What's Going On?


Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 9 – 11

Science topics:


Spark a conversation with this video showing the transition of night to day on planet Earth. This activity is great for describing observations and applying ideas in unfamiliar contexts.

Run the activity

1. You’re going to watch a short video. The aim isn't to find right answers, it's to explore ideas and find out what they know.

  • Do they know what might happen based on the image?

2. After you've watched the video, lead a discussion with your class:

  • Do your pupils know they're looking at the Earth from space?
  • Can they see any countries they can identify?
  • What's changing in the video as the Earth is rotating?
  • What other celestial bodies can they see?

3. Ask the class to describe what they saw using only one word.

Background science

The Earth completes one spin or rotation every 24 hours. When we say spin (or rotate) we mean turning round and round like a spinning top. Make the difference between spinning and orbiting clear. Orbiting is when an object in space follows a (roughly) circular path round another space object.  

Because the Earth is shaped as a sphere, one half of it is always lit up by the Sun and the other half is always in darkness. As the Earth spins, parts of the Earth move into the daylight and other parts move into darkness – once every 24 hours. 

When experienced from the Earth, it can appear as if the Sun moves in an arc across the sky but as this video clip shows, it is the Earth that is spinning. 

Watch out for: 

Children regularly get confused about the ways that space objects move so it is important to give lots of opportunities to practise the language. Avoid using the words ‘moving round’ or ‘turning’. If ‘spinning’ or ‘orbiting’ is used, the meaning is clearer. They can think, understandably, that the Sun travels across the sky each day and the Earth is stationary – that the Sun orbits the Earth. By saying the Sun appears to move across the sky you are acknowledging their observations and experiences. Children can also think that it is dark at night because the Sun is blocked by the Moon. 

For a detailed guide to children’s misconceptions and a guide to questions which will help you assess their prior knowledge, look at these BEST resources. 

Take it further


A good way for children to understand how we have day and night is for them to model the process using a globe, or a ball to represent Earth and a large torch to represent the Sun. It works best if you are able to darken the room.  They can use a blob of blue tac or modelling clay to represent themselves standing on Earth. One child can hold the ball and slowly rotate the ball in an anti-clockwise direction, while another child stands a distance away shining the torch at the Earth. A third child can observe and explain what is happening using the words spin, rotate, day, night, darkness, light, faces, Sun and Earth. They can then swap round until they have done all three roles. It is important to remind children that the Earth is also orbiting the Sun, but it is not necessary for them to model this. 

Can they find countries that have their day when we have night? Make links to their work in geography. Many children will be familiar with time zones, if they have family or friends in other parts of the world. This map shows which parts of the world are facing the Sun and which are in darkness at any given time. This is a time zone map. 

Linked Explorify activities- our recommendations:   

Explore children’s experiences with  Have you ever gone to bed when it is still light outside? or Have you ever spoken to a friend or relative somewhere else in the world and the time was different? Discuss the consequences with What if there was no night?  or the What’s going on  Light and time 


This Science Museum video answers the question Where does the Sun go at night? using a large model of the Solar System. This BBC teach video looks at day and night, and also how the Earth’s tilt on its axis gives us longer hours of daylight in summer. 

Video credit:

Rakchai Duangdee, using imagery from NASA, via Shutterstock