Starry Messenger

Teachers' Guide


Peter Sís's picture book biography of Galileo offers readers not only the story of Galileo's life but also a study of courage and conviction, insight into the development of science, a look into history, and an extraordinary example of how art and text can combine to communicate information. The book can be read on many levels. In grades 4–6, teachers can find connections to history, science, art, literature, writing, and a catalyst for a wide variety of research projects. In the spirit of Galileo, the suggestions here are open-ended and encourage students to ask and then to answer their own questions.

Research Activities

In the opening pages of Starry Messenger Peter Sís shows the names of several men on a time line: Eudoxus, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Aristarchus, Archimedes, and Copernicus. Discuss with your students what sources they would use to find out more about these men. They could include nonfiction books about these men, astronomy, and the ancient world; the encyclopedia; the Internet; etc. Develop the idea that since nonfiction books do not have to be read from cover to cover or necessarily in the order that the chapters are written, they should consider any book that they think might have some useful information. Talk about what questions your students would want to answer.

For example: Were these men scientists or philosophers? What discoveries did they make? What is their connection to Galileo? Ask your students to write down any information they find fascinating. Your children can write reports, give oral and visual presentations, or present their research in the same manner Peter Sís uses in Starry Messenger. Have them write a basic story about their subject, illustrate it, and then fill the margins with the interesting information they gathered in their research.

Language Arts:

  • Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics
  • Makes oral and visual presentations to the class
  • Writes in response to literature


  • Knows how to interpret data presented in time lines
  • Understands that specific individuals had a great impact on history
  • Understands that specific ideas had an impact on history

Visual Arts:

  • Uses visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas

Use Starry Messenger as the center of an exploration of the research process for your students. Encourage them to discover their own research methods and styles and to present their findings in a variety of formats. This project will be more about process than product. For example, a research project on the history of baseball cards may begin at a local card shop, or with a call to one of the manufacturers of baseball cards, or by searching the Internet for useful Web sites. (One of the best ways to search the Internet is through the Refdesk Web site

What do your students wonder about? Have them keep a journal (wonder book) of the things they would like to know more about. When they need to do a research report, they will have a ready-made list of things they are interested in to choose from.

Ask your students to select a subject from their wonder book that they are curious about. They should then dig into their subject without specific questions or goals in mind. Each bit of information they learn should lead them to more questions, more research.

Guide your students toward a variety of research sources, including the library for books, magazines, encyclopedias, and other media; museums; the Internet; experts in the field.

As they read widely in their subject, have them keep a research notebook in which they not only compile the information they are gathering but also keep their growing list of questions, thoughts, responses.

Give them time to practice information-gathering skills such as careful reading of nonfiction; using illustrations to help make sense of facts; connecting what they learn to their own prior knowledge. Remind them to test their understanding by discussing their findings with fellow students, parents, and you. Starry Messenger offers them plenty of opportunities to exercise these skills.

As students feel ready to share what they've learned, have each find his or her own format for reporting. These can include oral reports; oral reports supported with visuals (slides, pictures, handouts); fiction writing that incorporates the information; written reports; visual presentations (posters, graphs, dioramas).

Whatever format they select, be sure they also chronicle their research methods and the sources they used. What worked best for them? What was frustrating? When did they know they were ready to begin their presentation?

Keep a classroom book, chart, or computer file of the various methods your students tried.

Language Arts:

  • Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics
  • Gathers data for research topics from interviews
  • Writes research reports
  • Uses prior knowledge and experience to understand and respond to new information
  • Evaluates own and others' writing
  • Organizes ideas for oral presentations

Visual Arts:

  • Understands what makes various organizational structures and functions effective in the communication of ideas

Social Studies Activities

Do your students know that in the same year that Galileo was writing The Starry Messenger, the British were settling the Jamestown Colony, or that when Galileo was giving lectures on comets, the first African slaves were brought to Virginia? Put Galileo in the context of what was happening in other countries of the world at the same time. Using events noted in the book and from other sources, create a time line. Place the life of Galileo above the line and events that occurred around the world below it.

For example:

Two great Web sites you can use are The Galileo Timeline: and Timeline of the Scientific Revolution:


  • Knows how to construct and interpret data in time lines
  • Knows how to construct and interpret multiple-tier time lines

Language Arts:

  • Uses electronic media to gather information

In the year of Galileo's birth, 1564, Italy was not like it is today. It was a compilation of city-states. Using information provided in Starry Messenger and other sources, discuss the meaning of the city-state. Where was Pisa located? On a large outline map, locate and label each city-state. Make a chart that shows the city-state, the type of government it had, and what each called its ruler. For example:

City-State Government Ruler
Venice Republic Doge
Milan Duchy (monarchy) Grand Duke

Compare these systems to present-day governments. How is our country ruled? Are there countries that are still ruled as monarchies? How do these systems affect the lives of the people?


  • Knows how to view the past in terms of the norms and values of the present


  • Understands the characteristics and uses of maps

Science Activity

Galileo looked through his telescope and wrote down everything he observed. Encourage your students to be good observers. Remind them that you observe the world with all of your senses. Open the classroom door and a window in the room. Have the class sit quietly for a few minutes and then write down and describe all of the things they observe (hear, see, smell, feel, and taste). Make a chart and compare the results. Did they use all of their senses? Which sense did they use most? They should decide if they were good observers.


  • Understands the nature of scientific inquiry
  • Knows that a scientist uses observations and collects data
  • Knows that different people may interpret the same set of observations differently
  • Keeps a written record or journal of all observations

Art Activity

Peter Sís quotes a line from William Shakespeare on the page announcing the birth of Galileo: "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Have your students look carefully at the picture of all the babies sharing a nursery with Galileo. It is easy to pick him out – perhaps Peter Sís is telling us that Galileo is one who was born great. The students should look carefully at the blankets in which the babies are wrapped. Each one's future profession is pictured. Have your students identify as many of the professions as they can. They can speculate and discuss which babies will achieve greatness in those professions and which might have greatness thrust upon them. Then ask the children to draw their self-portraits as babies or bring in their own baby photographs. Each picture should include a caption indicating what the baby's future profession may be. Then put all the photos/drawings together to form your own class nursery picture.

Language Arts:

  • Writes and creates visual art in response to literature

Visual Arts:

  • Knows how subject matter is used to communicate ideas

Cooperative Learning Activity

Galileo was a man of principle. He chose to be under house arrest for the rest of his life rather than deny his belief in the Copernican system that the earth revolved around the sun and the earth was not the center of the universe. Have the class pretend that Galileo time-warped from the past into their classroom. They will have an exclusive interview with him before he goes back in time. What questions would they ask him? Divide the class into small groups. Have the children brainstorm and formulate questions and answers based on what they have read. Have each group write a script and perform a mock interview of Galileo in the manner of "Meet the Press."

Cooperative Learning:

  • Contributes to the overall effort of a group

Language Arts:

  • Contributes and plays a variety of roles in group discussions    

Theater Arts:

  • Creates scripted scenes based on literature and history
  • Interacts as an invented character in improvised and scripted scenes

Copyright © 2002-2004 Peter Sís
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