Standard Lesson

Casting Shadows Across Literacy and Science

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 45-minute sessions
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What makes a shadow? Do shadows change? Can a person escape his or her shadow? These and many other questions provide the framework for students to explore their prior knowledge about shadows as fiction, informational texts, and poetry. In this lesson, language arts skills are linked to the learning of science in a literacy-based approach to the study of shadows. Through discussion of literature on shadows and the use of questioning techniques to probe prior knowledge, students begin to explore scientific concepts and develop and test hypotheses. After studying shadows, recording observations of shadows, and hearing poetry about shadows, students create their own poetic response incorporating their knowledge. The inclusion of poetry in the lesson encourages aesthetic appreciation of scientific phenomena and invites students to observe the world around them from new perspectives.


Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Chapters in this book (by different authors) address connections between science and literacy ranging from the literacy skills needed to read scientific texts to the advantages of a literacy-rich environment for learning science. Points covered include:

  • Science-focused books help students develop the skills required to understand informational texts, which are different from the skills developed by the narrative (story genre) texts typically used in reading instruction.
  • Using science information books as read-alouds allows children to use their past experiences to make sense of scientific ideas, provides opportunities for them to express themselves, and helps them develop scientific talk.
  • Hands-on science experiences can strengthen students' reading abilities and reading and writing can enhance science concept development.
  • Third graders participating in a combined literature and science program knew more science vocabulary and facts and scored significantly higher on tests in literacy and science than those students in a literature-only program.
  • By introducing science into the language arts program teachers created a rich literacy environment.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Chart paper
  • Collection of Books Across Genres on Shadows
  • Light and Shadow illustrated by Jo Lynn Alcorn (Scholastic, 1996)
  • The Random House Book of Poetry for Children edited by Jack Prelutzky (Random House, 1983)
  • What Makes a Shadow? By Clyde Rober Bulla (HarperCollins, 1994)
  • "Shadow Race" by Shel Silverstein (In A Light in the Attic, Harper Collins, 2005)
  • "My Shadow" by Robert Louis Stevenson (any edition-an online publication and four print editions are listed in Collection of Books Across Genres on Shadows)
  • Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow by Ann Tompert (Houghton Mifflin, 1984)
  • Flashlights (one flashlight for every three children)




1. Become familiar with the titles from the Collection of Books Across Genres on Shadows that are available in your school or local library, and add to this list any other children's literature on shadows you find. Choose several titles for use as classroom read-alouds.
2. Select the type of poetry you would like to write with your students. The most appropriate types of poetry for this lesson would be simple rhymes, acrostic poems, cinquains, or diamante poems. (See Shadow Poetry: Types of Poetry for a description of these forms.) Introduce students to the poetry form you want to focus on, and provide examples of this type of poetry during the lesson.
3. Based on your knowledge of your students' skills, decide whether the poetry writing in the lesson (Session 5) will be a whole-class, small-group, or individual activity. With K-2 students, you will probably be writing the poem with students, acting as facilitator, and recording their ideas and words for them. After creating a poem together as a class, you may be able to scaffold the experience and have students write poems independently.
4. Bookmark the Acrostic Poems and Diamante Poems on your classroom computers if you plan to use these online tools with your class.
5. Bookmark the Poetry Writing with Jack Prelutsky website on your classroom computers.
6. Decide which pages (if any) from the Web resources you would like to adapt as handouts for your class. Choose examples of the specific poetic form you will be writing, and copy or adapt any suggestions from Poetry Writing with Jack Prelutsky that you find helpful.
7. Make a copy of the Shadow Watching handout for each student.
8. Make overhead transparencies of the poems you plan to read aloud in Sessions 2 and 4 (or copy the poems onto chart paper).

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Engage in active learning about scientific concepts by using their background knowledge
  • Explore scientific information drawn from informational texts, prose and poetry, and their own experiences
  • Make connections and see relationships in science through discussion, journaling, and poetry writing
  • Formulate and test scientific hypotheses using information gathered from books and activities
  • Develop skills in written and oral expression as they make connections between their reading and their own observations

Session 1: What Makes a Shadow?

1. Introduce this lesson on shadows by taking students on a shadow walk. Ideally this should be done on a sunny day in the schoolyard or neighborhood, but it can be a simple walk around the classroom. Instruct students to look for shadows, to pay attention to the shadows' shapes, and to make note of any other characteristics about shadows that they observe.
2. When you return from your shadow walk, give students the opportunity to share what they noticed about shadows, and also what they know from prior experience. Record their observations and prior knowledge on chart paper titled "Shadow Facts."
3. Ask students, "What makes a shadow?" if this topic has not been brought up in the previous discussion.
4. Read the book What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla to the class. Tell students that they need to listen carefully to find out whether their current ideas and observations about shadows are correct. As you read the text, call attention to the illustrations.
5. When you have finished the book, have students compare their recorded prior knowledge and observations with the information you have just read to them. Ask students to provide evidence from the book by Bulla that either confirms or refutes their prior knowledge and observations.
6. Distribute the Shadow Watching handout and ask students to complete the handout for homework. Using several examples, model for students how they should draw an object, its shadow, and the position of the light source.

Session 2: Changing Shadows

1. To activate knowledge learned from Session 1, read aloud one of the following poems:
  • "Shadow Play" by Elizabeth Schafer from the book Light and Shadow
  • "Ground Hog Day" by Lillian Moore from The Random House Book of Poetry for Children
2. Ask students, "What makes a shadow?" and discuss their answers.
3. Read the poem "Shadow Show" by Thomas Singh from the book Light and Shadow (if available). Also read the page opposite the poem, which describes how shadows change when the light source is moved.

