Sundial Lesson Plan for Elementary School

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

This lesson plan uses a text lesson and hands-on activities to help you teach your students about sundials. Students will read an informational text explaining about the sundial, then make one of their own to test their understanding.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • explain what a sundial is
  • describe the parts of a sundial
  • read data on a sundial and discuss how sundials function to tell time


50 minutes for the lesson and a full sunny day to complete the activity


Key Vocabulary

  • Sundial
  • Gnomon
  • Cast

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.1

Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.2

Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3

Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.4

Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.


  • Teach this lesson on a sunny day so students are able to observe the changes of shadows on their sundials.
  • Reading the lesson and preparing the sundial takes about 50 minutes. After setting the sundials outside, you'll need to check on them every hour until the end of the day.
  • We'll assume a start time of noon, although you can modify if necessary.

Direct Instruction

  • Show students an image of a sundial and have students share prior knowledge.
    • What do you know about sundials?
    • Where have they seen them?
    • What do they do?
  • Distribute the lesson Sundials Lesson for Kids: Facts & History and read the first section 'What's a Sundial?' with students.
  • Ask:
    • How is a sundial like a clock?
    • How is a sundial different from a clock?
    • How does a sundial use the Sun to tell time?
  • Next read the sections 'Who Invented the Sundial?' and 'Why Was the Sundial Invented?' with students and discuss:
    • What would the world be like if we didn't have a method to tell time?
    • What do you think it was like to live before there was a sundial?
  • Read the remainder of the lesson and take the quiz.
  • Give each students a paper plate and have them locate the center and draw a dot there, then push their pencil through to make a small hole.
  • Have students insert the straw in the hole and secure with tape so it stands straight up.

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