Cratered Worlds

How have asteroids and comets led to the Moon and other rocky inner planets looking so different than the Earth? How do we know about these differences and what do they tell us?

The Cratered World lesson takes students on a journey through the solar system, with a specific focus on craters and what we can learn from them.  Students will first learn how to use craters to determine the relative age of a planetary surface, and work together to create models of craters in order to investigate the different factors that change surface features. They become planetary mappers using CosmoQuest citizen science programs, and then take an artists perspective, using artistic elements to analyze and create images of craters. 

Designed for grades 5-8, this lesson uses the 5E format and is aligned with NGSS and Common Core standards and Project 2061 Benchmarks. 

Suggested time needed: 6 class periods or 6-7 days

Please try these activities with your students and let us know what you think by dropping us an email at educate [at]

Activities include:

  • Engage: “Why the Moon?” Compare and contrast the surface of the Earth and Moon
  • Explore: Determine relative ages of a planetary surface based on craters (“Crater Ages”); create models and investigate how these features are made (“Exploring Cratering”); map craters on the CosmoQuest citizen science website (“Becoming a Planetary Mapper”); use findings from crater analysis to create planetary artwork (“Art & the Cosmic Connection”).
  • Explain: Putting it all together
  • Elaborate: Analyzing new craters
  • Evaluate: Describing the history of a planetary body

Downloads: (see lesson plans for more detailed list of materials)

  • Entire lesson plan (Word or PDF) -includes learning goals, standards alignment, teacher background knowledge, possible student prior conceptions, glossary) 
  • Groupwork roles sign-up sheet (Word or PDF)

Why the Moon?

  • “Why the Moon?” lesson plan (Word or PDF)
  • Set of ten black and white pictures of the Earth and Moon surfaces (PPT or PDF)

Crater Ages

  • “Crater Ages” lesson plan (Word or PDF)
  • Task Card (Word or PDF)
  • Black and white pictures of lunar surface (PDF)
  • Scale (PDF)
  • Grid (PDF)
  • Overview image (PNG)
  • Reading “Using Craters to Reveal the History of a Surface” (Word or PDF)

Exploring Cratering

  • “Exploring Cratering” lesson plan (Word or PDF)
  • Task Card (Word or PDF)
  • Labeled crater image with definitions (Word or PPT)

Planetary Mapping

Art & the Cosmic Connection: A Gallery Walk

Next Generation Science Standards (adaptable for 5th-HS)


  • MS-ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System – The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them.
  • MS-ESS1.C: The History of Planet Earth – The geologic timescale interpreted from rock strata provides a way to organize Earth’s history. Analyses of rock strata and the fossil record provide only relative dates, not an absolute scale.
  • MS-ESS2.A: Earth’s Materials and Systems: The planet’s systems interact over scales that range from microscopic to global in size, and they operate over fractions of a second to billions of years.  These interactions have shaped Earth’s history and will determine its future. 

Practices. Students will…

  • Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and difference in findings:  Students will work together to analyze and interpret images of craters and compare these interpretations in order to determine similarities and differences.
  • Construct explanations and designing solutions: Based on their understandings of craters and comparisons of different areas of the lunar surface, students will be able to make claims and construct explanations about the relative ages of the different areas.
  • Develop and use models: Students will develop and use a model of crater impacts to gain insights and create hypotheses to explain features not seen in their models.

Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Scale, proportion, and quantity: Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small: We can use craters to establish relative ages of a planetary surface, and to recognize how changes due to impactors have affected the surface structure over time.
  • Patterns: Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them: There are patterns in the surface features of Earth and other planetary bodies that we can use to better understand their histories, and what caused these surface features.
  • Systems and System Models: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions: We can use models of craters to explore the ways that asteroids and meteorites affect the surface of different planetary bodies. By experimenting with these models, we can create and refine hypotheses about the history of the Solar System.

Common Core


  • Practice 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • Practice 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • Practice 5: Use appropriate tools strategically


  • Literacy.WHST.6-8.1.B: Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
  • Literacy.WHST.6-8.1.C: Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • Literacy.RST.6-8.4:Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics