Earth's Changing Surface Vocabulary Preview (Cornerstone Lesson)

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SWBAT distinguish among seven processes that change the Earth's surface and apply these processes as they examine photos displaying land changes.

Big Idea

Students will distinguish among seven processes that change the Earth's surface by completing a vocabulary word sort . They will apply these processes as they examine photos of land changes, determine what caused the land change, and write claim statement.

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.

Lesson Synopsis

The "Earth's Changing Surface Vocabulary Preview" lesson provides students opportunity to preview seven processes that change Earth's surface by distinguishing among them using a word sort activity.  Students analyze definitions, find key words to form a strategy that helped them select a definition, and share their thinking with the class. As a class, we create a reference sheet with accurate descriptions to use while examining several images depicting changes to the Earth's surface.  While examining each image, students write their observations of the land and generate a claim statement using evidence from the image and definition. 

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 landforms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather.


 Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering Practices.

  • 1.)  Asking Questions and Defining Problems: Students are encouraged to ask questions and pose questions throughout the process


  • 6.)  Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Students demonstrate their own understanding of the seven processes (vocabulary words) by developing an explanation using claim and evidence statements based on observations they made while examining images of land changes.  They identify evidence in the pictures and vocabulary descriptions to support their claims.


  • 8.) Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information:  Using vocabulary word sort/definitions, students use their obtained information on processes that change the Earth's surface to write claim with evidence statements using photographs. Students write observations, claim and evidence statements on a graphic organizer to communicate clearly and persuasively their inferences on the images they examined.


Crosscutting Concepts

"Earth's Changing Surface Vocabulary Preview" lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include

  • 1.) Patterns: Students visually inspect land surfaces to identify changes which are used to make predictions.  They find similarities and differences to classify natural phenomena that has occurred: weathering, erosion, sediments, deposition, earthquake, landslide, volcano.


  • 2.) Cause and Effect:  Students make observations of land changes to provide evidence of the effects of weathering, erosion, earthquake, volcano, landslide to explain change.


  • 4.) Systems and Models: Student understand systems may react with different systems. In this case, air, water, and land interact impacting the Earth's surface. They make a claim about the change to Earth's surface


  • 5.) Energy and Matter; Flows Cycles, and Conservation: Student make and record observations to construct an evidence based claim of how land undergoes changes daily.


  •  7.) Stability and Change: Students observe various changes to land and discover some changes occur quickly and instantly while other land changes appear stable, they actually change over a long period of time. 


Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS2.A Earth Materials and Systems


10 minutes

I introduce this lesson by bringing students' attention to the board for the powerpoint slide question: "Describe what causes landscapes to change and explain where may you have seen this happen."

Using the quick write strategy, I tell the students to write a response to the displayed question. While they write, I walk around the room monitoring students.When they finish, I direct students to their elbow partner for a turn and talk. During this time I am walking around listening to conversations about the responses. 

At the end of turn and talk, the class reconvenes as a whole for a discussion. I use the quick pick bucket to call upon several students to share. To keep others as active listeners, I remind students to give a thumbs up if they agree and/or have similarities to the students sharing. 


15 minutes

To begin, I ask students what the colors green, yellow, red mean for cars in traffic.  After identifying meaning behind the colors, I ask the class how we could use those colors to organize new vocabulary words for our unit on Earth's Changing Surface.  I inform students we are using a mat with those colors for a vocabulary sort by placing words they know on the green portion of the mat, words they might know on the yellow portion on the mat, and words they don’t know on the red portion of the mat. I selected a vocabulary word sort activity for this portion of the lesson to familiarize students with vocabulary words that will be used throughout our unit.

I direct students attention to the center of the table and instruct them to take a pack of vocabulary words and 1 colored (green, yellow, red) sorting mat.  I ask students to sort the vocabulary words according to their knowledge about them.  They place words they know on the green portion of the mat, words they might know on the yellow portion on the mat, and words they don’t know on the red portion of the mat.

Once students complete the sort, I remind them of our turn and talk norms and tell them to begin a turn and talk with their elbow partner. I inform them they are discussing similarities and differences with each other’s mats. Then I ask for student volunteers to share their analysis of words with the whole class. As they share, I record the similarities on the board.  As a whole class, we analyze and look for words everyone knows and words everyone is uncertain about.

After the vocabulary word sort, I ask each student to take a pack of definitions from the center.  I instruct them to match definitions with the vocabulary words, independently. When students finish, I ask them to discuss their matches with their whole table for about 5 minutes. They are instructed to discuss how they determined which definition went with each word and to talk about any strategies they used during the process. They work together and discuss mismatches among group members and regroup words and definitions together, if necessary. After group discussion, each group shares, with the whole class, strategies used for sorting and connecting.  


15 minutes

Once students complete their word and definition match, I use the quick pick to call on 3 or 4 students to share strategies they used in matching words to definitions.  I am looking to see if students used key words in the definition to help them make connections to the words.  After sharing strategies, I hand out a vocabulary reference sheet for students to create as we discuss correct definitions and words.

I inform the students that as a whole class, we are doing a vocabulary definition match check. I tell them I am displaying each vocabulary word on the board and will call on a student to share the definition he or she believes is correct. However, before stating if that student is correct, I tell them they have the option to disagree with a share by using our respectfully disagree sentence starter: "I respectfully disagree with that match because..."

I move on after explaining and I start displaying a vocabulary word using the projector and ask a student volunteer to share the definition he or she thinks matches.  I ask how he or she determined the word and definition were a match.  I look for students to self-check their matches. If they agree they give a thumbs up. If they disagree, they give a thumbs down. I say to those with thumbs up to put their hand down and those with thumbs down to be prepared for a disagreement statement with a reason.  

We continue checking until all words and definitions have been correctly matched.

I inform the students to keep this reference sheet out as they will be using it in our next activity.


15 minutes

At this point, I inform students to keep their Earth's Changing Surface vocabulary reference sheet on their desk and I pass out Six Photos displaying some form of change to the land.

I tell students to examine each photo observing changes to the land.  Using the examine claim support graphic organizer, I instruct students to use their vocabulary reference sheet to write a claim stating the cause of that change to the land.  They write a claim statement using the following sentence frame:  "I claim the ____ was caused by (select a word from the vocabulary reference sheet.) Following the claim statement, I tell students each claim must be supported with evidence and tell them to use a sentence frame: "The evidence I have to support my claim is (use definitions to help write an explanation to the claim.") 

As students are examining each photo and writing claim statements, I am walking around monitoring groups. I am looking at student observations and descriptions on his or her graphic organizer. In addition, I am observing claim statement written and look to see if written evidence accurately supports the claim. If it does not, I stop and ask guiding questions:

"What do you notice in this picture?"

"Tell me what has happened to the land?"

"Let's look at your vocabulary reference sheet and focus on the definitions.  Based on what you described about the picture, are there definitions we can eliminate as a possible explanation?"

"With the remaining definitions, let's look at some key words in each definition to see if they relate to what is going on in the picture."

With guiding questions, I anticipate students will identify definitions to use as evidence for their claim statement.  I continue walking around the room monitoring and checking in with students.


5 minutes

After examining the landscape photos and writing a claim to identify the cause to Earth's changing surface, I ask students to fill out the exit ticket.  I use this exit ticket as a formative assessment to identify areas students are struggling with understanding and / or misconceptions.  I tell the students to place the exit ticket in the bucket on the way out to their next class.