What Can Fossils Teach Us?

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Students will be able to read informational text about several fossils and determine the possible "story" behind their lives long ago.

Big Idea

Time is a challenging concept for third graders. Understanding that change happens over many, many years, and tells a story of life long ago is abstract. The design of this lesson allows students to delve more deeply into these concepts.


5 minutes

The driving question today will be, "What can fossils teach us about the past?"

I will ask students to discuss with their partner what they think about this question and support their ideas with evidence. 

Once they have had a minute or two to discuss, I will begin my mini lesson. 

Mini Lesson

15 minutes

I will again bring out a Petoskey stone, our state stone, and remind the students that these stones are really fossils of coral.  As we read in The Legend of the Petoskey Stone, the Great Lakes use to be a shallow, warm, ocean. This type of coral lived there. 

I will ask the students how what they have currently learned in Social Studies about the Great Lakes is different from the above description. They should be able to describe the Great Lakes as deep, cold, and composed of fresh water. This is the complete opposite of millions of years ago.

Next, I will explain that scientists have learned this, in part, from finding Petoskey stones. They most likely asked themselves, "How could an ocean living organism live near the Great Lakes?" 

Active Engagement

25 minutes

In order to practice being a questioning scientist, I will ask the student to travel to several stations. At each station, I have placed a fossil and a tag with its name and the place where it was found.  I have also created an informational sheet for each fossil containing a map, a photo of what it may have looked like when it was alive, a photo of the fossil, and some informational text taken from various websites. These texts are a bit above grade level, for a reason. (See reflection).

As the students tour the 4 stations, their task is to read the text, observe the fossil and the maps, and record information gleaned.  Following this short research piece, the students should discuss as a group the possible "story" of the fossil.

In this clip, students asked me to help break down the text because there were a few "tricky" words.  This was my chance to teach them that when we read informational text, we may encounter scientific words and can sometimes skip over them to get a sense of the paragraph, and then come back to them. 


In this clip, what every science teacher hopes will happen, does. My student offers a challenge of thought, and works to make sense of what she sees and what she believes. She actually begins to think about "miracles" and science as one thing…two changes that may have happened. 

Sharing and Closing

5 minutes

As a closing, I will have student partnerships come together to share their graphic organizers.  In dong this, student will have another opportunity to defend and revise their thinking, which is a large part of scientific thinking.