Hands-On Science and Literacy Activities about Erosion, Volcanoes, and Earthquakes

Earth science concepts such as erosion, volcanoes, and earthquakes are best introduced through a combination of hands-on activity, children’s literature, and multimedia resources. The slow, long-term process of erosion is difficult for students to conceptualize, so creating models of erosion can help. But, since students may be unfamiliar with volcanoes and earthquakes, models of these are not always accurate or helpful. Children’s literature and multimedia resources, such as web sites and video clips, will help them picture the processes involved.

We’ve highlighted lessons about the topics of erosion, glaciers and glacial erosion, volcanoes, and earthquakes. As always, we’ve included suggestions for integrating literacy skills into these lessons. This month’s Virtual Bookshelf and Feature Story provide additional resources for literacy integration.

For each science lesson, we’ve included the appropriate National Science Education Standards. You can read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.


Erosion

Big Rocks, Little Rocks (Grades K-1)
Students simulate erosion with cookies to learn that erosion breaks rocks into smaller pieces. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry and Earth and Space Science.

Our Ever Changing Earth (Grades K-5)
This lesson, originally written for grade 1, is broken into two parts: an introduction to plate tectonics and a study of weathering and erosion. Part One, which models plate tectonics without using sophisticated vocabulary, is not included in the National Science Education Standards for the elementary grades. This portion of the lesson may be better suited for students in upper elementary grades. Part Two, which involves modeling the various types of weathering and erosion, is appropriate for students in the primary grades. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Earth and Space Science, and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

To integrate literacy skills into these two lessons, try the following:

Collaborating on a Class Book: Exploring Before-During-After Sequences (Grades K-2)
Students and the teacher produce a class book through a group-writing activity, focusing on a basic before-during-after sequence of events. Though the lesson is written for the carving of a class jack-o-lantern, it could be customized for the topic of erosion and weathering. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 7, 12.

Dig This! Erosion Investigation (Grades 3-5)
This inquiry-based unit asks students to identify erosion problems at their school, investigate the different types of erosion, research erosion in depth, and work in teams to create proposed solutions to schoolyard erosion problems. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Earth and Space Science, and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

Weathering and Erosion (Grades 3-5)
Students will discover the effects and processes that may occur with each type of weathering and erosion. The lesson is designed for grades 5-6; minor modifications make it appropriate for students in grades 3-4. The lesson suggests that teachers connect the hands-on activities to pictures of weathering and erosion in the real world. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Earth and Space Science, and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

To integrate literacy skills into these lessons, try the following:

Questioning: A Comprehension Strategy for Small-Group Guided Reading (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, the teacher explains the difference between thin (factual) and thick (inferential) questions, and then models how to compose question webs by thinking aloud while reading. Students observe how to gather information about the topic and add it to question webs in the form of answers or additional questions. Students practice composing thin and thick questions by using question webs independently in small-group reading. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 7, 11.

Glaciers and Glacial Erosion

These lessons focus primarily on glacial erosion. We’ve highlighted lessons on glacier formation and glacial movement in past issues.

Straight to the Pole (Grades K-2)
A whole-class demonstration with a large “glacier” (made with a small trash can as a mold) and a sand table. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

To integrate literacy skills into these lessons, try the following:

Collaborating on a Class Book: Exploring Before-During-After Sequences (Grades K-2)
Students and the teacher produce a class book through a group-writing activity, focusing on a basic before-during-after sequence of events. Though the lesson is written for the carving of a class jack-o-lantern, it could be customized for the topic of erosion and weathering. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 7, 12.

Gliding Glaciers (Grades 3-5)
Students will gain an understanding of how glaciers are formed, how they move, and the landforms they create. The lesson is designed for grades 5-6; minor modifications make it appropriate for students in grades 3-4. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Earth and Space Science, and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

To integrate literacy skills into this lesson, try the following:

Questioning: A Comprehension Strategy for Small-Group Guided Reading (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, the teacher explains the difference between thin (factual) and thick (inferential) questions, and then models how to compose question webs by thinking aloud while reading. Students observe how to gather information about the topic and add it to question webs in the form of answers or additional questions. Students practice composing thin and thick questions by using question webs independently in small-group reading. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 7, 11.

Volcanoes

The classic baking soda and vinegar activity is not an accurate representation of a volcanic eruption and can lead to the formation of misconceptions (for more information, please see “Common Misconceptions about Erosion, Volcanoes, and Earthquakes“). We’ve provided suggestions for introducing volcanoes as well as demonstrations that more accurately represent the processes at work in a volcanic eruption.

Since many students haven’t seen a volcano or a volcanic eruption firsthand, the concept is best introduced through children’s literature, images, and video. Our Virtual Bookshelf and Feature Story provide suggested readings, and “Watch, Listen, and Learn: Online Multimedia Resources on Earthquakes and Volcanoes” provides images and video. Creating models and hands-on experimentation can develop introductory concepts, and provide motivation to continue reading and researching.

Modeling Volcanoes
Create a 3-D model of a volcano with gelatin and colored water. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry and Earth and Space Science.

To integrate literacy skills into these lessons, try the following:

Adventures in Nonfiction: A Guided Inquiry Journey (Grades K-2)
These activities provide a foundation for using nonfiction resources for developing and answering questions about gathered information. This lesson can be used with a wide variety of content, including volcanoes. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 12.

Gelatin Volcanoes (Grades 3-5)
An activity that teaches students how and why magma moves inside volcanoes. Colored water is injected into a clear gelatin cast. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science.

Explosive or Effusive? (Grades 3-5)
Why do some volcanoes erupt violently and others do not? In this activity, students will learn how lava chemistry affects the type of eruption. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science.

Volcano Types (Grades 3-5)
Students learn about the three main types of volcanoes: cinder cone, composite, and shield. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry and Earth and Space Science.

The Origin of Calderas and Craters (Grades 3-5)
Model the formation of calderas and craters. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science.

To integrate literacy skills into these lessons, try the following:

Exploring Cause and Effect Using Expository Texts about Natural Disasters (Grades 3-5)
This lesson helps third- through fifth-grade students explore the nature and structure of expository texts focusing on cause and effect. Danger! Volcanoes by Seymour Simon is the featured book. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA standards: 1, 3, 5, 6, 11, 12.

What Happened? (Grades 3-5)
Students explore legends people created to explain the phenomena of volcanoes – and write their own legends about volcanoes. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA standards: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12

Earthquakes

The Three Little Pigs in Earthquake Land (Grades K-2)
This lesson teaches students some of the basics of earthquakes and volcanoes. It also asks them to think about how people living in cities and suburbs must plan ahead by constructing sturdy buildings and preparing their homes and themselves for the possibility of a natural disaster. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

To further integrate literacy skills into this lesson, try the following:

Adventures in Nonfiction: A Guided Inquiry Journey (Grades K-2)
These activities provide a foundation for using nonfiction resources for developing and answering questions about gathered information. This lesson can be used with a wide variety of content, including earthquakes. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 12.

Bigger Faults Make Bigger Earthquakes (Grades K-5)
Students simulate faults of different sizes and learn that bigger faults produce bigger earthquakes. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry and Earth and Space Science.

Fault Features (Grades K-5)
Create a model to demonstrate surface features of a fault. Teachers of primary grades could use this as a whole-class demonstration. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry and Earth and Space Science.

Earthquakes on the Surface (Grades 3-5)
Students use maps and images to identify the locations of faults. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry and Earth and Space Science.

To integrate literacy skills into these lessons, try the following:

Pourquoi Stories: Creating Tales to Tell Why (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students are introduced to pourquoi stories and the cultures in which they originated. Through varied readings, students recognize and discuss the style and elements of pourquoi stories. Working in cooperative groups, they then use these stories as a framework on which to write their own pourquoi stories. Final production is either a skit or an illustrated narration of each group’s story. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org. Page last updated 10/27/2011.

Copyright December 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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