Reader of the Rocks

This nonfiction article is written for use with upper-elementary students (grades 4-5). Students read about Julie Codispoti, assistant curator at the United States Polar Rock Repository, located at Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar Research Center. The article provides an overview of Antarctic geology as well as geology as a career. It can also provide practice in determining importance in nonfiction text, a strategy discussed in the article “Determining Importance: Helping Students Recognize Important Points in Content Text.” Several templates are available for use in teaching this strategy in conjunction with the article.

Modified versions are available for students in grades K-1 and grades 2-3, or any student needing a simplified version. Students in grades K-1 explore the idea that rocks can tell stories about the past. Students in grades 2-3 are introduced in a simplified manner to the Polar Rock Repository and polar geology. 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 new 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!

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!

Reader of the Rocks

“It’s a little bit mysterious,” says Julie Codispoti. She’s talking about the pendant she wears around her neck. It’s a deep green, polished mineral known as malachite. “See the green circles here?” she says, pointing out the details in the stone. “No one’s really sure how they form that way.”

Julie isn’t just talking about her necklace. She’s also describing her favorite subject, geology. Julie works at the U.S. Polar Rock Repository at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. It is like a library of rocks from the Arctic and Antarctica. Scientists from all over the world have sent rocks there to be carefully studied and stored.

Julie is the assistant curator of the repository. This means that she is in charge of describing, photographing, and storing the rocks and minerals. But what she really loves is sharing the mystery of rocks with others.

For example, take a black, crumbly rock from the cold continent of Antarctica. Julie shares a secret. This rock is the fossil fuel we call coal. It formed many millions of years ago from trees that grew in an ancient swamp. Generation after generation of trees grew, died, and fell, squashing one another under their enormous weight. Over millions of years, the trees decayed and became coal.

Here’s the mystery. There are no trees on Antarctica today. There are no swamps. There are no towering forests. The presence of coal on this frozen continent tells us something. It says that Antarctica was not always like it is today. Antarctica has changed.

But this means more questions. What changed? Why did it change? Is Antarctica still changing today? How?

Julie knows that the rocks can give us the answers. “Rocks have a story to tell,” Julie says, “they have a language. You just need to learn to read that language to understand the story they’re telling.

“The rocks from Antarctica,” Julie goes on, “are not all that different from rocks that come from other places in the world.”

This simple-sounding idea tells us something important about the world and how it works. Things change. What was once a seafloor is now a mountaintop. What was once a tropical swamp is now a frozen desert. We live on a world that is always changing.

“Geologists ask, ‘What is this rock trying to say to me?'” Julie says with a smile. Yet she wasn’t always so enthusiastic about reading rocks.

“Science was my second-worst subject in school, right behind math,” Julie admits. “I never thought I’d do anything involving science. But I really liked being outdoors, so I wanted to do something that would let me be outside.”

In college, Julie began by studying natural resources. Then she took a geology class that studied the history of Lake Erie. As Julie learned the history of the lake and the rocks that make it up, she became hooked. “I was amazed,” she says, “that the professor could learn all this information just from rocks.”

Now, Julie is becoming a reader of the rocks herself. “Professors make it look easy,” she says, “but it’s not that easy. Science is still hard for me. But in a way, that makes it more satisfying. The fact that I can study something, work hard at it, and really understand it is very fulfilling to me.”

The wonderful thing about science is that the mystery is open to everyone. “If there’s something you want to do,” Julie says, “but you’re not necessarily good at it, go for it, anyway. You might just surprise yourself.”


continent – one of seven large areas of land on Earth

enthusiastic – excited

fossil fuel – fuel formed from the remains of once-living organisms

geology – the study of rocks and minerals

Lake Erie – one of the five Great Lakes found in the Midwest region of the United States

malachite – a green-colored mineral

mineral – a natural, solid material with particles arranged in a repeating pattern

pendant – an object that hangs from a necklace

rock – a material made up of one or more minerals

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 5.7

Modified versions of this text are available for grades K-1 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 1.9) and grades 2-3 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 3.5). See below for links to all three versions in text, book, and electronic book forms.

Printable Files

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 books 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.

Electronic Books

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 pawprint (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

Determining Importance Literacy Set
This Content Clips set includes all of the materials you need to teach the strategy of Determining Importance: this article (pdf document), printable and electronic book versions of “Reader of the Rocks” for grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5, and the student templates.

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 “rocks.”

Reading Strategy Templates

This article provides an opportunity for students in grades 2-5 to practice the strategy of determining important information in content text. The following templates can be used in conjunction with “Reader of the Rocks.” For more information about this strategy, please see “Determining Importance: Helping Students Recognize Important Points in Content Text.”

Strategy Focus Steps (To be used during reading)
This template is an instructional tool to explicitly guide students through this particular reading strategy. The systematic steps make this difficult reading strategy manageable for all learners.

What’s It All About? (To be used after reading)
Grades 2-3

Grades 4-5
This template is designed for students to use after they have read the text. The goal of this template is to provide students with the opportunity to distinguish between the main ideas and the interesting details given in the text.

Interesting vs. Important (To be used during or after reading)
Use Interesting vs. Important to give students a purpose for rereading the text. This activity gives students practice in recognizing what information is important in the text and what is interesting but not essential to understanding it.

This article was written by Stephen Whitt. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, at with any questions about the content of this site. The links on this page were updated on March 28, 2018. 

Copyright September 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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