Utilization Strategies

Lesson Plans

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by Karen Byers


TIME ALLOTMENT: 2 one hour lessons, 1 guest speaker (½ hour), 1 field trip

SUBJECT MATTER: Geology; rock types, the rock cycle

Rocks are almost everywhere and children are curious about them. Most of the time rocks aren’t noticed. Once you become aware of it, you’ll observe that a house can be built of stone, a driveway may be covered with gravel, and parks may have stone benches or statues. We use rocks for many things, but where do they come from? Rocks form naturally without the help of people. It is truly incredible how this occurs. The earth is active. Volcanoes are erupting, mountains are being pushed up and being ground down, rivers are carrying sand and mud and then depositing them on the bottom, earthquakes are shaking the earth, huge slabs of the earth’s surface are moving about as fast as your fingernails grow, and rocks are being made, changed and destroyed in many ways. This lesson is an important one to include in any unit about rocks and minerals, earthquakes, volcanoes or soil. Sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks will be defined and identified as a part of the rock cycle. The rock cycle will be introduced, investigated, and understood as a means for understanding how rocks are made, changed, destroyed and recreated. Various segments of Eyewitness Mountains #310 will show images of these rocks and some of the processes that form them. Through several hand-on activities students will create representations of these processes.


Students will be able to:

  • Understand that rocks are constantly made, changed, destroyed and made again.
  • Define the rock cycle. Identify sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks.
  • Explain the processes that form sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks.
  • Perform several activities that clarify the processes that make sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks.
  • Understand how sediments are formed through weathering and erosion.
  • Understand and integrate this information into the rock cycle model.
  • Explore a geologic career through a guest speaker.


From the National Science Education Standards, Content Standards K-4:

Content Standard A, Science as Inquiry As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

Content Standard B, Physical Science As a result of the activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of:

  • Properties of objects and materials Position and motion of objects

Content Standard D, Earth and Space Science As a result of their activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of:

  • Properties of earth materials Changes in earth and sky

Content Standard G, History and Nature of Science As a result of their activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of:

  • Science as human endeavor


Eyewitness: Mountains #310

The Complete Book of Rocks and Minerals by Chris Pellant Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor

Native American Tales, “How Rocks were Made” or “The Old Man and the Rock” (there are many versions)

Iktomi and the Boulder by Paul Gobel


A geologic Glossary from US Geological Survey http://www2.nature.nps.gov/

A great classroom project about rocks and minerals created by students at John Ward Elementary School in Newton, MA

This site from Volcano World takes you through a slide show about rocks and minerals. It contains good photos of rock samples.

This is the website for The Canadian Rockhound Geological Magazine, otherwise known as “Junior Rockhound Magazine, with clear explanations of the common terms of geology. It includes a concise diagram of the rock cycle.

This Planet Really Rocks" is a Thinkquest Junior website created by a team of fifth and sixth grade students. This website contains information about the origin, classification, recycling processes, and important uses of rocks and minerals. There are photos, a glossary of geological terms, and other rocky activities. www.thinkquest.org/library/lib/site_sum

This website is a list of US State gems, minerals, rocks, and stones www.jewelrymall.com/stategems.html



Samples of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks:

  • Sedimentary – sand stone, shale, lime stone,
  • Igneous - granite
  • Metamorphic - Pumice, basalt, obsidian, quartzite, slate, marble, gneiss (with streaks)
  • A jar of sediment from the bottom of a lake or stream
  • A jar of mud from the bottom of a lake or swamp
  • One bar of LAVA soap
  • A big chart or bulletin board available to make the Rock Cycle diagram
  • 3” X 5” index cards
  • Goggles (1 per student)

Activity One:

  • Wax crayons: blue, red, yellow, green (6 of one color for each student)
  • Small pencil sharpener (one per student)
  • Wax paper (1, 1 square foot sheet per student)
  • Newspaper (enough to cover table tops)
  • Envelopes (1 per student)

Activity Two:

  • Heavy duty aluminum foil (1 square sheet for each group)

Activity Three:

  • Sedimentary Rocks
  • Vise
  • 2 board pieces (about 1” X 5” X 8”)
  • Knife

Activity Four:

