credit: NASA

Earlier in the school year, to cap off our unit on the environment, my 6th graders completed an environmental issues research project and  presentation. This project was a great opportunity for the students to demonstrate both their public speaking and tech skills, as well as provide a forum for student-directed learning. Each student had a chance to teach their peers about their topic and lead a demonstration or activity related to their environmental issue. They did a fantastic job and came up with activities that really enhanced their presentations. The students were engaged and supportive of their peers.

Just a few examples of their demonstrations/activities: 

  • Noise Pollution – using a decibel app, one student asked the class to take part in different activities and monitored the noise level. The student then compared the noise level in the classroom to their equivalents such as jack hammers or traffic.
  • Garbage Patch – using a tray with an ocean/coastal scene decorated with items attached to magnets, one student demonstrated how gyres in the Pacific Ocean move plastics from the coast to the Great Garbage Patch by sliding magnets under the tray.
  • Poaching – each student took part in a role-playing game modeled after “Assassin/Spy”. Each student was given a role card (such as an elephant, tiger, or poacher). As they played the game, students had to find the poacher to save as many animals as they could.


  • List of 50 environmental issue topics (pdf)
  • Detailed project requirements (pdf)
  • Peer review sheet (pdf)
    • this was for personal note taking, not shared with the presenter


  • Day 1 – Introduction and pre-research, students pick their top 10 choices
  • Day 2 – Students pick topics and brainstorm 10 guiding questions to help guide their research
  • Day 3 – Discussion in small groups, students share questions and modify
  • Days 4 to 7 – Research phase
  • Days 8 to end – Students present topics

Planet Fact or Trading Cards


Google Slide Template (public Link)

  • Option 1 – share one google slide presentation with 16 students
    • work in pairs to complete 1 of the 8 planet fact cards
  • Option 2 – share one google slide presentation with 3-4 students
    • students will work in small groups to complete 1 set of 8 planet fact cards, creating multiple sets per class

Fact Cards:

  • Using the NASA website - Solar System Exploration (link) – students will gather facts and images for each planet.
  • Print 2 or 4 slides per page
  • Laminate Cards (optional) for in class activities/lessons, as task cards, students can trade cards, or use as study guides

Dogs and Turnips (D&T) Activity

D&T Example of Student Work
D&T Example of Student Work

This is a great lesson to start off the school year and have students thinking like scientists, learning how to work cooperatively with their lab group, dust off their problem solving skills, be creative, and realize that as scientists get new information, their ideas change.

One of the things that students struggle with is wanting to get the ‘right’ answer and not making a ‘mistake’. They don’t like open-ended results. I stress that they have to look at their data, what does their data tell them? What do we know? What can we find out? As the year goes on, their confidence grows and they learn to really think like scientists.


  • D & T Activity sheet (pdf)
  • 23 words cut up and placed into envelopes (pdf)
    • I labeled each envelope with the name of a different country to simulate how scientists all over the world can work on the same problem and share their results
  • construction paper
  • white paper cut into 1/4ths
  • glue sticks
  • colored pencils
  • Teacher reference – our 2013 results (pdf)

Before starting the activity, I set the stage that they are a group of archeologists and have discovered an ancient tablet at an archeological dig site. Unfortunately, the tablet is broken and as they excavate, they only find a few pieces at a time. What does the ancient table say? Scientists all over the world try to decipher the ancient text…

Each group is given the same exact 23 words, each slip of paper has one word on it (such as dog, turnip, white, bone, bowl, etc… ). All the words are in the envelope, and they ‘excavate’ 5 words from the envelope. Using those 5 words, they have to guess what the tablet says and make some kind of sentence out of the words. After they write it down, they ‘excavate’ 5 more words and either try to add on to their original story, or make a new story now that they have more information. Once again, after they write down their new hypothesis, they ‘excavate’ another 5 words and either add to their hypothesis, or make a new one. (During this part of the activity, they should whisper quietly so the other groups do not overhear their ideas)

Once everyone has uncovered 15 words and made their 3rd hypothesis, I have each group share their sentence with the class. Even though each group starts out with the same 23 cards, no two groups have uncovered the exact same 15 words (hypothetically). Each group has their own hypothesis and we compare what is similar, what’s different, if there were any common themes, etc…

Now that we have all shared our stories, we ‘excavate’ the rest of the words. They have to use all 23 words to make the final version of their story. This is not as easy as it may sound. By this point, they may have a story they really like and want it to work out, or they may not agree on a final hypothesis, or they may get stuck because they have grouped words together and don’t want to change it:  Red dog, red bowl, or red house? Big dog, little dog, fat dog, big red fat dog?

We now share our final hypothesis, or story, with the class and we discuss our results. I then ask, “If we all have the same 23 words, why don’t we all have the same story?” The kids come up with some great reasons as to why. We talk about what challenges they encountered when trying to come up with a story, if there was disagreement in the group, if their stories even made sense, etc…

I then tie it into how scientists may have the same exact information, or data, but come up with different hypotheses and disagree just like they did in this activity. I then bring up the topic of who has the “correct” hypothesis? How do I know what is “correct”? I can’t ask the ancient people what the tablet originally said, so how do I know if my idea is the correct one?

