The Rock Cycle

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SWBAT describe the journey of a rock as it goes through the rock cycle.

Big Idea

Students will create a collage illustrating the rock cycle.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus

The Earth's Changing Surface unit focuses on some processes that change Earth's surface slowly, over a long period of time, or abruptly. In order for students to develop an understanding that the surface is constantly changing, they take part in a variety of guided inquiries geared towards scaffolding this understanding.  In the first part of the unit, students explore the structure of the Earth and processes that cause changes to it. These lessons include earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, physical and chemical weathering, erosion and deposition. They need to develop an understanding of these processes and how they change the Earth's surface for the second part of the unit which focuses primarily on minerals, rocks, and the rock cycle. Students apply their understanding of these processes as they investigate the formation of rocks and the cycle of changes they go through in a lifetime.

Lesson Synopsis  (Need to Finish)

The The Rocks Cycle lesson provides students opportunity to develop and apply an understanding of how rocks change from one form to another. The lesson begins with defining a rock cycle through an interactive powerpoint. Then students take part in a "Journey Through the Rock Cycle" game. Using themself as as rock, they roll the die which tells them what kind of process they have gone through and where in the Earth they are traveling to. Throughout their journey, they keep track of the changes they have gone through by recording what has happened to them each time they roll the die. We discuss their experience after the game. I end the lesson with the "Rock Cycle Collage" assignment. This assignment is intended to be a review of rocks and minerals. It will help them prepare for a test at the end of the unit.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address the following NGSS Standard(s): 

ESS2 Earth's Systems

Earth’s major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans). These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth’s surface materials and processes. The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes land forms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the land forms to determine patterns of weather.

I address this standard with my fifth grade because the elementary school's within my district do not formally teach science; therefore my students enter middle school (fifth grade) with a limited science background.  By engaging students with activities to support this NGSS standard, I am providing with them experiences that will provide them a foundation of how the geosphere interacts with the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering practices

4.) Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Students move through different stages of the rock cycle by rolling a die, reading and interpreting the information on. They record this information it to make sense of what happens to a rock as it travels goes through different parts of the Earth. They use the information to identify patterns and relationships between Earth's processes and rock formation.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Rock Cycle lesson correlates to other interdisciplinary areas. This Crosscutting Concepts includes

2.) Cause and Effect- Students experience the different processes that create a rock to change and identify the effects of these processes during the Journey Through the Rock Cycle game.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS2.A Earth Materials and Systems


Importance of Modeling to Develop Student Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This will set up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during the activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirecting.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


For time management purposes, I use “lab rats ” where each student has a number on the back of his or her chair, 1,2,3,4 (students sit in groups of 4)and displayed on the board.  For each activity I use lab rats, I switch up the roles randomly so students are experiencing different task responsibilities which include:  Director, Materials Manager, Reporter, and Technician.  It makes for smooth transitions and efficiency for set up, work, and clean-up.  


20 minutes

Defining the Rock Cycle

I begin by asking the students, "What is the Rock Cycle?"  We discuss the term cycle and relate it to past concepts such as the water cycle.  I am looking for students to relate the term cycle as to something that keeps happening.  

I post and hand out an anchor chart for them to see a visual replica of the rock cycle as it relates to different parts of the Earth's surface.

rock cycle anchor chart


We define rock cycle as: the continuous cycle of rocks changing from one form to another. I add on that it can hundreds to millions of years for rocks to go through these changes and take new form. I also point out that it is the interaction geosphere and hydrosphere, terms we discussed earlier in the unit. I show them this model that highlights the interaction.

To help them better understand how these processes work simultaneously, I tell them we are creating a diagram to represent the interactions within the geosphere.  I direct them to a powerpoint displayed on the board and hand out a blank diagram of the rock cycle. I explain that as I go through each part of the rock cycle on the powerpoint, I am asking them to color and label the parts I am go over.  

blank rock cycle

I found this powerpoint online and decided it was an effective way to help students be attentive through as I explained the rock cycle. 

Interacting with the Rock Cycle

I ask students to take out the chromebooks and direct them to an interactive rock cycle model.  I give them time to explore the parts of the rock cycle they learned about earlier in the lesson and see how they work as a whole.  For students who need more of a challenge, I direct them to the next page on the site where they are assessed on the types of rocks and the processes that change them. Once students have explored each diagram, if time allows, I have them test their skills which is the last interactive piece on the site.



20 minutes

Journey Through the Rock Cycle

At this point, I share with students that they are going to take part in an activity where they assume the role of a rock traveling through the rock cycle. It is an active way for students to experience the journey a rock takes over many, many years and to recognize that no two journeys are alike. 

I hand them a recording sheet and explain the directions.  First, I point out the seven different stations posted around the room- Earth's Interior, Soil, River, Ocean, Clouds, Mountains, and Volcano. I show them that each station has a die at it. Their task is to roll the die and read the information on it.  It directs them to a different station or to remain at their current station based on the scenario on the die.  I tell them the recording sheet is to help the keep track of the journey. At each roll of the die, they need to record what happened to them (keeping in mind they are a rock) and the state where the went, i.e. Soil, Earth's InteriorOcean, Volcano etc.

After 12 rounds, students return to their seats. We discuss the different journeys that took place and discovered that no two rocks experiences the same cycle at the same time. Using turn and talk norms, I have them discuss with their groups the different paths each member took and have them look for any patterns of the journey.


20 minutes

Show Your Understanding of the Rock Cycle

After students have completed traveling through the cycle, I share their assignment.

"I want you to think about all we have learned about rocks, minerals, and the rock cycle over the last few days.  Your task is to create a collage to show what you have learned about the rock cycle." I hand out a set of directions  that lists the criteria.

It is an open ended assignment as I want students to to synthesize the concepts and present them in their own way, demonstrating their understanding.  This type of assignment is serves as a formative assessment for the teacher and a review for the students.


rocks and minerals collage



rock cycle collage