Planet Earth

  • The Earth is shaped like a ball, so why do we not fall off the ball?
  • If the Earth is shaped like a ball, why does it look flat?
  • What is the difference between a continent and an island?
  • Are an ocean and a sea the same thing?

NB. The last section in this strand is on the Moon. The order has been changed slightly compared to CAPS so that you do not run out of time at the end of the year to do the Design Activity on modelling a rocket as some important skills will be learnt in this. However, if you would like to stick to the order in CAPS, then do so. The chapter on the Moon requires learners to do a Moon watch where they observe and record the changing shape of the light on the Moon for at least a month. Bear this in mind during the 4th term as you will need to start this activity a month before you get to the Moon chapter so that it is completed in time.

Features of the Earth

Remind the learners that the Earth looks flat or level to us if we look around outside. Now ask them to imagine what the Earth would look like if they went high, very high. Many of them have seen images of the Earth as a ball, photographed from spacecraft. They will tell you, "That is the Earth." But they may have difficulty if you ask them to show you where they are on the Earth at this moment. It is not because they do not know the continents - their problem is making the mental shift between being in Space and being on the Earth. For that reason we spend some time in this Unit developing their ability to look at things from a different point of view. This is a mental ability that normally develops when children are about 10 or 11, and as teachers we can ensure that it does develop for these learners.

The Earth is our home. It is the planet that we live on. Our Earth is a very special planet, which is why we can live on it. Let's have a look at why Earth is special.

Features on the surface of the Earth

Earth is the place where all people live. The ground under your feet is part of the Earth. We live on the surface of the Earth. The surface is the outside of the Earth. Miners can dig deep tunnels under the surface of the Earth.

Plants grow in soil. The soil comes from rock that was deep under the ground. Rain washes soil away and it exposes the rock. We say that the rain erodes the soil and the rock as it breaks little pieces off and washes it away.

As the rain erodes the surface of the Earth it makes features, such as hills and valleys, rivers and seas. Look at the following pictures showing the different features of Earth's surface.

The Orange River

There are lots of rocks in this landscape.

The rocky sea shore on the Garden Route, showing steep cliffs, rocks and the ocean.

Adeep valley between the mountains

Hills and flat farmlands

Ariver surrounded by mountains

Do you remember when we looked at the habitats on Earth in Term 1 in Life and Living? These habitats are influenced by the features of the Earth.

Habitats on Earth


  1. Look at the pictures again on the pages before this activity showing different features of the Earth's surface.
  2. Answer the questions below


Name some of the living things you can find on the Earth.

Plants and animals is the short answer. But make sure the learners give you plenty of examples. Examples are trees, bushes, grasses, birds in the trees, insects that the birds eat, goats, etc. Build up the idea of living things here, because you will have to teach how the Sun provides light and warmth for them.

In the pictures, where do the birds live?

In the trees, on the beach and river-banks, some float on the water and dive for fish.

In the pictures, where do fish live?

in the river and in the sea

Where can cattle live?

along the banks of the river, on the grasslands

What kind of animals can live in deserts? A desert is a place with almost no water.

Snakes, bats, meerkats, and jackals are examples.

What kinds of animals live in forests?

Buffaloes, elephants, bushpigs, and monkeys are examples.

A habitat is a place where animals can find food, water, shelter and have their babies. Habitats have unique features, such as the rocky shore habitat which has crashing waves and big rocks. Name four habitats that you have seen in the pictures.

rivers, seas, grasslands, forests, mountains

Name four non-living things you can see in the picture.

The features like air, clouds and rivers are all non-living things. Many learners won't believe this; for example, they consider that a river and a cloud are living. Remind them of what you did in Term 1 for Life and Living.

The Earth has air in the atmosphere. Air is all around you and it moves. When air moves, we call it wind. You know when air moves because you can feel a wind blowing. When you look up at the sky, you sometimes see clouds. The clouds move in the air. Although you cannot see air, it is still a feature of Earth, like the rocks and soil which make up the mountains and hills and the water which makes up the rivers, seas and lakes.

Is there air high up in the sky? Give a reason for your answer.

Many learners will agree that there is air around our noses, but may be unsure whether there is air under the table and many more are unsure whether there is air high up. They may say that up high you find atmosphere, but are unsure whether there is air there. They do not understand that the atmosphere is all the air around the Earth.

Are clouds all equally high?

Some are very high, some are lower. We want children to begin thinking of what it would be like to go very high - soon we want them to think what the Earth looks like from a spacecraft!

Clouds high in the sky

Clouds low near the ground

Sometimes, it is hard to see the features of the Earth if we are standing low on the ground. For example, you might be standing in a valley and then not be able to see all the surrounding mountains. Also, the features of the Earth look different depending on where you are viewing them from. Do you think a bird flying in the sky will view the landscape the same as you if you are standing on the ground? Let's have a look.

What do things look like from above?


  • pencil
  • coloured pencils
  • rubber


  1. Let's look at what a bird sees when he flies over a boy. Can you see the bird flying over the boy in the picture below?
  2. Answer the questions that follow.


When the bird looks down, what does it see? Choose the right picture from (a), (b), (c) or (d) by drawing a circle around it.

Here you are developing the learners' ability to mentally put themselves in another place and imagine how things look from there. This is a mental ability they must have in order to understand models of the solar system.

Imagine you are a fly on the ceiling in the classroom. You look down and see the classroom. Now draw the classroom as the fly sees it using the space below. Draw the chalkboard, the cupboard, the door and the teacher's table. You don't have to draw the people. You can use some colour if you want to.

This task develops the learners' skill in visualising things as they look from a different point of view. You may find that only a few learners can imagine the features of the classroom as they look from the ceiling. For example, many learners will draw the cupboard as they can see it from the front. But they must draw the cupboard from above; they could see the doors if they were above the cupboard. Instead, they would see the things that you have put on top of the cupboard.

The next picture shows you a school as it looks to a bird flying over.

The school yard as seen by a bird

Labels have been given below for some objects in the picture. Draw the letters A, B, C and D onto the picture to label the correct objects.

  • Ais the gate
  • B is the roof of the school
  • C is the soccer field
  • D is the tree
An aeroplane flies over the same school. This picture shows you how the school looks from an aeroplane; the aeroplane is flying higher than the bird.

The school yard as seen by people in a low flying aeroplane.

Find the soccer field now. Label the soccer field on the picture.

Why is the soccer field much smaller than in the picture where the bird is flying over the school?

We are much higher now, so things look smaller.

Find the shop. It is across the road from the school. What do you see outside the shop?

Answer is cars. The learners have to make an inference that the other building is a shop.

The aeroplane now flies higher up into the sky. You can now see what the town looks like to people in the aeroplane flying very high. In the picture, label the river, a road and a cloud.

The town as seen by people in an aeroplane flying high overhead

The learners must make an inference that it is a river, road, cloud. It is not labelled. Making inferences from pictures and text is a process skill.

What we have seen in this activity is that as you go higher and higher up, the objects appear smaller and smaller. So, when photographs are taken from an aeroplane or helicopter, we get a better idea of the features of the Earth's surface and we can see more. If we go even higher up and up and up into space then we can't go in an aeroplane anymore. Then astronauts fly up in a spacecraft. In the picture below you see what South Africa looks like to people in a spacecraft high above South Africa.

This is what people in a spacecraft see when looking at South Africa from space.

Looking at the Earth from Space

Now look at the picture. An astronaut in a spacecraft took this photo.

Planet Earth: this is what it looks like from a spacecraft very far above the ground.


What shape is the Earth?

It is round like a ball. Ask them what else they have seen in the sky, that looks round. (Answer is the Moon)

Find Africa in the photo. Point to it with your finger.

What are the blue parts of the photograph?

The blue parts of the photograph are the oceans, also called the seas.

What are the white things in the photograph?


Where is Earth's air, in the photograph?

The air is like a thin skin all over the planet. You can see a blue-ish ring around the edge of the Earth.

Is there more sea or more dry land on the surface of the Earth? Look at the picture above and work out your answer.

There is more sea (or oceans) than dry land. The learners cannot see the other side of the Earth but you can tell them that there is about twice as much sea as dry land.

Continents and islands

A continent is one big piece of land on the Earth. A continent has many countries. Africa is a continent with more than 50 countries.

The Earth has seven continents, they are:

  1. Africa
  2. North America
  3. South America
  4. Asia
  5. Europe
  6. Australia
  7. Antarctica

Which continent do we live on?


