The Solar System: Modeling its size

An activity, accessible to all students, including those with visual impairments, teaches the concept of the vast distances among the planets.

Developing a concept of the size of the solar system is difficult for everyone!  It is immense! In this activity students develop a sense of the vast distances among the planets in our solar system.  During this activity students will name the planets and their order in the solar system and become aware of the vast distances among the planets of our solar system.


Trundle wheel
Trundle wheel


Before carrying out this activity, the students and/or teacher create large print and braille labels for the various planet models.

Mars with braille label
Mars with braille label

The styrofoam balls can be various painted colors,   Insert skewers into the balls. Attach labels to the skewers. Cover pointed end of the skewers in corks for storage. Remove cork just before inserting the skewer into the ground.

Familiarize the students with the use of a meter stick in large print or braille.  A commonly used measurement tool in science is a trundle wheel. It clicks as each meter is reached as the wheel rolls along the ground. A great way to measure long distances!

If a large area is not available, try measuring the distances among just the inner planets.  Also use a scale of one foot rather than a meter if you need a smaller scale. Keep in mind that in this activity the size of the planets are NOT to scale.


1.   Discuss that in this model one meter equals approximately 6 million kilometers.

2.    Bring all the prepared materials to a very large open area approximately one half mile in length.

3.   Locate the mode of the Sun at one end of the field.

4.   Using a meter stick or trundle wheel measure 10 meters from the Sun to Mercury’s orbit.

Then using the stick insert the model of Mercury into the ground 

5.   Continue to measure, then place the planet:

6. Walk  towards the Sun, naming the planets as they are reached. 


If only a small outside area is available, change the scale to one foot equals 6 million kilometers.  This will still covey the large distances among the planets.  

NGSS Standards:

ESS1.B: Earth and the solar system:The solar system contains many varied objects held together by gravity. Solar system models explain and predict eclipses, lunar phases, and seasons. (Grades 6 to 8)

By Kate Fraser

Collage of modeling the size of the solar system

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