Ice Sculptures

This nonfiction article is written for use with upper-elementary students (grades 4-5). Modified versions are available for students in grades K-1 and grades 2-3, or any student needing a simplified version. As always, consider the reading level and needs of your students when selecting a version for classroom use.

At each grade level, the article is available in three forms. Printable pdf files allow you to print this story in either text or a foldable book format. A partnership with Content Clips has allowed us to create electronic versions of the articles. Your students can read along as they listen to the text – a wonderful way to support struggling readers! Reading strategy templates and related activities provide suggestions for integrating this story with your science and literacy instruction.

Interested in other nonfiction articles for your students? Browse all twenty sets from the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears collection on our Stories for Students page!

Ice Sculptures

In the Kalahari Desert of South Africa are some odd-looking rocks. The rocks are flat and polished, as if something very large and heavy has scraped across their surface.

Halfway across the world, in the southwest corner of Lake Erie, is Kelleys Island. The bedrock there is grooved. It looks as if something large and heavy has moved across the rock, gouging out these deep lines.

What caused these strange things? The flat, polished rocks of South Africa and the grooved rocks of Kelleys Island were left behind by giant moving walls of ice called glaciers.

Glaciers are made of ice. Ice is a solid. But glaciers are so large and heavy that they actually move like a liquid. You can think of glaciers as slow-moving rivers of ice.

Today glaciers can be found on very high mountains. Snow falling on high mountain slopes doesn’t melt. Instead the snow turns to ice and adds its own weight to the weight of ice already there. When the ice is heavy enough, the glacier begins to move down the mountain, spreading into the foothills and valleys below. As it moves, the glacier scrapes and shapes the mountain’s sides.

Like mountaintops, polar regions stay cold all year long. Glaciers grow there too. They press and grind the land below as they move. When a glacier reaches a coastline, pieces of ice can break off and form icebergs.

Today glaciers are found in only the world’s coldest places. But during ice ages, glaciers and ice sheets covered the land over much of Earth. Three hundred million years ago, the Kalahari Desert was covered by glaciers. That ice slowly moved. It scraped across the rock, leaving the flat, smooth rocks behind.

Starting around three million years ago, an ice sheet covered much of the midwestern United States. This ice sheet advanced and retreated many times. It retreated for the last time around fourteen thousand years ago. This ice sheet is responsible for the glacial grooves of Kelleys Island. As the glacier moved, it picked up heavy boulders and pushed them along. These boulders, some made of hard rock, scraped at the softer limestone of Kelleys Island, forming long channels. These channels are the glacial grooves of today. They are clear evidence of the wall of ice that once moved across the land.

Ice has shaped the world in surprising ways. The rugged coastline of Norway was once covered in ice. Today, fjords line the coast. Fjords are fingers of water that stretch inland along u-shaped valleys. Moving ice carved those valleys. The mountains of Europe and the Great Lakes of North America were also sculpted by ice. Glaciers formed giant lakes where none had been before and produced rich soil for growing crops. Even though the glaciers have retreated, we can see their sculptures all around us.


fjord – a deep valley filled with water

glacier – a large mass of ice that slowly moves

ice ages – times in Earth’s history when the world was extremely cold

icebergs – large pieces of ice that float in the sea

ice sheet – a mass of ice that covers more than 19,000 square miles of land

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 5.1

Modified versions of this text are available for grades K-1 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 1.6) and grades 2-3 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 3.8). See below for links to all three versions in text, book, and electronic book forms.


Print the text-only version of this article for grades:
Print book versions of this article for grades:

Notes for assembling the books:

You can put this book together a couple of different ways. You can print out the pages, cut them in half and then order the pages back to front. Fold the stack in half and then staple the spine of the book. Pairs of pages can then be stapled or glued along the right edge.

You can also assemble the book as a foldable book.

To assemble the book this way, print the four pages and align the document pages so that the following book page numbers are in the lower right-hand corner: front page, page 6, page 2, and page 4. (The cover page should be on top and page 4 on the bottom.) Set your copier to copy single pages into double pages and run the four document pages in the order specified. Cut along the dotted line in the center of the double-sided page, place the book pages in order, fold, and staple along the spine.


A partnership with Content Clips has allowed us to provide electronic versions of our expository articles. Students can listen to the article as they read along on the screen.

These versions require Adobe Flash to view. If you don’t have Flash, you can download it for free from the Adobe web site. You will also need to turn off your pop-up blocker to use Content Clips.

In each book, the play button (in the top right-hand corner) will play an audio file of the text on that page, while the icon in the bottom right-hand corner will turn to the next page.

Please note that the audio files take a moment to load on each page. Once the file has been loaded, a play button will appear in the top right-hand corner of the page. To minimize the delay on each page, you can open the file and read through the article first. Once each page’s audio has loaded, it remains loaded until you close the browser window. By preparing the article ahead of time, you can have students start at the beginning of the book and read without delays.

Grades K-1 electronic book

Grades 2-3 electronic book

Grades 4-5 electronic book

Content Clips is an interactive web environment designed to help K-12 teachers supplement their curriculum with compelling online resources and activities. By creating a free account, you can save resources and activities (such as the electronic books and set) to your own collection. You can also create your own interactive activities to use in your classroom. If you follow the links to the electronic books listed above, you will enter the site as a guest and will not be able to save them to your own collection. If you wish to save these stories in your own collection, create an account, login, and then search for “Ice Sculptures.”

Reading Strategy Templates

The article provides an opportunity for students to practice the comprehension strategy of visualization. The following template can be used in conjunction with “Ice Sculptures.” For more information on this strategy, please see “Visualizing to Understand Content Area Text.”

Visualizing Glaciers
This template can be printed and used in conjunction with the Feature Story, “Ice Sculptures.” As they read, students create images to represent the content and write a caption to accompany each image.

Literacy Set
Everything you need to teach the strategy of visualizing: a content knowledge article, template, and illustrated and electronic book copies of “Ice Sculptures” at all three grade bands.


See Hands-on Lessons and Activities about Glaciers in this issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears for activities including glacial formation, movement, and erosion. In addition, Hands-On Science and Literacy Activities about Erosion, Volcanoes, and Earthquakes in the December 2008 issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears includes a section on glaciers and glacial erosion.

This article was written by Stephen Whitt. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Stephen at

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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