Do you know what a globe is? A globe is a model that shows what the Earth looks like. The globe shows you the continents of the Earth, and the oceans. The blue parts of the globe are the oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. Sometimes it is hard to talk about different parts of the Earth without being able to see them, so we use a globe.

Aglobe is a model that shows you where the continents are.

For the following activity, only one globe is needed. Ask the learners to come up in groups to complete the exercise. If you cannot obtain a globe, then use a map. A globe is preferable for learners to be able to see the shape of the Earth.

Find the continents on a globe.


  • aglobe

The class only needs one globe.


  1. Find the continent of Africa on the globe. Show the edges of Africa with your finger.
  2. Show with your finger where South Africa is in Africa.
  3. Show where these countries are on the globe: Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana. These are our neighboring countries.
  4. The picture below is a flat map of all the continents. This is what the continents look like, if you take the paper cover off the globe and spread it out flat on a table. Find the continents on the globe and write their names onto this flat map.

An island is some land with water all around it. Madagascar and Mauritius are African countries that are islands.



  • an atlas or a globe
  • information on an island of your choice
  • pictures of this island
  • colouring pencils
  • scissors


  1. Look in your atlas or on your globe and find an island along the coast of South Africa.
  2. Bring information on that island to school.
  3. Your information must cover the following questions:
    1. What is the name of the island?
    2. On which coast of South Africa do we find this island?
    3. Which South African city or town is the closest to this island?
    4. In which ocean is this island situated?
    5. How big is the island?
    6. Do people live on this island? Why or why not?

    7. Why is this island important?

    8. Why is it an island and not a continent?
  4. Use the space provided to make an information brochure about the island.

What is the difference between a continent and an island?

A continent is a big piece of land made up of many countries. An island is a small piece of land surrounded by water. It is either part of a country or only one country.

The oceans and seas

Most of the Earth is covered by water, and you can see this on the map. When astronauts go into space, all the water on our planet makes it look mostly blue. This is why we call Earth the Blue Planet.

Find the oceans on the globe


  • aglobe


  1. Turn the globe around and find these oceans: the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean.
  2. Now write the names of those three oceans on the flat map of the world.


Is there more dry land or more water on the surface of the Earth?

There is much more water than dry land.

Many people use both the words 'ocean' and 'sea' when talking about the ocean. But, when we are talking about the Earth's surface, it is important to know that there is a difference between an ocean and a sea.

An ocean is a very large mass of water which covers a huge part of the Earth's surface. A sea is much smaller than an ocean and a sea is normally surrounded by land on some sides.

The Earth in Space

The Earth is a planet in space. From the Earth we can see the Sun, Moon and stars. Space begins about 100 km up from the Earth's surface. Space is a very strange and foreign place to us, which is why humans have been so interested in what goes on in Space for thousands of years. There is no air in space either.

I have lots of BIG questions about space! You probably do too!

Let's look more at Earth in relation to Space!

This is the first time that the concept of space is introduced and in terms of our place in space. NASA has a great website for resources for images and activities for learners. Also, all NASA images have been released into the Public Domain meaning they have no copyright and you are free to use them however you want. NASA's website is http://www.nasa.govand the website aimed at kids, where there are fun games and activities is

The Earth is shaped like a ball

We saw that Earth is shaped like a ball. Something that is shaped like a soccer ball is called a sphere. We see the shape of Earth when we go very high and get far away from it, for example an astronaut in a spaceship can see the shape of Earth when looking out the window of the spaceship and back at Earth.

If we look out of the classroom window, the Earth looks flat, not ball-shaped. Many people long ago believed that the Earth is flat, because it looks flat. It is so big that we can't see that it is curved.

Pretend you are an ant on a soccer ball. You are so small that the ball looks flat. You can't see the other side of the ball, and you can't see that it is a ball. Look at the picture of the ant on the soccer ball. All the ant can see is a flat surface. He does not even know he is on a round ball because it is so much bigger than he is!

This reminds us that in science we cannot go straight from an observation to a conclusion!

The ant on the ball sees a flat surface as it is so small compared to the ball.

This is the same as us on Earth. We are so small compared to the Earth that when we are standing on the surface, the Earth looks flat to us. We cannot see that the Earth is actually round unless we look at pictures of the Earth taken from space!

If I am standing in south Africa, which is near the bottom of the sphere, why don't I fall off the Earth's surface?!

