Earth Science Lesson Plans

Need earth science links for
your students? Visit the

Lessons
Snicker's Science
Playdoh Mountains
(Student worksheet provided)
Ride the Rock Cycle
Mighty Minerals
(Student worksheets provided)
Sand Hunt (Student worksheet provided)
Simply Sediments (Student worksheet provided)
Rock and Roll - Building Earthquake Proof Homes
Plate Tectonics - Pick-A-Project
(Student worksheet provided)
Weather Lessons
(Student worksheets provided)

 

Don't miss ..."Digging Into Science - An exploration of paleontology" - Visit this area for details on creating a "dinosaur dig" for your students and an assortment of lesson to explore the world of dinosaurs and fossils!

Visit my ISM Geology Online page for more lessons about rocks and minerals, such as GeoHunt, Sediment Sleuths, and Project Geode!

Join the Middle School Earth Science E-group! Visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Earth_Science for more details!

Internet Lessons
Earth Energy Resources (pdf) or Fossil Fuels (pdf) - Challenge your students to explore energy topics on the web with these scavenger hunts contributed by Stacy Baker.

Earthquakes & Volcanoes on the Web (pdf) - Explore the world of earthquakes and volcanoes using the sites listed on the Kid Zone.

Mining The Web (pdf) - Students "mine" a few of my favorite geology web sites for information related to rocks and the rock cycle.

Mineral Mania (pdf) - Take your students on a journey through the mineral world! As they explore some of the best mineral sites on the web, they will discover the variety of minerals in the world around them. Also try the Mighty Mineral project described below!

Plate Tectonics Scavenger Hunt (pdf) - Explore plate tectonics using the sites listed on the Kid Zone.

Volcano Treasure Hunt (pdf) - Explore famous volcanoes using this lesson from Stacy Baker. Utilize the Google search option located at the bottom of the homepage to help your students find the info they need.

Sites for the Internet lessons are available on Earth Science Pages of the Kid Zone.

Note For Teachers: Please take time to preview the links on any Internet assignment before you use it with your students. With the ever-changing nature of the Internet, links may be become broken or websites are no longer available. If you find a problem, please send me an e-mail.

Also available ... Lesson Plan Links for Earth Science
Links to my favorite online resources for lesson plans, activities, and worksheets.

Need Adobe Acrobat to view the worksheets on this site? Visit the Adobe site for details!

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Snicker's Science (T.(Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Illinois Learning Standard: 12.E.3a

An easy and tasty way to illustrate plate tectonics is using candy bars, such as Snickers or Milky Way. Have students wash their hands before starting this activity! They should use a fingernail to make a few breaks in the "crust" or top of the candy bar. To illustrate tension (associated with normal faults) have them gently pull on the edges of the candy bar. They will notice that the "plates" move apart to reveal the caramel/nuts or "asthenosphere". To illustrate the force of shearing (associated with lateral fault) have the students push the plates back together, then slide one half of the candy bar forward and the other backwards. To illustrate the force of compression (associated with reverse and thrust faults) have the students push on both ends of the candy bar to squeeze it together. They should notice the plates colliding and possible see one slide over the top of another. This simple activity is a great discussion starter for any lesson on plate tectonics!

Worksheets:  Candy Bar TectonicsAnswer Key

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Playdoh Mountains (T.(Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Illinois Learning Standard: 12.E. 3a

Students develop an understanding for contour lines and contour intervals as they build their own topographic map. This quick activity, which consists of two sections, can be done in one class period. The first section involves building and mapping a mountain. During the second session, groups try to recreate another groups mountain using only the topographic map as a guide.

Students should be allowed 5 to 10 minutes to build a mountain using 1 container of Playdoh. They can be as creative as they like; however, the more complex the design, the tougher the map. As soon as they are done building, begin the mapping process. To cut each section, use the thread to “wrap” around the area making a clean cut. After cutting each section with the thread, lay it on paper and trace around the perimeter. Continue cutting and mapping until the mountain is done. After each group is done, stack the pieces and hide the mountains in a secret place! Have the groups trade maps. Using the second container of Playdoh, students should try to recreate the original mountain using only the topographic map. My students have some difficulty getting started, but loved the challenge. As an assessment, compare the original to the copy. Have the students evaluate their mountain building and map making skills.

Materials: Playdoh (2 containers per group), thread (50 cm long), paper, and a little imagination

This activity is a wonderful introduction to topographic maps. After completing this activity, my students had fun trying to read topographic maps of our area. I found maps at the courthouse and had a few donated by local developers.

Student Worksheet: Playdoh Mountains (pdf)

• Check out the USGS website on topographic maps for more great ideas as well as a list of symbols used on topographic maps. This website provides teacher tips and information for topographic maps.
• Also visit TerraServer for topographic and aerial maps of your area!

