Making a model of the solar system is a great way to help students learn the order of the planets and help them get the feel for the distance between the planets in the solar system. You may want to have the students each make their own model or work in groups. You could also have each group make a different type of model. Each group could then present their model to the class and discuss what they have learned about the solar system.
Relative Distance Model
For this solar system model, students learn about the relative distance of the planets from the sun and get a feel for the distance between planets. You will need some chalk, a measuring tape and an outdoor space. The size of your model will depend on the size of the outdoor space. You will need to calculate the relative distances of the planets for the amount of space you have. For example, if you have 100 feet of space, you want Pluto to be 100 feet from the Sun. This means that Mercury will be 1 foot from the Sun, Venus will be 22 inches from the Sun, Earth will be 31 inches from the Sun, and so on. You can do this easily with an online distance calculator. At one end of the playground, draw a chalk circle for the Sun. Use the measuring tape to determine the distances and draw circles on the ground representing each planet.
You can make a model that shows the relative size of the planets. Decide on the diameter you will use for the Sun. This will need to be fairly large; otherwise, your planets will be very small. Use a relative size calculator, such as the one on Exploratorium.com, to determine the relative size of the planets for the diameter of the Sun. Have students cut the planets out of paper. They can also color or decorate them. Place the planets around the Sun or use the planets in your relative distance model as noted above.
Food Solar System
For younger students, you can use different foods to represent the planets in a solar system model. Hold up different foods and discuss how they represent the different sizes of the planets. Ideas for foods to use include a large pumpkin for the Sun, a coffee bean for Mercury, a large blueberry for Venus, a cherry for Earth, a pea for Mars, a grapefruit or small cantaloupe for Jupiter, an orange for Saturn, a kiwi for Uranus, an apricot for Neptune and a grain of rice for Pluto if you are including it. Have students organize the foods in the order of the planets.
Your students can make models of the solar system out of Styrofoam balls. Use balls of different sizes, with the largest representing the Sun. Have students paint the balls different colors to represent each planet. For example, they can paint Mars red, paint rings around Saturn and paint a large spot on Jupiter. Students should cut thin dowels to different lengths and stick these into the Sun. The dowels should be in order from the Sun so that the shortest dowel is attached to Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, and the longest dowel is attached to Pluto, if you are including it, which is farthest from the Sun. Then stick each planet onto the other end of each dowel.
About the Author
Since graduating with a degree in biology, Lisa Magloff has worked in many countries. Accordingly, she specializes in writing about science and travel and has written for publications as diverse as the "Snowmass Sun" and "Caterer Middle East." With numerous published books and newspaper and magazine articles to her credit, Magloff has an eclectic knowledge of everything from cooking to nuclear reactor maintenance.