Phases of the Moon
Earth and Space

Explaining the phases of the Moon

Classroom Activity for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

This is the first of two suggested activities to introduce the scientific explanation for the phases of the Moon.

What to Prepare

  • a large white football
  • a very bright torch or spotlight
  • a teaching room with a good blackout
  • printed copies of the support sheet: Explaining the phases of the Moon (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

The story to tell here is that it is possible to produce a model that explains why the shape of the Moon changes. Constructing models and theories is an essential part of the work of the scientist. This model uses a large white football to represent the Moon and a torch beam to provide the sunlight.

  • Stand a group of pupils in the middle of the room. Tell them that they are the Earth. Ask the other pupils to stand with you by the Sun (the torch).
  • Put the Moon (the football) in position A. Ask the Earth pupils to tell the rest of the group how much of the Moon they can see.
  • Repeat for positions B, C and D.
  • Now ask the class to sketch what the Earth pupils will see when you put the Moon at positions E and F. Tell the Earth pupils to draw what they can see. Ask the pupils to compare their drawings.
  • Spend some time resolving any differences. Put pupils who got it wrong in the middle and let them see for themselves.

Ask the pupils to complete the support sheet Explaining the phases of the Moon. This requires them to think about the explanation that they have just seen.


Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

Phases of the Moon
can be exhibited by Moon
Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today