Ceiling Constellations

Children will investigate stars and constellations.


Lesson Objective

The children will investigate stars and constellations, and make their own constellations using flashlights.


What You'll Need

  • Large, heavy foam paper cups – 1 per child, plus a few extra
  • Round toothpicks – 1 per child
  • Flashlights – 2 or 3 depending on the size of the class

What To Do

  1. Discuss information about stars and constellations (see Did You Know?).
  2. Tell children they are going to make their own constellations and be able to see them on the classroom ceiling.
  3. Pass out paper cups and toothpicks.
  4. Turn a cup open side down, and demonstrate how to punch small holes in the bottom of the cup with the toothpick. Assist the children with poking their toothpicks through the cup as needed.
  5. Tell the children to put no more than 10 holes in the bottom of their cup.
  6. When everyone is finished, darken the room by turning off the lights and closing the blinds to cover the windows.
  7. Demonstrate how to shine a flashlight into the cup and point the flashlight at the ceiling.
  8. Have the children take turns shining their constellations on the ceiling, and discuss (see Guiding Student Inquiry).

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Tell me what you know about stars.
  • Explain why you think we can see stars only at night.
  • Describe what makes up a constellation.
  • Tell me how the dots of light appeared on the ceiling.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Read the digital storybook, Zip, Zoom, Elmo’s on the Moon! together. In the story, Cookie Monster tells Elmo that he thinks the moon is a giant cookie. Elmo then dreams he is taking a trip in a rocket ship to the moon. On his way home, Elmo passes a constellation that looks like a cookie! Go to Reading Adventures, a series of five Sesame Street digital storybooks focused on vocabulary development and choose Zip, Zoom, Elmo’s on the Moon! 
  • Tell the children one of the many stories about one of the constellations. Then, invite the children to make up a story to go with their constellation.
  • Place flashlights and cups with holes in them in the discovery area. Provide a large box (for a dark area) for children to shine the constellations into from the cups and flashlights.
  • Investigate taking your class to a local planetarium, or look for a traveling planetarium and discuss with your administrator the possibility of having them visit your center.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children explain why we can see stars only at night?
  • Could children explain what makes up a constellation?
  • Could children explain why dots of light appeared on the ceiling?


Did You Know?

When you look up in the sky at night, you can see many stars. On a clear, dark night, there are between 1,000 and 1,500 stars visible in the sky. While the stars are always in the sky, we can only see them at night because our Sun is so bright. Scientists who study stars, planets, and other space objects are called “astronomers.” They have discovered that stars are huge balls of very hot, glowing gas. Stars are different sizes and brightness. Some stars are very big, even bigger than the Sun. Some are brighter because they are very large stars, and some appear brighter because they are closer to the Earth. Stars can range in color from blue, which are the hottest stars, to white, yellow, and red, which are the coolest stars.

A long time ago, when people studied the stars, they gave the stars names. These star watchers thought that certain groups of stars looked like animals and, sometimes, people. There are 88 pictures that the stars make in the sky; these are called “constellations.” Because the Earth is circling the Sun, we can see different constellations at different times of the year. Some of the constellations are named after animals, people, or objects. There are many stories that were made up thousands of years ago to go along with these constellations. These stories were made up and are not real. This was a form of entertainment for people many years ago, but many people know and still tell these same stories today.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • star – things we usually see as points of light in the night sky.
  • constellation – a group of stars in the sky that is thought to look like an animal, object, or person; for example, the Big Dipper is a constellation.
  • group – a collection of things that are in one place.
  • shine – to give off light.
  • bright – giving off a lot of light.
  • astronomer – a scientist who studies the universe beyond Earth.

Lesson Tips

  • Children may need assistance with poking holes the size of round toothpicks through the foam cups.
  • Caution the children to keep the flashlight shining away from their eyes and away from anyone else’s eyes.


  • Our Stars by Anne Rockwell
  • I Am a Star by Jean Marzollo
  • The Big Dipper by Franklyn M. Branley
  • Stars by Melanie Mitchell
  • I Like Stars by Margaret Wise Brown

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

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Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS