Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 4-12, students explore BrainPOP resources to learn about the astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus and his theories about Earth. They’ll discover how his ideas directly opposed the theories of Aristotle, Ptolemy and other ancient astronomers, as well as the teachings of the Catholic Church. Students put their new knowledge to the test as they analyze excerpts from Copernicus’ book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Lesson Plan Next Generation Science Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Discuss why we don’t feel Earth move despite its orbiting the sun.
  2. Watch a BrainPOP movie and review resources about Copernicus and other ancient astronomers.
  3. Use the Make-a-Map tool (or offline graphic organizer) to construct a concept map contrasting Copernicus’ theories with astronomers of the time.
  4. Analyze a primary source.


  • Internet access for BrainPOP
  • Interactive whiteboard


  • Preview the movie Copernicus to plan for any adaptations.
  • If students will be working offline, make copies of the Primary Source transcript and questions.  
  • Lesson Procedure:

    1. Open the movie Copernicus and pause when the letter appears (time code 00:27). Ask students to predict the answer to the question posed in the letter: If the earth orbits the sun, how come we can’t feel it move? Jot their ideas on the board.
    2. Tell students that today they will learn about the ancient astronomer and mathematician Copernicus. Explain that Copernicus was the first to theorize that Earth revolves around the sun, which contradicted the belief of the time--by both astronomers and the Catholic Church--that Earth was the center of the universe.
    3. Show the movie Copernicus on an interactive whiteboard or other large display to the whole class. Pause to explain and clarify as needed.
    4. Now have students watch the movie again within the Make-a-Map feature. As they watch, have them create a concept map, such as a t-chart, to contrast the geocentric model of Earth supported by Aristotle, Ptolemy, and others with Copernicus’ heliocentric model If limited computers, you can show the movie again to the whole class as they complete a t-chart offline.
    5. Open the Primary Source Activity on the whiteboard and read aloud the instructions. Remind students that primary sources are first-hand, historical records, such as letters, diary entries, books, etc. Now click the Read button to open the preface of Copernicus’ book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. Explain that this is an example of a primary source. Now have students click the transcript at their own computers or devices. If limited computers, you may print out and distribute the Primary Source Activity questions and transcript for students to complete offline. Students may also do this activity in pairs.
    6. Circulate as students work on this activity, helping them as needed.
    7. Finally, have students work in small groups to compare and discuss their responses.

    Extension Activities:

  • Put your knowledge to the test by completing the Copernicus Challenge.
  • Play Sortify: Space Exploration and earn points by categorizing key concepts related to space exploration.
  • Play Time Zone X: Galileo Galilei and put key historical events associated with this astronomer in chronological order.
  • Divide the class into groups of four. Have each person in the group read a different Related Reading. Then have them share what they learned with the group.