Phases of the Moon


Students will be able to identify and sequence four moon phases (new moon, first quarter moon, full moon, and second quarter moon).

What You Need

Help with Opening PDFs

What to Do

  1. Ask students if they know what new, quarter, and full moons are. Explain that the moon is a natural satellite in space approximately 237,000 miles from Earth. The moon is visible because it reflects sunlight.
    • The moon makes one complete revolution around Earth every 29 days approximately. The moon does not make its own light but is visible to us on Earth because it reflects sunlight. Moon “phases” occur when Earth blocks some or all of the sunlight from reflecting off the moon's surface.
    • The moon is called a new moon when no sunlight illuminates the surface facing Earth (at sunset a small crescent shape may be visible).
    • The moon is called a first quarter moon when sunlight illuminates the right half of the surface facing Earth.
    • The moon is called a full moon when sunlight fully illuminates the surface facing Earth.
    • The moon is called a second quarter moon when sunlight illuminates the left half of the surface facing Earth.
  2. Provide each student with a copy of the Moon Phases Chart and Blank Moon Phases Chart. Tell students that they now have one moon outline for each of the four different moon phases. Have students find the new moon on the Moon Phases Chart, and color in one outline on the Blank Moon Phases Chart to match the chart. Students may use a dark color, such as brown, black, or dark blue, when coloring the shaded portion of the moon and a light color, such as yellow, when coloring the reflected portion of the moon. Repeat this activity three more times for the first quarter moon, full moon, and second quarter moon. Have students label each outline “New Moon,” “First Quarter Moon,” “Full Moon,” and “Second Quarter Moon.”
  3. Have students use their observation skills and prior knowledge to help them remember the different phases. Ask students to study the moon shapes and think of descriptive words (whole, half, curved, round). Then ask students to think of other moon descriptions they have heard or read about (made of cheese, fingernail moon, harvest moon, man on the moon).
  4. Divide the class into groups of four. (If the number of students in your class is not evenly divided by four, you may wish to have some students be part of more than one group.) Tell students that each group will take a turn standing in front of the class to display the phases of the moon. Have each student in a group choose a different phase of the moon to display. Then have students turn over their completed Blank Moon Phases Chart, draw a large moon outline (fill up the whole page), and fill in the outline with their chosen phase of the moon.
  5. Ask students to quietly arrange themselves side by side in the correct order of the succeeding moon phases, beginning with the new moon, then the first quarter moon, then the full moon, and finally the second quarter moon. Have students hold up their outlines for everyone to see.

Teaching Options

Internet Resources

Phases of the Moon
This website gives clear explanations of the four moon phases discussed above, as well as more specific moon phases like waning and waxing gibbous.