  • Heavy duty aluminum foil (1 square sheet for each group)
  • Waffle maker
  • Hot Mitts


Math Rocks - Worksheet

The 4 Rock Cycle Activities



This lesson works well as one in a complete unit on rocks and minerals, earthquakes, volcanoes or soil. Preview the video; know where your pause points are located. Order the rock samples or collect them yourself. Copy the worksheets. Prepare a large sheet of butcher paper or a bulletin board on which you will develop a diagram of the rock cycle. Invite the guest speaker. Prepare a TV/VCR, and an overhead projector. Preview the websites especially if you will use them for the optional activity. Bookmark the websites and load any plug-ins necessary. Make available many reference books about rocks.


Step 1. Read a Native American Tale about how rocks were made. There are many authentic tales. Paul Gobel’s, Iktomi and the Boulder, is also appropriate. Explain that long ago, people handed down stories from generation to generation to explain how the world and things in it came to be. Determine that the topic of the lesson will be the “scientific” explanation about how rocks are made.
Step 2. Hold up a bar of Lava soap. Brainstorm how it might be connected to rocks. Unwrap it and pass it around for the students to feel. Continue to brainstorm. (LAVA Soap contains pumice, an igneous rock.) In the classroom identify other things that are made of rock.
Step 3. Have a discussion about rocks. It might sound like this. “The earth is active. Do you think this is true? (Listen to the responses and guide their thinking with the following information.) As you read this, volcanoes are erupting, mountains are being pushed up and being ground down, rivers are carrying sand and mud and depositing both on the bottom, earthquakes are shaking the earth, huge slabs of the earth’s surface are moving about as fast as your fingernails grow, and rocks are being made, changed and destroyed. When you pick up a rock, it feels hard and solid. But it has not always been that way. A long time ago the rock may have been a liquid. A long time from now the rock may be broken, melted, or squeezed into a different kind of rock. Rocks are always changing. This is what we are going to investigate today.”


Step 1. Viewing the video. Explain to the students that by watching the video, Eyewitness: Mountains #310 they will see images of three types of rock that are involved in the rock cycle. They will learn will be introduced to weathering, erosion and sediments.

The FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION will be the discussions and questions generated during the pauses in the video. In addition, the students will fill in the rock cycle worksheet as they discuss the processes and vocabulary presented during the segments. Hand out the rock cycle worksheet with the empty spaces. Use the overhead projector as you add the words to the rock cycle. In addition, write them on the board.

Students will hold and explore samples of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks and sediments. The segments chosen last about 5 minutes. Before class, CUE the video to the place just after the egg breaks during the discussion of old theories about how mountains are made. PLAY until you see the layers of sediment. STOP.

Discuss sediment and focus the students’ attention on the layers. Review how erosion works to break apart the rock before it becomes sediment. Show the layers in the sedimentary rock sample and pass around the jar of sediment. Put “sediment”, “sedimentary rock”, and “depositing” on the rock cycle. Discuss how water can help to make rocks smoother. (Water carries sand and pebbles that help wear down the edges of rocks.) SKIP the discussion about the movement of plates.

START right after the last visual of the tectonic plates and PLAY with the sound off through the discussion about the growth of the Himalayas, and through the volcano images that show molten rock. Explain in your words what the students are seeing; (The Himalayas are active and grow about ¼ “ every year; the molten rock you see on the surface of the earth comes from deep within the earth.) Put “igneous rock” in both places of the rock cycle. Explain that igneous rock can be made both underground and on the surface of the earth through volcanoes. Show the igneous rock sample to the students.

Discuss and place “magma” on the worksheet. PAUSE and clarify any questions. PLAY, with sound, through the scenes of erosion. Put “weathering” on the rock cycle. PAUSE after you see the pyramid made of sediment, and review the great power of weathering and erosion in making sediment from rock. Explain how the three rock types can undergo weathering and add the appropriate arrows to the rock cycle. PLAY through the folded mountains and the flat layers on the seabed. PAUSE, and, once again, focus students’ attention on the layers.

PLAY through the scene of the granite dome igneous rock) and the sandstone shapes made from the wind. PAUSE Explain that sandstone (sedimentary rock) is soft as you show the sample, and that granite was once a pool of magma inside the earth. PLAY through the image of the basalt columns in Devil’s Tower. STOP after the picture of the “ferocious bear.”


Step 1.
Complete the rock cycle worksheet. Review the words that the students have already written on the sheet and beginning at magma, fill in the rest of the words. Use the rock samples to demonstrate the steps of the cycle. Point out that Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks can all be changed into metamorphic rocks. Let the students handle the rock samples. Reinforce that: the sediment, sand, becomes the sedimentary rock, sandstone, and under heat and pressure can be changed into the metamorphic rock, quartzite the igneous rock, granite, can be changed into the metamorphic rock, gneiss the sediment, mud, becomes the sedimentary rock, shale, and can be changed into the metamorphic rock, slate the sediments of the shells of dead sea creatures become the sedimentary rock, limestone, and can be changed into the metamorphic rock, marble Once the rock cycle worksheet is complete, ask questions about it in many different ways. Sample questions: Which processes can happen only on the earth’s surface? What happens to magma in order for it to become a rock? What part of the cycle is necessary to make sedimentary rock? Can all three types of rock become metamorphic rock?What process is necessary for sedimentary rock to become metamorphic rock? For metamorphic rock to become magma? For igneous rock to become metamorphic? For igneous rock to become magma? Can all three rock types be subject to weathering?

Step 2. The rock cycle activities. Hand out a complete rockcycle word sheet. The students will refer to this copy while doing the activities. Introduce the four activities. Explain the procedures and expectations. Guide the students through the activities.

Step 3. “Pass the Word” vocabulary game. Students will review and reinforce their rock vocabulary as they play this game. Write each word on a 3 “ X 5” index card. Have students sit in a circle and pass one card around until you say, “Stop.” The student holding the card must pronounce it correctly and explain its meaning to the rest of the group. The student may seek the help of one other student if necessary. Keep a tally of the number of correct words. Each time the game is played the class might try to beat its last score.

Vocabulary words: (You may add your own) Rock, Igneous Rock, Cycle, Mineral, Rock cycle, Erosion, Molten, Weathering, Magma, Pressure and cementing, Lava, Heat and pressure, Sediments, Cool and harden, Sedimentary rock, Melt, Metamorphic rock.

Step 4. Review and practice. Complete the rock cycle on the butcher paper or the bulletin board. Start with magma and guide the students through the complete diagram. The students will write and add the words.
Step 5. Career exploration. Invite a geologist, a jeweler, or a rock collector. Each student will prepare two questions to ask the guest.
Step 6. Field trip. Use your local resources. Visit a quarry or a mine. Dig for gems. Visit a jewelry shop or a rock shop. Visit a museum. Prepare a focus for students by writing a worksheet appropriate for the field trip.
Step 7. (Optional) In teams of 2 or more, the students may explore 2 student-created websites about rocks. Both sites review the rock types and the rock cycle. http://hammer.ne.mediaone.net/earth_force/rocks/rocks.html and http://www.thinkquest.org/library/lib/site_sum_outside.html?tname=J002289&url=J002289/
The title of this Thinkquest project is, “This Planet Really Rocks.”
Step 8. Students will research the state rock and/or mineral and discuss why that one might have been chosen. http://www.jewelrymall.com/stategems.html
Step 9. Students will answer the Math Rocks! Problem, and turn it in for assessment.
Step 10. Students will identify three things they learned during the lesson. They will use this knowledge to write a three-question quiz. Collect the quizzes, and put them in a box. Each student will draw one quiz, answer it, and give it back to the writer of the quiz for grading.


Math Rocks! Problem or similar math problems.

Make an ongoing class rock collection. Ask friends and relatives to send you unique rocks from their home or from their travels. On a map, identify from where the rocks came.

Language arts:
Write a short story. The topic could be: “What would happen if there were no rocks?” Or, “The amazing journey of a pink pebble”, etc.

Social Studies:
Research all the state rocks and/or minerals.

Community Connections:
How are rocks used in your community? Take a walk and find out.

For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource at PBS Online! You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites! Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!

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