Earth Science Lesson Plans


Classroom Lessons

Earth Watch Project
Piecing Together The Past 
Inside Planet Earth
Rock Detectives

Ride the Rock Cycle
Mighty Minerals

Sand Hunt
Simply Sediments
Rock and Roll - Building Earthquake Proof Homes
Plate Tectonics - Pick-A-Project

Playdoh Mountains

Weather Lessons

Also check out ...
Lesson Plan Links for Earth Science - Links to my favorite online resources for lesson plans, activities, and worksheets.
"
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!

Internet Lessons

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 let me know using the Contact Form.

Note: Sites for the Internet lessons are available on Earth Science page of the Kid Zone.

 

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Classroom Lessons

Earth Watch Project (T. Tomm, Havana Junior High School, Havana, IL)
Targeted Concepts:  Science investigations, data collection, data analysis, natural disasters (including earthquakes, volcanoes, weather-related), earth science careers/branchesDuring this project, students work in teams representing the different branches of earth science to monitor events that occur on earth.  Each team sets the criteria needed for events to be considered significant and works to collect data to report to the class.  During the reporting phase, I challenged them to predict the location, time, and details for the upcoming events. This activity is often referred to throughout the Earth Science unit and allows students to explore related concepts in more details as well as apply what they know to predict or explain future occurences.


Project Materials: 
Earth Watch Teacher Information/Worksheets and Earth Watch Introduction PPT

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Piecing Together the Past - Geologic Time Scale (T. Tomm, Havana Junior High School, Havana, IL)
Targeted concepts:  Earth's history, geologic time scale, time division, evolution of life

I developed this unit to target the earth's history standards in NGSS, which was also the unit I used for my teacher evaluation this past year.  The unit is centered around a geologic time scale I created in the hallway outside my room.  I added labels for the major time divisions and then took the students on a "field trip" back in time to place event cards (stapled to ziploc bags with related items inside) in the correct locations. The students replicated the activity in their ISNs using the "puzzle pieces".  Overall it was a great intro to the history of earth and gave us a lot of experiences to build on later in the Earth Science unit.

Project Resources: 

  • Lesson Overview - Lots of details about all three parts of this unit; includes background, standards, assessments, and all those things our admin likes to have included.  Also check out the Student Work Samples document that goes along with the overview.

  • Lesson Presentation - I use this for the class activity to guide the students through the unit.

  • Geologic Time Scale - This download includes all the labels for the "rope" I put up in the hallway.

  • Puzzle Page - The first worksheet students use to create their own geologic time scale.

  • Event Cards - Smaller versions of the same cards used in the class activity, but used to add to their ISNs.

 

Inside Planet Earth (T. Tomm, Havana Junior High School, Havana, IL)
Targeted concepts:  Plate tectonics, earth's structure, processes on earth, rock cycle, pangaea, plate boundaries, earthquakes, landforms/features, rocks, minerals, identification

I developed this mini-unit to use at the beginning of our Earth Science unit.  It goes along with the Inside Planet Earth video (available on YouTube or on DVD through Amazon).  Many of the activities I incorported were ones I had done previously as part of a larger unit, but they worked well with this video. 

Activity Resources:                                                    NOTE:  These activities may be used on their own if needed.

  • Inside Planet Earth - Notes & Activity Guides
    This download includes the PowerPoint key for the unit worksheets along with the presentations for each of the activities listed below. Several of the activities have been modified from those I have used in the past.   I have incorporated activities at each "break" between specific sections.
  • Activity A:  Puzzling Pangaea
  • Activity B: Earth's Structure
    • This activity on slides  21-25 was designed using the Layers of the Earth video at http://ed.ted.com/on/ew7l7FKI.
    • The activity worksheet includes notes for the students to fill out before coming up with their own models of the earth.
    • The video from TedED highlights the main sections of Earth and the characteristics of each, which connects back to the Inside Planet Earth video either to sections already viewed or later sections they will watch later.