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Ride The Rock Cycle (T.(Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Illinois Learning Standards: 12.E.3a, 12.E.3b

Take your students on a journey through the rock cycle with this fun lesson. After my students have been introduced to the rock cycle, I challenge them to create a story about Roger, a metamorphic rock. Students must describe at least three transitions that occurred during Roger's life, such as changing from metamorphic to igneous, igneous to sedimentary, and sedimentary to igneous. Students have the option of writing a diary, creating a cartoon, or making a children's book. My students have a great time using their creativity and I enjoy a little of their humorous insights into Roger's life.

Also available .... Ride the Rock Cycle activity (created by Stacy Baker, Pleasant Hill School, Peoria, IL)
For this activity students roll a die and travel through different stations to learn about the rock cycle. After their journey, they use the information from the "trip" to create a comic strip.

Student Worksheets: Rock Cycle Worksheet (pdf) and Rock Cycle Dice (pdf)

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 Mighty Minerals (T.(Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Illinois Learning Standards: 12.E.3a, 12.E.3b

For this project, students research a mineral using printed or electronic resources to complete a mineral information report and create a Mighty Mineral cartoon. Their cartoons should illustrate important uses for the minerals in a "superhero" format, such as Mighty Fluority or Iron Man. Complete project details and Worksheets are provided in the pdf download.

Student Worksheets: Mighty Minerals (pdf)
Also available ... List of Common Minerals (pdf) for projects
I make copies of the list and cut them apart for the "adoption" process. Students draw one mineral and I use a master page to keep track of the minerals.

NOTE: I use this project after students have had a chance to explore the uses of minerals (see Mineral Mania (pdf)) and understand basic identification techniques.

Also see Silly Science - a dichotomous key activity in General Science section that I before with my mineral ID lab!

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Sand Hunt (T.(Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Illinois Learning Standards: 12.E.3a, 12.E.3b

I developed this lesson to use with the sixth grade students at Havana Junior High. During the lesson students learn the basics of identification and gain insights into the classification of rocks and minerals. The knowledge they gain during this activity provides a foundation from which to build in my 7th grade science class.

Materials needed:
Bags of sand (I use the sand found in sand tubes used for weight during the winter months.)
Magnifying glasses
Toothpicks
Small magnets
Egg cartons
Samples of rocks on Sand Hunt worksheet
Glue
Optional: Vinegar

Procedure:
Students should have a basic understanding of the rock cycle and weathering before attempting this lab activity. Distribute the materials to each team (2 - 4 students). Instruct them to sort their sand into groups based on color, luster, shape, etc. I usually allow several short periods over 2 - 3 days for sorting. After the students have sorted their sand into groups, challenge them to identify their finds by comparing them to the sample rocks provided as well as the descriptions provided on the worksheet. Once they have identified the groups, provide glue to adhere the samples to the Sand Hunt worksheet. They should also glue a "pile" of sand in the middle of the page.

Student Worksheet: Sand Hunt (pdf)

 

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Simply Sediments (T.(Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Illinois Learning Standards: 12.E.3a, 12.E.3b

During a unit on sedimentary rock, my students create sediment bottles. Students use the sediment bottles to explore the "birth" of sedimentary rocks and relate their observations to the local rivers and streams.

Students bring in clear plastic bottles (16-20 oz soda or water bottles) and samples of pebbles, sand, clay, and soil. The samples are added to the bottles along with some water and materials (leaves, twigs, small shells, etc.) I allow the students to choose their own mixture ratio, but caution them not to fill the bottle more than halfway with sediments.

I allow 10-15 minutes of "explore time" during which the students make a list of all the different things they observe as they move the bottle. After the explore time is up, we discuss the observations and attempt to relate them to the process of sedimentary rock formation. Throughout the next few weeks, students record their observations of the sediments in the bottles.

Student Worksheet: Simply Sediments (pdf)

Additional thoughts ...
• Next year I plan to add another twist to this project. After the first two weeks of observations, I will remove the caps from the bottles and allow the water to evaporate. Once the sediments are dried, students will cut away the plastic bottle and excavate the compacted sediments to search for "fossils" and get an inside view of the process. I plan to have the students will add two tablespoons of Epsom salt to the mixture during the building process to help the sediments cement together.
• Mark York, from Gallatin County Unit 7 School, creates large sediment bottles using 2-liter plastic soda bottles, water, and marble chips. He keeps one bottle as a control (no shaking allowed) and provides another bottle for the kids to shake. After a few weeks of shaking, the students compare the rocks in the control bottle to the other one and share their observations. Over time the students notice that the marble chips become smaller with smoother edges. A neat extension would be to allow students to create their own shake bottles with different types or sizes of rock - sandstone, granite, etc. - and allow them to compare their observations of the new materials with the those of the marble chips.