Note: If this book is not available, continue directly to the questions in Step 4.
4. Pose the following questions: Do shadows change? What happens to your shadow when you get close to the light? What happens to your shadow when you move away from the light? Ask students to make predictions regarding these questions and record them on chart paper with the heading, "Do Shadows Change?"
5. Divide the class into groups of three. In each group, assign one student to be the recorder, one student to be in charge of the flashlight, and one student to be the model.
6. Explain to students that they will be conducting an experiment based on the information you have just discussed. Darken the room by turning off the lights and shading the windows if possible. The student with the flashlight will cast the light on the model, causing a shadow to appear on the wall. The student with the flashlight will move closer to the model and then move farther away from the model. The recorder will write down the group's observations during this experiment.
7. Turn the room lights back on and bring the class together to share their observations. Compare their observations to their predictions recorded on the "Do Shadows Change?" chart. Record any new understandings and observations on the "Shadow Facts" chart started during Session 1.

Session 3: Bringing Science Knowledge to Fiction

1. Review all the facts students have acquired about shadows by asking them to share what they have learned. If necessary, remind students that
  • Shadows are formed when light cannot pass through an object.
  • The position of the light affects the direction of the shadow.
  • Shadows are created on the side of the object opposite the light source.
  • Shadows change size according to the position of the light source (i.e., the closer the light source, the larger the object's shadow; the further away the light source, the smaller the object's shadow).
2. Tell students that you are going to read them a story that involves shadows, and that you will ask them to use their knowledge to predict the outcome of the story.
3. Read Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow by Ann Tompert to students, stopping with the next-to-last sentence on page 6, which reads, "And they pitched ‘cans' and ‘can'ts' at each other until Woodchuck said, ‘I'll bet you my hat you can't.'" At this point, Woodchuck has bet his hat that Rabbit cannot escape his shadow.
4. Ask students to predict whether Woodchuck or Rabbit will end up with the hat at the end of the story. Have students write down their predictions and the reasons why they believe they are correct, citing knowledge they have learned about shadows. Remind students to refer to the "Shadow Facts" chart to help support their predictions.
5. Have students share their predictions and tally their responses on the board.
6. Read the rest of the story.
7. Have students discuss the results. Add any new understandings to the "Shadow Facts" chart.

Session 4: Shadow Race

Note: The outdoor activities in this session need to be conducted on a sunny day, preferably in the early morning or late afternoon. You may need to reschedule the session if the weather forecast is unfavorable.

1. Read "Shadow Race" (from A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein) aloud to the class.
2. Guide students in formulating two alternative hypotheses:

a. The shadow will win the race when the sun is behind me.

b. The shadow will lose the race when the sun is behind me.
3. Ask students which hypothesis they believe to be correct and why. Have them discuss their reasoning. Make a tally of how many students believe each hypothesis.
4. Take students out to the playground to test the hypotheses. Explain that they are going to race their own shadows, and they will need to observe whether their shadows cross the finish line ahead of them or behind them. Have students line up side by side with the sun behind them and race to a line across the yard. Have them observe whether they or their shadow crosses the finish line first.
5. Bring students back to the classroom and discuss their findings. Add any new understandings to the "Shadow Facts" chart.

Session 5: Poetry Writing

1. Read the poem "My Shadow" by Robert Louis Stevenson to the class.
2. Explain to students that they will be writing their own poetry about shadows. Ask students to recall the shadow poems they have read or heard in the previous sessions. As a specific poem is mentioned, display it on the overhead projector or chart paper. Discuss each poem, beginning with questions such as:
  • What do you notice about this poem? Do certain words rhyme?
  • How does the author of this poem describe shadows? (focus on word choice)
  • Does the author include any facts about shadows in the poem? (confirm students' knowledge of shadows)
3. Using the advice from Poetry Writing with Jack Prelutsky, have students review all of their observations on shadows. Ask students to pick a key word from their list of observations, and create a list of synonyms for that word and adjectives that might be used in connection with it.
4. If you will be writing in a poetic form that involves rhyme, have students think of words that rhyme with any of the words they have already listed.
5. Writing on a blackboard, chart paper, or overhead transparency, guide students through the process of writing a poem about shadows in the form you have chosen. Invite students to contribute synonyms, adjectives, and rhymes from their word lists.
6. (Optional) Have students work individually to create their own shadow poems, using words from their lists of synonyms, adjectives, and rhymes wherever possible. As they are writing, observe and guide them as necessary, answering any questions they may have regarding the poetry form or spelling of words.


  • Choose one or more exceptional poems written by students to post to the Publish Online page of the Poetry Writing with Jack Prelutsky website.
  • Teach the science and literature lessons Sky 2: Shadows and Sky 3: Modeling Shadows from the Science NetLinks website.
  • Read aloud the Caldecott Medal-winning picture book Shadow by Blaise Cendrars (translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown). Have students connect the features and behavior of shadows with the actions of the character "Shadow." Discuss whether the text of the book is poetry. Why or why not? [Note: Preview this book before reading it in class, as the illustrations and imagery may be frightening for some students.]
  • Schedule follow-up shadow walks and other activities throughout the year to have students observe how shadows change shape during the day, at different seasons, etc.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Review students’ Shadow Watching worksheets to see that they have correctly depicted the location of the sun and the shadow of an object.
  • Collect students’ predictions and reasons for their predictions during Sessions 3 and 4, and note whether they demonstrate understanding of basic shadow facts.
  • If students write original poetry, provide feedback using the Poetry Evaluation Rubric.

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