  • Bonus Activity: Tasty Tectonics (previously called Candy Bar Tectonics)
    • Slides 26-36 walks students through the activity that uses a candy bar (Milky Way) to illustrate plate tectonics and related forces that act on Earth's plates. The follow-up activity challenges students to develop their own "edible" models.
    • They should use a fingernail to make a few breaks in the "crust" or top of the candy bar. Students apply different forces on the candy bar to simulate plate boundaries. This simple activity is a great discussion starter for any lesson on plate tectonics!
    • CAUTION: Do not use this lab with students who have allergies to peanuts or other food products.
  • Activity C:  Ride the Rock Cycle
    • Slides 45-49  provides the notes for the online activity sheet.  Students visits sites onthe Earth Science page of the Kid Zone to complete both sides of the worksheet.
    • NOTE: Try using the "Ride the Rock Cycle" project listed below as follow-up activity challenges them to create their own stories - many of which will be quite entertaining!
  • Activity D:  Rock Box Challenge
    • Slides 55-69 relate to this activity utilizing a "tub" or box of rocks that I set up at each table group in my room. 
    • The tubs were made up of rocks and minerals I have collected over the years either from old classroom sets, donations, or my own finds.  Not all the tubs were the same, but many had the ones listed on the worksheet.
    • I also set out my "fancy" samples from my classroom collection, which are organized into four groups:  minerals, igneous rocks, sedimentary rocks, and metamorphic rocks.  I placed each group in its own area. The students were able to move around the room as they worked on identifying and classifying the samples in their rock boxes.
    • NOTE:  The Mineral ID Challenge can also be used (look in the Mighty Mineral section below).  Students visit 6 stations to learn about the tests used to identify minerals.  The download includes teacher information, student worksheet, and station signs.  A powerpoint is also available!  Links to online tutorials are available on the Earth Science page of the Kid Zone.

 

Rock Detectives (T. Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Targeted Concepts: Stratigraphy laws, earth processes, types of rocks & the process that form them (weathering/erosion, plate tectonics, deposition/sedimentation, etc.)

I used this project at the I start of our Earth Science unit to target NGSS related to the laws of stratigraphy, earth processes, and earth's history. The students were given images of rock formations to paste in their ISNs.  I printed color copies of the rock images and cut them apart.  I distributed them to the students and instructed them to get together with their "rock" buddies.  After recording their first observations and inferences about the rock formation(s) in the images, students were able to use online resources to learn about their "rock" to help them develop presentations to share with their classmates.  

Project ResourcesRock Detective Class Presentation, Rock Images, Straitgraphy Review, Project Guidelines & Grade Sheets, Teacher Notes (outline for grading procedure)

 

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Ride The Rock Cycle (T.Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL) -
Targeted Concepts: Stratigraphy laws, rock cycle, earth processes, types of rocks & the process that form them (weathering/erosion, plate tectonics, deposition/sedimentation, etc.)

I used this activity at the start of our Earth Science unit to target NGSS related to the laws of stratigraphy, earth processes, and earth's history. The students were given pictures to paste in their ISNs

Project Pages:  Ride the Rock Cycle (pdf) (online activity), Rock Cycle Project (includes teacher grading sheet), Peer Grading Sheet

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. Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Targeted Concepts: Minerals, common uses, mineral properties and classification

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.

Other lessons to try ...

  • Mineral ID Challenge - Students visit 6 stations to learn about the tests used to identify minerals.  The download includes teacher information, student worksheet, and station signs.  A powerpoint is also available!  Links to online tutorials are available on the Earth Science page of the Kid Zone.
  • Silly Science - a dichotomous key activity in General Science section that I before with my mineral ID lab!
  • GeoHunt - Students gain an understanding of the role of rocks, minerals, and fossil fuels in providing the materials we find in our homes, schools, and communities through a game and scavenger hunt for items made from geological resources.
    Lesson Resources: GeoHunt_Lesson Plan.doc, GeoHunt_Cards.pdf, & GeoHunt_Tags.pdf
  • Project Geode - Students will collect data about the physical characteristics of a geode and determine a method for predicting the internal structure. Lesson Resources: ProjectGeode_Lesson Plan.doc and ProjectGeode_DCard.pdf
  •  

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Sand Hunt (T. Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Targeted Concepts: Minerals, rocks, mineral properties and classification, rock cycle

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, and 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. Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Targeted Concepts: Sedimentation, deposition, stratigraphy,rock cycle (formation of sediments)

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)
Targeted Concepts: Earthquakes, seismic waves/forces, engineering design

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)
Targeted Concepts: Plate tectonics and related concepts depending on the project selected

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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Playdoh Mountains (T. Tomm, Havana Junior High, Havana, IL)
Targeted Concepts:Topographic maps, map reading, landforms/features

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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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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

 

 Be sure to visit http://middleschoolscience.com/ for a wealth of resources!

Check out "wearable" science projects at ScienceWear.net!

 

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

 

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The Science Spot was developed in March 1999 by Tracy Tomm
Science Teacher @ Havana Junior High, Havana, IL

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