 

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Rock & Roll - Earthquake Proof Homes (Submitted by T.Cooper, Eureka Middle School, Eureka, IL)
Illinois Learning Standards: 11.B.3a, 11.B.3b, 11.B.3c, 11.B.3d, 11.B.3e, 12.E.3a

Mrs. Cooper provides a box of building materials (cards, paperclips, wooden craft sticks, tape, etc.) and a piece of land (the bottom portion of a cardboard box.) She instructs the students to build a "house" using the materials provided without a warning about the earthquake that will happen later. Students may build any design they want, but the house must stay within the boundaries of the "land". Once building is completed, she lightly shakes the cardboard base to simulate a small earthquake. Students analyze their structure and detail any damage they observe. She then offers them a chance to "reinforce" the building to minimize damage during another quake. Once completed, another quake (a bit stronger than the first) occurs with a bit of help from her. At the end of class, the students compare their buildings and analyze features that should be included in earthquake proof buildings.

Note from the webmaster: You might want to provide cruise time for students to explore this topic on the web and challenge them to identify other features that should be considered in earthquake risk areas.

 Try these for more ideas  ... TeachEngineering.org - Earthquake in the Classroom, NOVA Earthquakes, and Seimic Sleuths (FEMA)

  The Wave Excercise - Try this activity to explore wave motion and related concepts with this human version of the "wave".  (Submitted by Marc Bonem, Santa Fe, NM, 2011)

 

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Plate Tectonics Pick-A-Project (submitted by Lisa Berry-Koeppen, Rogers Jr High)
Download the Plate Tectonics Assignments (pdf) worksheet for various ideas that you can let children choose from to show their talents and understandings of specific ideas/concepts. The sample provides ideas for plate tectonics but it is easy to change and personalize. Provide students with simple rubrics for each project and have them self evaluate as well as evaluate in a group of 3. Mrs. Koeppen adds, "The first set of projects I received were so-so but from then on they were spectacular. I hope you find it to be the same. Enjoy the creativity of your students."

 

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Weather Lessons
NOTE: I no longer teach a weather unit, but here are a few of my favorite lessons and Worksheets from my "weather days."

Sunlight & Soil (T. (Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
This lab is used during a 6th grade unit on weather. During the lab students collect data on soil temperature, air temperature, length of daylight, and cloud cover. They are challenged to use their data to answer a few questions and create graphs showing their results.
Student Worksheet - Sun & Soil (pdf)

Daily Weather Log (T. (Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Student construct their own weather log and weather equipment to use for measuring temperature, wind speed/direction, air pressure, humidity, and precipitation. After recording several measurements, students have the chance to compare their results with classmates. This leads into a great discussion on taking accurate measurements and the reliability of their equipment. Students can take the project further by creating weather graphs to share their data and forecasting the weather based on their observations.
Student Worksheet - Weather Log (pdf)

Weather Map Challenge (T. (Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
This assignment challenges students to use a weather page from a national newspaper to answer weather related questions. They are also given a chance to create a few questions of their own. A great activity to use throughout the year and keep in a journal to see the changes that occur throughout the year! Let your students make up Worksheets and trade them with their classmates!
Student Worksheet - Weather Map Challenge (pdf)

Pick Your Project (T. (Trimpe) Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
For this assignment, students choose the projects they would like to complete, such as a weather crossword, storm safety poster, weather experiments, and more. See the student worksheet for a complete listing. Each project is worth a specific number of points and they are required to choose projects worth at least a total of 20 points, such as two 2-point projects, one 6-point project, and a ten point project.
Student Worksheet - Pick Your Project (pdf)

Other Lessons/Worksheets -

Weather Folklore (pdf) and Weather Poems (pdf) - Challenge your students to identify weather sayings from the good old days.

Storm Puzzle (pdf) - A fill-in-the-blank puzzle with storm terms.

Snowflake Webquest (pdf) - Thanks to Helen Cleveland for sharing her webquest investigating snowflakes.

Weather Scavenger Hunt - UPDATED 11/2013 - Explore basic topics in weather with this online scavenger hunt using the sites listed on my weather links page of the Kid Zone.

 

Need more ideas? Visit my Lesson Plan Links page!

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Activities, lessons, & worksheets available on any page of this web site are intended for use by a single teacher in his/her classroom or to share at educational conferences. Reproduction for commercial use or profit is not permitted without the express written consent of Mrs. Tracy (Trimpe) Tomm. Visit my Frequently Asked Questions page for more details!

 

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Lesson Plan Pages

Astronomy
Biology
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General Science
Forensic Science
Ecology
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Other Units:
Eagle Days
GPS Lessons
Adopt-An-Insect
Digging Into Science
Metric Mania