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Learning Resource Type

Lesson Plan

Light and Sight - Why We Need Light to See

Subject Area

English Language Arts




In this lesson, students will investigate objects’ appearances in varying levels of light to help them construct an explanation that objects can only be seen when light is available to illuminate them. Students will discuss why objects look different in a dark room and graph their preferences for sleeping with a light on or off. Then, they will investigate how an object’s appearance changes in different lighting conditions in small group centers. Finally, they will model the moon’s path around the sun to see how light from the sun causes the moon’s appearance to change as it orbits Earth. At the conclusion of the lesson, students will use their experiences as evidence to explain that light is essential for sight.

This lesson results from the ALEX Resource Gap Project.

    Science (2015) Grade(s): 1


    Construct explanations from observations that objects can be seen only when light is available to illuminate them (e.g., moon being illuminated by the sun, colors and patterns in a kaleidoscope being illuminated when held toward a light).

    Unpacked Content



    • light
    • illuminate
    • construct
    • explanation
    • observation
    • available
    • objects


    Students know:
    • Light comes from different sources (natural/man-made).
    • Objects can be seen only when there is a light source.
    • Objects can be seen if they give off their own light.


    Students are able to:
    • Gather evidence from observations to support the explanation that objects can only be seen when illuminated.


    Students understand that:
    • Objects can be seen only when a light source causes it to be illuminated.

    Scientific and Engineering Practices

    Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

    Crosscutting Concepts

    Cause and Effect

    Primary Learning Objectives

    Students construct and analyze a graph about students' preferences for sleeping with a light on or off.

    Students will recall information from experiences in the lesson to explain that objects can be seen only when light is available to illuminate them.

    Additional Learning Objective(s)

    Learning Targets:

    I can use a graph to explain information about my class.

    I can explain that light must shine on an object or come from an object for me to see it.




    1. Show students a nightlight and tell them that you used it when you were their age. (Telling students that you were afraid of the dark will reduce the risk they feel of admitting similar feelings.)  Have students turn and talk to a friend about why they think things look different in their rooms at night.

    2. Ask students whether they prefer to sleep with a light on or in complete darkness. Give each student a sticky note to place on the chart paper graph (see Preparation section for details). Once each student has placed his or her note on the appropriate column of the graph, have students to interpret the information by asking questions:

      • How many people in our class like their rooms completely dark at night?  
      • How many people use a nightlight?
      • How many people leave the doors to their rooms open to see a hall or bathroom light?
      • Which way to most people prefer to sleep at night?
      • Why do you think this is the most popular option?
      • If you share a room with someone, do they have the same preference you do? If not, how do you compromise and make a decision?

    3. Ask students if they have ever seen something in their rooms that seemed scary in the dark, but when they turned on the light it was not what they imagined. Have students share these experiences with a partner and tell them that they are going to do some investigations today to learn why things look different in the dark.


    1. Show the 9-minute “Peep and the Big Wide World Night Light” video. Discuss what Peep and Quack have to do to find Chirp in the video (shine a light on him). Ask students what makes a shadow (when the light is blocked by a solid object, it appears darker behind the object). 
    2. Explain that an object must reflect light into our eyes or give off light for us to see it. If there is no light, we cannot see the object at all. If there is a little light, we can see a little of the object, but it is not clear. That’s why common objects in our bedrooms sometimes look like scary things at night.
    3. Divide students into three groups for exploration at Light and Sight centers:
      • Shadow puppets – Have each student make a shadow puppet by cutting a shape out of cardstock paper and taping it to a craft stick. You may use the patterns provided in the materials section or let students draw their own characters. Students can use a hole punch to make eyes or decorations on their shadow puppets. Students will use flashlights in the “cave” created by sheets over desks to make their puppets make shadows. (Make the entrance to the “cave” facing the teacher so you can monitor student behavior during this center.) Ask students if they think they will be able to see colors on the shadows their puppets make if they color their puppets and have them test their predictions. Challenge students to make their puppets’ shadows bigger, smaller, skinnier, etc. by moving the flashlight and the puppet in different ways.
      • Mystery box -  This group needs a collection of small classroom objects, one flashlight, and the “mystery box” prepared by the teacher before the lesson. Students will take turns putting "mystery" objects in the box and viewing what is inside it. One student places an object in the box while other group members hide their eyes. The other group members take turns looking in the box through the open hole while the flap covering the second hole is closed. (They will not be able to see what is in the box.) Then they will lift the flap to let light in through the second hole and try to identify the object. (The object will be dim but probably recognizable.) Then they will shine the flashlight through the second hole to illuminate the object so it can be seen clearly. Repeat this procedure until every group member has had a turn to place an object in the box.
      • Computer or Tablet Station – Students work individually or in pairs at computers to play the PBS Peep Night Light Game,  Peep Shadow Play Game, and watch the Shifting Shadows video.
    4.  After completing all three stations, meet with the whole class to debrief with the following questions:
      • What happened to the shadow when you moved the puppet closer to the flashlight?
      • What happened to the shadow when you moved the puppet farther away from the flashlight?
      • What causes a shadow?
      • When you used the mystery box, when were you best able to see the object inside in order to identify it?  When could you not see the object at all?  Why?
      • Do you see an object better when the light is pointed at the object or at your eyes?  Why?
      • Do shadows appear in different colors?  Why or why not?

