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Beyond the Moon: Space projects for the language class

April 07, 2020 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

In this post on space travel we boldly go where no language class has gone before: to the outer regions of our solar system!

Paul learns to plan pages 22-23
Double page illustration from Paul learns to plan (The Thinking Train Series) written by Herbert Puchta and Gavin Biggs. Illustrated by Vanessa Lovegrove. © Helbling Languages

We recommend the following projects as starting points for both individual and group work or as the basis for whole in-class lessons.

Most questions and project plans here are best for students over 12 years.

1 The language of space

Brainstorm space-related words and phrases. When you come up with a list similar to the following, define the words and phrases. Try to get the students to use them in context (point out that most of the words may already be familiar to them in non space-related contexts).

  • universe – cosmos
  • dark matter
  • black hole
  • galaxy – Milky Way
  • cluster – constellation
  • nebula
  • solar system
  • cosmic dust
  • dwarf – giant
    • dwarf planet
    • white dwarf
    • gas giant
    • red giant
  • meteor – falling star – shooting star
  • meteorite
  • supernova
  • comet
  • planet – exoplanet
  • moon
  • star

Great resource: NASA Explore Solar System & Beyond

  • This website will tell you all you want to know about space.
  • NASA also has an app with lots of information, images, videos and animations.

Tip for teachers! The NASA pages usually have a ‘kid-friendly’ description of the theme. These texts are written in simple English and are often an ideal solution for language learners. Check out this learning page about the Sun for more.

2 CLIL projects to explore the Cosmos

2.1 History

If some of your students are more into Arts than Science, they can talk about the history of astronomy.

Some topics to get your students thinking.

  1. The first telescope
  2. The speed of light
  3. Round Earth/flat Earth?
  4. Isaac Newton
  5. Earth orbits Sun/Sun orbits Earth?
  6. Venus: planet or star?
  7. Discovery of Pluto
  8. Early space travel
  9. Moon landings (from the first to the latest)
  10. The Space Race
  11. The far side of the moon
  12. Mars

2.2 Culture

Our relationship with the Cosmos is also present in our greatest pieces of literature and in different mythologies.

Project 1: Different perspectives

If you have more advanced students, you can direct them to a project which compares ancient Chinese and Greek astronomy.

Project 2: Navigation

Celestial objects have helped different travellers for centuries.

  • How do travellers find their way during the day and at night?
  • How do pilots and sailors find their way around without navigational systems?

Project 3: Constellations

  • Where did most of the constellations get their names from?

Project 4: Architecture and Archaeoastronomy

Many ancient sites were built with astronomical alignments and knowledge of the constellations in mind. Find out more about the following sites and their relationship with astronomy.

  • Stonehenge (England)
  • Newgrange (Ireland)
  • The pyramids of Giza (Egypt)
  • Uxmal (Mexico)
  • The Pantheon (Italy)

2.3 Literature: top 10 books set in space

A lot of exciting stories (which then were also turned into films and comics) are set in space. We have selected our top 10 books to get your students into the Cosmos.

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  2. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
  3. 2001: a Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  4. Star Wars Trilogy by George Lucas
  5. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
  6. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  7. Dune by Frank Herbert
  8. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  9. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir

2.4 Science

Students who are more interested in Science can answer the following questions in short presentations, leaflets or posters.

Project 1: Meteors

What are falling (or shooting) stars?

Project 2: Instruments

  • Alidade, astrarium, astrolabe: what are these three objects?
  • Where is Newton’s original reflecting telescope?
  • Where is the largest optical telescope on Earth?
  • Where can you find radio telescopes on Earth?
  • What is the name of the telescope in space?

Project 3: Time

  • Why is a day divided into 24 hours?
  • Why are most months 30 or 31 days long?
  • When are there 5 Sundays in February?

Project 4: Space junk

Pollution is not only a dangerous and serious issue on Earth, but it is also a problem in space. What is space junk? Why and how can it become dangerous?

In our course, For Real Plus pre-intermediate, we have a full lesson dedicated to space junk. Check it out on pages 114-115.

For Real Plus Space 1
Reading task about space junk in For Real Plus pre-intermediate. © Helbling Languages


Project 5: Life in space

There are always some humans out in space. Where do they live? How do they live? What difficulties do astronauts have to face? How do they train? There are several questions to ask and answer when we think about life in zero gravity.

Ask your students to find out about the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). They can also follow the space station in the sky. These astronauts are also on social media, and they share interesting information about their lives.

Tip: Get your students to write questions for astronauts. Then, tell them to go and find the answers on the Internet!

In our course, For Real Plus pre-intermediate, a lesson is dedicated to the solar system and life in space. Check it out on pages 104-105.

For Real Plus Space 2
Reading task about space junk in For Real Plus pre-intermediate. © Helbling Languages


3 Documentaries to learn more

Watch these documentaries to learn more about the universe.

4 Films set in space

Here are some serious films, some classics, some scary ones and some comedies – all set in space!

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – directed by Stanley Kubrick
  • The Martian (2015) – directed by Ridley Scott
  • Interstellar (2014) – directed by Christopher Nolan
  • Gravity (2013) – directed by Alfonso Cuarón
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) – directed by Garth Jennings
  • Alien (1979) – directed by Ridley Scott
  • District 9 (2009) – directed by Neill Blomkamp
  • E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) – directed Steven Spielberg
  • WALL-E (2008) – directed by Andrew Stanton
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – James Gunn
  • Spaceballs (1987) – directed by Mel Brooks

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