What If...

The Earth wasn't on an axis?

What if the Earth wasn't on an axis?

Classroom view

Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 9 – 11

Science topics:


Get your class thinking and talking with this fun question! Having a broad question means you'll get a wide range of ideas coming from your pupils.

Run the activity

1. In pairs, discuss what might be a Plus, Minus and Interesting way to think about the question. Stuck for ideas? They could think about:

  • What does it mean to say that the Earth rotates on its axis?
  • What happens when the part of the Earth that you live on is facing the Sun?
  • What happens when the part of the Earth that you live on is not facing the Sun?

2. Ask the children to share their partner's ideas then encourage a broader discussion as a class, remember there is no wrong or right answer!

Background science

It takes the Earth 24 hours to make one complete turn, or rotation. It spins on its axis, an imaginary line passing through the North and South Poles, which is tilted approximately 23.5 degrees. It is due to this tilt that we have changes in seasons. It is this spin that gives us day and night because one half of it is always lit up by the Sun and the other half is always in darkness.  In addition to spinning, the Earth orbits the Sun. It takes one full year to orbit the Sun.

Because the Earth's axis is tilted, some parts of the Earth receive more sunlight each day than others as it travels around the Sun. This changes during the year as the Earth moves around the Sun, giving rise to the seasons. 

The UK is in the top half (Northern Hemisphere) of the Earth. When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun it is summer in the UK. Six months later the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun and it is winter. In Spring, the day length (total hours of sunlight) grows longer. In Autumn, the day length grows shorter. 

Watch out for 

Children can think that the same season is experienced everywhere in the world at the same time. They can also think it is warmer in the summer because the Earth is closer to the Sun. Primary school children do not need a detailed understanding of why we experience seasons - they simply need to know that the Earth is tilted on its axis as it travels around the Sun, so some parts of the Earth receive more sunlight each day than others. 

For a detailed guide to children’s misconceptions and a guide to questions to assess prior knowledge look at these BEST resources.     

Take it further


Children could be encouraged to find out about the seasons of countries in different hemispheres, such as Great Britain and Chile. Children could make a model of the Earth and Sun to show why we have day and night, using the model to explain what would happen if the Earth did not rotate on its axis. Try activity 2 (page 8) ‘Earth, Sun and Moon orbits’ from BBC Stargazing Live

Linked Explorify activities- our recommendations: 

Explore 24-hour cycles further with our What if there was no night? activity.  


BBC seasons video