Scientists are always getting new information (just like they got more words to work with) all the time and have to either see if it fits their current data, tweak their ideas using the new data, or come up with a totally new hypothesis and scrap the old one. You can then tie in real examples of how in the past, people thought the world was flat, the sun went around the Earth, that man could never walk on the moon, etc..

After all my classes have done this activity, I then reveal what the “correct” story was and we compare what was the same and what was different.

Note – this lesson plan is a modification of the original lesson plan from The University of California Museum of Paleontology (link)

Missions to Mars

After our Moon unit, with a focus on the Apollo Missions, we are now looking at Mars. We have talked about the Orion Spacecraft (link) and how we want to return to the moon and eventually travel to an asteroid or Mars (link).

I posed the question: What are some of the different ways we can get information from Mars if people haven’t been there yet? We then discussed the differences between a flyby (paparazzi photographers), orbiters (satellites), landers (stuck in one spot), and rovers (robots that drive).

Before showing the video above, I asked the students to think about how the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars and to brainstorm what the sequence of events would look like for it to get from here to there.

They came up with some really great ideas, and many of them named a few of the different steps from the sequence of events. After seeing the video, we discussed each step of the sequence and why they had to happen in that order, and where things could go wrong. About 50% of our missions to Mars (all countries) have ended in failure.

To get further background information, we looked at the history of Mars exploration. Where have we been? What do we know? What do we want to know? What worked? What didn’t work?

For this activity, I divided the class into small groups. Each group was given a time period of Mars Exploration from the 1960s to future missions. Once each group gathered information for their missions, we briefly discussed each one.


  • Laptop
  • Google Spreadsheet – (public link)
    • shared file per class: each group is assigned one tab to complete OR
    • shared file per group: each member of the group will complete one tab of information
  • NASA Mars Missions website – (link)
  • NASA JPL All Missions website – (link)

Current Mars Missions

For more lessons about Mars, see my Space Science Page.

Constellation Haiku


In English and History classes, the students will be learning about Greek Mythology and Life in Ancient Greece. This year we are adding an Astronomy Unit that will include the constellations and incorporate the Greek Myths associated with them. Another nice way to tie Science and English together is to have the students create original poetry about the constellations.

Students can showcase their poetry in several different ways.

  • As ppt slides set to music
  • ppt slides printed out and displayed
  • poetry collection/scrapbook
  • poetry readings either within the class or visiting the students in other grades
  • act out their poetry as scenes
  • create artwork to accompany their poetry

Constellation Haiku – instructions (pdf)

Graphing Spring Tides, Neap Tides, & Moon Phases

Graphing Tides & Moon Phases

This activity ties together spring tides, neap tides, moon phases,  chart reading skills, graphing skills, and analyzing data skills. When making the worksheets, I used the data for high tides since it showed a better range of data for the students to create the graph.

This activity was also a good review on how to create line graphs by hand for two sets of data. Students are used to making bar graphs so we reviewed how to set up line graphs and plot points on the graph.

When plotting the data, you can really see the differences in the tidal heights. We also used the phrase “Neap ain’t that deep” to remember the difference between spring tides and neap tides.


  • Atlantic City, NJ – January 2015 High Tide Data worksheet (pdf)
  • Seaside Heights, NJ – February 2015 High Tide Data (pdf) (image link)
    • For example, in the year 2015, the February 18 new moon will closely align with perigee and the the September 28 full moon will closely coincide with perigee, to bring forth perigean spring tides.”~EarthSky
  • Blank Worksheet for students to choose data from a different location. (pdf)
  • Tide charts – select the state and city of your choice, set for Atlantic City (link)
  • Current Moon Phases – The Old Farmer’s Almanac (link)

“The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” – Poetry Cut Up Activity

"The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls"
“The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls”

Standardized testing, snow days, delayed openings, special schedules, and mid-winter blues – ugggghhhhh. I wanted to do an activity during ERB testing week that was related to our current unit on tides, but was flexible enough due to the uncertainty of how often, and for how long, I would see each of my classes. This activity covered 3 shortened class periods and was completed for homework as needed.


  1. The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” – cut-up version and instructions (pdf)
  2. scissors
  3. glue sticks
  4. colored pencils or markers
  5. colored construction paper
  6. white printer paper

I used the poem “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (link) and randomized the phrases to create the handout. Students cut the phrases apart and rearranged them to create their own original version of the poem and added an illustration to depict a scene from their poem. This activity reminded them of the magnetic poetry kits they have used in the past. As they worked on their poetry, I played some ocean sounds and beach themed music, it was a great way to unwind during a stressful testing week. The image above shows some of the poems & artwork, the rest were on a different bulletin board.

After all the poems were collected, I read the original poem for them as they watched the stop-motion video below. They noted how they grouped some of the phrases together just like the poet did in the original poem, or how different their version was. We also discussed the rhyming pattern he used, AABBA.