Geosphere: The Rock Cycle Day 1

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SWBAT construct a diagram to describe the rock cycle.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students use multiple online resources to define key rock cycle terms in order to complete a rock cycle diagram poster tomorrow.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will study each of Earth's major systems: biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. In addition, students will investigate how these systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's materials and processes by conducting research, constructing graphs, creating models, carrying out scientific investigations, and analyzing real-world applications. 

Summary of Lesson

Today, I open the lesson by introducing key terms having to do with the rock cycle. Students then explore the meaning of each of the terms by researching online resources. Tomorrow, students will reflect and apply their new understanding of the rock cycle by sharing their findings and completing a rock cycle diagram on a poster. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):'

5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information 

Students read and comprehend online texts to obtain ideas involving the rock cycle. Tomorrow, students will communicate information orally and will compete a rock cycle diagram using their research.

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 2: Cause and Effect 

Students explore cause and effect relationships within the rock cycle. For example, depostion of sediments and compaction creates sedimentary rocks while pressure and heat transforms a sedimentary rock into a metamorphic rock.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS2.A:  Earth Materials and 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. (5-ESS2-1)

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.7: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently. In this lesson, students will be using multiple resources to locate key information involving an environmental issue. 

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


20 minutes

Teacher Note

When planning this unit, I found that NGSS standard, 5-ESS2-1 was quite complex: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact. In past years, I would have taught an entire unit on just one of the spheres. 

Therefore, constructing lessons that would provide students with an in-depth understanding of all four systems within a single unit was the main objective. For this reason, I chose to use teacher anchor charts throughout the unit to immediately provide students with background knowledge on each of the spheres. This way, students could then build upon this knowledge base as they explored each sphere further (and deeper) on their own. The posters remained up throughout the unit so that students could continually refer to and apply their knowledge of the spheres when studying real-world applications later on. 

For this lesson, we will begin creating a classroom anchor chart on the rock cycle. Instead of providing students with information on the rock cycle, I will release the research responsibility to students. After listing 15 key terms involving the rock cycle, students will then research the meaning each of these terms with a partner. Tomorrow, students will share their research and we will complete the rock cycle anchor chart together. 

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can construct a diagram to describe the rock cycle. Referring to the Plate Tectonics Poster from yesterday, I explain: Yesterday, you began studying the geosphere by learning about the plate tectonics theory. Turn and talk: Explain the three types of plate boundaries on Earth. (Divergent Boundaries: move apart from each other, like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Convergent Boundaries: collide or push together, forming mountains (Himalayas) and volcanoes (Mt. St. Helens), and Transform Boundaries: slide past each other, causing major earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault in California.)

What is the geosphere again? (all the rocks, minerals, and ground found on Earth) 

Today, we are going to continue studying the geosphere by learning about the rock cycle. 


Prior to today's lesson, I project and trace this Rock Cycle Template onto a large bulletin board paper: Teacher Sketch on Poster. I also copy the Rock Cycle Template for each student (blown up on a 11 x 17 paper to ensure students have ample space for note-taking). 

At this time, I invite students to move closer to the front board with their posters as well as a black, red, blue, and green marker. 


I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I decide to provide students with 15 terms (Rock Cycle Teacher Notes) that are important to understanding the rock cycle without explaining the meaning of each term introduced. Here's part of this presentation of key terms: Teacher Writing Key Words on Poster. During this time, I try to inspire student inquiry by keeping the definitions of each term secret and by asking students to share their questions. Soon, students will have the opportunity to define each of these terms with a partner! 


To help students categorize ideas, I choose to use a red marker for igneous rock terms, green for sedimentary rock terms, blue for metamorphic rock terms, and black for the remaining terms. Not only do most of my students love adding color to their posters, this also helps them organize a large number of scientific concepts. 

Teacher Note: I purposefully do not define any terms (such as the rock cycle, sedimentary rock, or deposition) as I want students to discover the meaning of these concepts through their research. 


70 minutes

Google Documents & Links to Resources

Each of my students has a google email account, so sharing documents that can be edited by students is quick and easy! At this time, I share the following document, Rock Cycle Hunt (in Google Document format). Each of the key questions is listed on the left side of the table. I have linked each with an online resource so that students can simply click on the link to find the answer to each question.  

Getting Ready

I explain: Today you will be working in groups of two. Students know that this means they will work with their elbow partners (the student sitting right next to them). I then ask partners to show me which partner is a #1 and which partner is a #2. Students know that I expect them to do this quickly and without talking. Setting this expectation ahead of time saves instructional time. 

Today, one partner will be in charge of clicking on the links to access resources while the other partner will be in charge of taking notes in the Google Document, Rock Cycle Hunt. This encourages collaboration amongst students and allows students to easily transfer information (in their own words) from one computer screen (reading) to the other (typing). 

I ask both students to grab their laptop computers from the cart. I then ask #2 students to copy the document, Rock Cycle Hunt, in order to make it their own editable version. I ask #1 students to also open the Rock Cycle Hunt so that they can click on the linked resources as needed. 


When students are ready, Student Computers Side-By-Side, I take this time to model how to click on the first resource in order to answer the first question, What is a rock? As a class, we scan through the resource to locate the answer and type the following notes: Modeling Rock Hunt Research

In no time, students are ready to complete this research on their own. 

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What patterns have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. What does that mean? 
  8. Can you give me an example?
  9. What conclusion can you draw about ____?

Student Conferences

During this conference, Conferencing about Melting, I try to help the students understand how pressure as a rock is pushed downward by comparing this to the water in an ocean. This comparison seems to help! 

Here, Conferencing about Precise Answers, the students and I discuss how igneous rocks form from both magma and lava. Encouraging the most precise answers possible is key to holding high expectations.

While conferencing with these students, Conferencing about Weathering & Erosion, I encourage the students to truly think about the meaning of weathering and erosion (instead of just writing down an answer). Anytime I can, I try to connect scientific processes with the lives of students - such as humans collecting rocks and carrying them home as an example of erosion. 

Student Work

Most students completed their research or came within a few questions of finishing during this timeframe. Here are a few examples of student work during this time. 


Tomorrow, I'll ask students to share their research as we compete the classroom anchor chart and individual student rock cycle posters together as a class.