Earth's Rotation Activities for 5th Grade

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

These group participatory activities will assist you in teaching your 5th graders about the rotation of the Earth and how so many elements of our lives are affected by this movement.

The Earth's Rotation

When we are standing in a line, for the most part it feels as if we are standing still. However, the Big Blue Marble also known as Planet Earth is actually spinning at over 1,000 mph at any given moment! The following four hands-on activities, suitable for various small groups of 3 - 8, are designed to enlighten your 5th grade students about this scientific principle and encourage them to think creatively about it as well. These activities will teach students about the characteristics of the Earth's rotation, as well as how this movement affects day and night.

What If the Earth Stopped Spinning?

Materials: Internet access, paper, writing implements

In this activity, your 5th grade students will learn what would happen if the Earth stopped spinning, even for just a minute (it wouldn't end well in that scenario, as the atmospheric winds would continue to blow, at about an astonishing 1,100 mph).

In advance of class, find several websites that detail this theory, and write those websites on the board. Introduce this activity to your students by telling them that it would be catastrophic if the Earth stopped rotating and that they are going to find out just how catastrophic. Divide your students into small groups, and assign each group one of the websites. Allow your students to research and find out what various scenarios could play out if our planet did indeed slow to a halt. Lastly, allow the groups to share their newfound information.

Rotation vs. Revolution

Materials: basketball to represent the sun, colored pencils/markers, blank paper, smaller blue ball to represent the Earth

Many elementary students still confuse the concept of the Earth's daily rotation on its axis with the concept of the Earth's yearly revolution around the sun. In this activity, you will compare and contrast the two, so that ultimately students will better understand the former.

Hold up the blue ball and tell your students that this represents the Earth. Slowly spin it one time counterclockwise. Tell your students that one spin equals one day on our planet. Then have a student volunteer hold up the basketball. While still holding the blue ball, slowly walk around the student with the basketball in a counterclockwise path, all while continuing to spin the Earth on its axis. When you have returned to your original starting point, tell your students that your walk represented one year.

Now give your students the blank paper and drawing utensils. Have them place their papers vertically, fold them in half, and label one side 'Rotation' and the other side 'Revolution.' Now have the students draw examples of each, and include other information such as the time required for each as well as the results of the motions (day and night for rotation; seasons for revolution).

Paper Plate Sundial

Materials: clay, colored markers, flashlight, paper plate, ruler, pencils

In this activity, your students are going to observe the effects of the Earth's rotation.

Begin by giving each student a lump of clay, a paper plate, a pencil, and access to rulers and colored markers. Have students follow along with you as you create your sundial. First, use a ruler and a marker to create two intersecting lines on the paper plate. (An arrow should be put at only one end of a line, and students will use this as their mark to ensure their plate is always placed in the same direction). The plate should now be divided into four equal 'pie' sections. Place the lump of clay in the middle where the lines converge. Place the pencil in the clay standing straight up, so the eraser is at the top. Their sundials are now ready to go.

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