    After/Explain, Elaborate:

    1. Watch Crash Course Moon Phases video. (10 minutes)
    2. Turn off the classroom lights and close blinds or curtains. Have the class sit in the center of the room. Explain that they are representing Earth.
    3. Ask what they learned about the moon in the video (it travels around Earth). Explain that the ball represents the moon, so you are going to carry it around them. The flashlight represents the sun. Shine the flashlight on the ball so one-half is illuminated.
    4. As you walk around the class carrying the "Moon," have students describe what they see at different points in your "orbit." Have students make the connections between the video, the demonstration, and real-life observations of the moon.  
    5. Tell students to look at the moon that night and observe how it looks. For the next four weeks, have students report on the appearance of the moon each night and create a T-chart of the date and moon's appearance so students can track the phases of the moon.
    6. Have students summarize their learning by drawing and writing an answer to the question, "How does light affect what we see?” on the assessment sheet.

    Assessment Strategies

    Formative Assessment: Informally assess understanding through students' answers to the questions posed throughout the lesson. Observe students' participation in the learning centers and ask them to explain how the differing light conditions affect their ability to see objects clearly and how an object's position affects its shadow.

    Summative Assessment: Have students recall information from center experiences and investigations to answer the question “How does light affect what we see?” using the "Light Affects Sight Assessment". They will explain their thinking with writing and an illustration. Use this rubric to evaluate students' responses.


    Students who clearly understand the role of light in affecting sight can explore the phases of the moon by reading So That’s How the Moon Changes Shape by Allan Fowler or The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons or viewing "The Universe: Phases of the Moon" from the History Channel. Then they can create a moon phases poster using this pattern


    Preview or review the lesson with books that explain the connection between light and sight, such as Day Light, Night Light: Where Light Comes From by Franklyn M. Branley, Light Helps Me See by Jennifer Boothroyd, or All About Light by Lisa Trumbauer. During the center rotations, guide student explorations by asking the debriefing questions as students investigate the materials.  

    Approximate Duration

    Total Duration

    61 to 90 Minutes

    Background and Preparation


    Background Information for the Teacher: Light must enter our eyes for us to be able to see objects. The light may be reflected off an object from an external light source (such as the sunlight illuminating a flower allowing us to see it), or the light may come from the object itself (such as the glowing screen of a phone being visible in a dark room). For a complete explanation of the role of light in sight, visit Physics Classroom.

    Prerequisite Knowledge for Students: The students do not need any prior scientific knowledge for this lesson, but they should be familiar with procedures for rotating to small group learning centers.

    Advance Preparation:

    • Construct 1-2 “mystery boxes” by cutting two small holes in the lid of the box or poking the holes with a sharp pencil. Cover one hole with a piece of cardstock taped on one side so the flap can be lifted up or down to let in light or cover the hole.  Leave the other hole uncovered. (For complete directions on how to use the mystery box, visit PBS Learning Media. Click on “Support Materials” and then “Night Light Game - Activity.”)  
    • Depending on the fine motor skills of your students, you may wish to copy the shadow puppet patterns onto cardstock before the lesson, make one set of shadow puppet patterns for students to trace onto blank cardstock or let students draw their own puppet patterns during the lesson.  
    • Make a “cave” by putting sheets or tablecloths over desks or a table to create a darkened space.  
    • Prepare the chart paper for graph creation during the lesson by giving it the title "Do You Like the Light On When You Sleep?"  Write the following labels along the bottom of the chart: "No light," "Use a nightlight," "Leave a lamp on," and "Keep the door open to see light from another room."  Students will place a sticky note above the title label that describes their preference, creating a vertical bar graph. 
    • Copy "Light Affects Sight Assessment" for each student and "Moon Phases Handout" for accelerated students.

    Note: You may wish to present this lesson over two days, completing the "Before" and "During" portions on the first day and the "After" and "Assessment" portions on the second day.

    Materials and Resources

    Materials and Resources

    • 3-4 flashlights
    • Cardboard shoe box with lid (an additional box may be needed if class is large)
    • Cardstock paper, thick construction paper, or file folders (1 sheet or ½ folder per student)
    • Craft sticks (1 per student)
    • Tape
    • 1-2 Sheets or tablecloths for making a “cave”
    • Chart paper
    • Sticky notes (1 per student)
    • Student supplies: crayons, scissors, pencils
    • "Light Affects Sight Assessment" for each student (included in Attachments section)
    • Small classroom objects to be placed in mystery box (examples could be number cubes, school supplies, game pieces, etc.)
    • Ball
    • Copies of rubric for each student
    • Patterns for shadow puppets (optional) 
    • Single hole punch (optional – for making eyes or designs on shadow puppets)
    • Nightlight (optional)

    Acceleration Materials:

    Technology Resources Needed

    For the teacher:

    • Computer with internet connection
    • Projector with sound for showing online video or interactive whiteboard

    Teacher websites:

    For students:

    • 1 computer or tablet with an Internet connection for every 3-6 students in the class (to be used during small group rotations).
    • If student computers are not available, the Night Light game can be played in a whole group setting using an interactive whiteboard.

    Student websites: