Hands-on Lessons and Activities about Glaciers

Glaciers can be a difficult subject to teach. Most students haven’t ever seen one. Furthermore, glaciers’ size and relatively slow rate of change make it difficult to understand how they can change the surface of the earth. Images from online galleries and children’s literature can help students begin to visualize these massive bodies of ice. Creating models will help them develop a basic understanding of the scientific principles at work in glacial formation, movement, and erosion. While many of these lessons are written for the upper elementary grades, teachers of primary students may be able to modify them by performing demonstrations rather than investigations.

Many of these lessons and activities lend themselves to making predictions, so we’ve chosen to highlight that strategy as our literacy integration. Students become proficient readers by making predictions and evaluating them based on the text, much in the same way that proficient scientists make predictions and evaluate based on experimental data. You may choose to have students record predictions on a worksheet or in a journal, or record their oral predictions as you discuss the experiment or text.


GLACIAL FORMATION

How Do Snowflakes Become Ice? (Grades K-5)
Students model the formation of ice with marshmallows or, if it is available, snow. Lesson extensions suggest using snow cones or shaved ice to model the difference between snow, firn (an intermediate stage between snow and ice), and glacial ice. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, the Physical Science Content Standard, the Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the History and Nature of Science Content Standard.

Glacial Pressure (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson plan, students model glacial formation through the compression of marshmallows, which represent snow. Students observe the effect of pressure exerted on marshmallows and draw conclusions about pressure exerted on snow.

This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard and the Earth and Space Science Content Standard.


GLACIAL MOVEMENT

Blue Ice Cube Melt (Grades K-5)
Students experiment with blue-colored ice cubes and learn that ice can melt under pressure. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, the Physical Science Content Standard, the Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the History and Nature of Science Content Standard.

Modeling Glacier Dynamics with Flubber (Grades 2-3)
Modeling Glacier Dynamics with Flubber (Grades 3-5)

These hands-on activities simulate glacial flow. The students use a glacier-modeling compound made from glue, water, and detergent (“flubber”) to predict and observe glacial flow. The students discuss with the teacher how scientists determine glacial flow with real glaciers. The link opens a zipped file that contains three documents: the teacher’s guide, notes, and a worksheet.

This unit meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard and the Earth and Space Science Content Standard.


GLACIAL EROSION

Explaining Glaciers, Accurately (Grades 3-5)
This article from the National Science Teachers Association journal Science and Children describes two activities that help students develop correct understanding of how glaciers change the earth’s surface by plucking and abrasion. Free for NSTA members and nonmembers.

This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science Content Standard.


INTEGRATING LITERACY

Use the books in this month’s Virtual Bookshelf and our Feature Story to help your students practice making predictions while reading!

It Doesn’t Have to End That Way: Using Prediction Strategies with Literature (Grades K-2)
Primary students listen to the beginning of a story, and then use details in the text and prior knowledge to predict the way the story will end.

This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA standards: 3, 4, 11, 12.

Using Prediction as a Prereading Strategy (Grades 3-5)
This three part lesson includes teacher modeling, guided practice, and independent practice with response journals. The lesson uses fiction trade books, but the approach can be used with any text or content area.

This activity meets the following NCTE/IRA standards: 3, 5.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright August 2009 – 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 anĀ Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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