Why don't we fall down off the Earth, if the Earth is a ball?

This can be a class discussion. It is an introduction to gravity. It can be left as an open-ended question which will be addressed in the next activity.

Which way is up and down on Earth?

This is an extension activity, though it deals with the very basic question, why don't we fall off the Earth?


  • the classroom globe
  • a pencil
  • a rubber


  1. Read this paragraph and answer the questions.

When a pencil falls off your table, it falls because the Earth and the pencil pull each other with the force of gravity. The force of gravity pulls everything towards the centre of the Earth. But remember that the Earth is shaped like a ball. The picture shows you which way the force of gravity pulls on things.

Jojo, Sophie and Tom are each standing straight up on the Earth.

  1. Look at the classroom globe again, and find South Africa and England on the globe.
  2. Now look at the picture; it shows Jojo standing in South Africa. When he drops the ball it falls towards his feet and he says that direction is the downwards direction.
  3. Now look at Sophie in England. When she drops an orange, it falls towards her feet and she says that is the downwards direction. So for both of them, the downwards direction is towards the centre of the Earth.


Find the Congo on the globe, and then look at the picture. Tom is standing in the Congo. Draw an arrow there to show the direction the ball will fall from Tom's hand.

The learners should draw an arrow that points towards the centre of the Earth. The ball will fall towards his feet, that is, towards the centre of the Earth. Some learners, however, will draw an arrow pointing towards the bottom of the page. Show them the globe and point inward to the middle of the globe from both sides. You are pointing in the direction of the force of gravity.

Down means "towards the centre of the Earth"! There is a force which pulls objects together. This is called gravity. We are pulled towards the centre of the Earth because of gravity.

  • The Earth is a planet. There are seven other planets moving around the Sun.
  • The features of the Earth are the land with mountains and valleys, the water in dams, lakes, rivers and seas, and the air all around the Earth.
  • Very big areas of land are called continents, and areas of land with water all around them are called islands.
  • Living things grow on the land and in the water. The Earth has many habitats for many different living things.
  • If we go up high above the Earth, everything looks different to the way it does when we are on the ground.

A person's nose and eyes and mouth are features of his or her face. Name four features of the Earth.

Land (mountains, hills, valleys), water (oceans, seas, rivers, lakes), air (clouds)

The Earth is shaped like a ball. People do not fall down off the ball. What is the reason for that?

The down direction is the direction that points to the centre of the Earth. Gravity pulls everyone towards the centre of the Earth.

List the 7 continents of the Earth.

Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Australia

Name an island near South Africa.

Madagascar, Robben Island, Dassen Island, Seal Island, Mauritius

Let the learners use whatever language they are most fluent in, and then teach the English words later. Their tables should then have both the mother-tongue and the English words in them.

If we look up into the sky during the day, we can see objects up there. At night, we can see different objects up there.

Complete the table. The first two answers are there already.

Things I can see in the day

Things I can see at night





aeroplanes and helicopters

aeroplanes with lights on


meteors, but only sometimes



Sometimes you can see the Moon in the daytime. Some children might doubt this; they think they can see the Moon only at night. You could let the class vote on on whether it's true or not. Then ask them to look carefully. The learner who sees the Moon in daytime can call the whole class outside to look!

planets (Most Gr. 4 children will not know about planets.) Venus is a planet but many people call it the evening star or the morning star.

Which of the things you wrote in the table are higher than other things? Write these things in order. Write the thing that is nearest the ground first, and write the one that is highest last. Grass grows on the ground, so you write 'grass' first.

You are teaching the learners the concept of sequence or ordering:

Grass, the Moon, roof of the school, a cloud, a star, the Sun, bird flying, aeroplane flying. Note: Some aeroplanes fly low and some birds can fly high, and so you might hear the learners debating the answer. The debate is good, because they realise that there is not always one right answer to a question.

Complete these sentences. Write out the whole sentence on the open lines, and use some of the words in the word-box to complete your sentence.

Word box:



Blue Planet

one part


  1. The planet Earth looks blue and white from space. It is called the _____ because it is covered with _____ and _____.

  2. A continent is a large piece of land. For example, Africa is a _____ and South Africa is just _____ of Africa.

Blue planet; water; clouds

Continent; one part

Learners need practice in writing long sentences.