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4. What Makes Shadows? Observing and Drawing Shadows
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See the Activity in Action Summary of Activity:
Students learn about shadows as they observe and draw the shadow of a classmate. In the extension activity, students observe and discuss shadows changing over time.

Duration of Activity:
30 minutes.

Student Prerequisites:
Students should:

  1. Have prior exposure to the topic of the Sun through reading and discussion.
  2. Have basic understanding of what shadows are and how they are created. A good storybook to introduce this topic to young students is Bear Shadow by Frank Asch. Refer also to the nonfiction reading list on related subjects.


  • Pencil and crayons
  • Chalk
  • Student work sheet
  • Lamp with 200 watt bulb and shade removed

Teacher Preparation:
Locate a sunny area for students to draw. Allow time to collect materials and duplicate work sheets.

Work Sheets:

"What Makes Shadows" Work Sheets
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View Completed Student Work Sheets


Students will:
  1. Make accurate drawings of a classmate’s shadow.
  2. Note position of the Sun in the sky.
  3. Be able to identify a connection between the direction of the shadow and location of the Sun.
  4. Observe changes in shadows over time.
  5. Develop an elementary understanding of the Earth's motion.

View National Standards AddressedGrade Level:
Grades 1-3

In the classroom

  1. Begin the discussion of shadows by asking students what they about them. These points can be listed on the "What we Know" section of a "Shadows" KWL chart. Students may bring up the following points:

    • It is very dangerous to look at the Sun.
    • We NEVER look directly at the Sun!
    • The Sun creates shadows.
    • We all make shadows.
    • If there is sunshine, there will be shadows.
    • Without the Sun, we would not have shadows.
    • If the Sun is shining behind us, we will see our shadows in front of us.
    • A shadow happens when an object (or a person) gets between the Sun and the surface of the Earth.

  2. Ask students if they have any questions about shadows. List 3-4 of them on the "What we Want to Know" section of the KWL chart.
  3. Explain that students will be going outside to observe shadows and make drawings of what they see.
  4. Ask for a student volunteer help you demonstrate how to trace a shadow.
  5. Turn on the lamp, turn off the overhead lights, and ask students to observe the student's shadow being cast in the classroom. Ask them where the light source is and where the shadow is cast.
  6. Explain that the Sun is similar to the light and discuss the location of the shadow.
  7. Demonstrate how to trace the shadow by following the outline of the student's shadow with your finger.
  8. Explain that each student will use chalk to trace the outline of his or her partner’s shadow on the playground.
  9. Tell students that after the tracing is complete, they can use pencils to draw their partner, his or her shadow, and the location of the Sun on their work sheets.
  10. Remind students NEVER to look directly at the Sun.
  11. After students have drawn on their work sheets they can add more detail in the classroom with crayons.
  12. You may find it useful to print out a sample of student work sheet to show your students.

Outdoor hands-on Activity

  1. Remind students again, NEVER to look directly at the Sun, but to concentrate on the shadows.
  2. In pairs, students spread out over the yard. Distribute chalk.
  3. Ask students to position themselves to make shadows.
  4. Begin tracing by outlining partner's shoes--this is especially important if doing the extension activity in this lesson.
  5. As students complete the shadow tracing with chalk on the playground surface, distribute the work sheet.
  6. Make sure that each student gets the opportunity to create a shadow and also document the shadow of a classmate.

Extension Activity: Changing Shadows

  1. Two or three hours after students have completed their first shadow tracings, explain that they will go outside again to observe their partner's shadow and make tracings of what they see.
  2. Ask students to predict if the second shadows will be the same as or different from the first shadows they drew.
  3. Ask for a show of hands and take a tally of students' predictions.
  4. Return to the playground and ask students to find their shadows. Distribute chalk. Remind students again, NEVER to look directly at the Sun, but to concentrate on the shadows.
  5. Have students reposition themselves in their original locations, using their shoe outlines as a guide.
  6. Ask students to complete the second shadow tracing.
  7. If time allows, redistribute student work sheets and have students add the second shadow.
  8. The following questions can guide a discussion of what students observed:
  • Did anything change in your tracings? What looks different?
  • How many of your shadows moved? Tally raised hands. Review the tally taken in the morning and see how many students predicted correctly.
  • What do you think made the shadows move? How can you explain that?
  • Did the Sun move? Did we move? (Of course, we moved! Explain to students that shadows move as a result of the Earth's motion.)
  • Ask students what else they have learned and want to add to their KWL chart. Place any new questions on the chart and check if any previous questions can now be answered!
  • "What Makes Day and Night" is a good lesson for explaining the Earth's rotation more fully. For older students, "Making a Sundial" allows exploration of changing shadows as a means of telling time.

Use the "What Makes Shadows" work sheet to assess your students’ work.

See related books and websites.

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