Geosphere: The Rock Cycle Day 2

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SWBAT construct a diagram to describe the rock cycle and explain how the Earth's systems interact during this process.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students create and describe a rock cycle diagram poster and determine how the Earth's spheres interact in the rock cycle.

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 with a song and demonstration of the rock cycle. Students then label a rock cycle diagram on posters. At the end of the lesson, students reflect and apply their new understanding of the rock cycle by examining how the Earth's systems interact during this process.

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 2: Developing and Using Models

Students label and describe a rock cycle diagram using their research from yesterday. 

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Crosscutting Concept 4: Systems and System Models

Students study the rock cycle as a system of parts and processes (melting, cooling, compaction) that make up a whole cycle. 

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)

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. 

During yesterday's lesson, Geosphere: The Rock Cycle Day 1, the class began creating a classroom anchor chart on the rock cycle. Instead of providing students with information on the rock cycle, I released the research responsibility to students. After listing 15 key terms involving the rock cycle, students then researched the meaning each of these terms with a partner. Today, 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 and explain how the Earth's systems interact during this process. I explain: Yesterday, you all did an amazing job researching key terms having to do with the rock cycle. Today, we are going to use your expertise to complete the rock cycle diagram on our classroom anchor chart as well as your individual posters.... but first, I have a song about the rock cycle for you! 

Students excitedly come up front and ask to turn off the lights! At this point, I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show the following video, featuring a rock cycle song. The kids LOVE it and some even begin singing along!

Rock Cycle Demonstration

Before jumping into student research on the rock cycle, I take about ten minutes to demonstrate the rock cycle process using crayon shavings. I invites students to gather around closely so that everyone can see. 

1. First, I use a cheese grater to weather the four colors of crayons into a pile of crayon shavings (or sediment) on a paper plate. (I grated most "sediment" ahead of time to preserve learning time.)

2. Next, I press down on the pile of shavings (sediment) to create a sedimentary rock. We discuss how sedimentary rocks are formed from layers of sediment being compacted together: Crayon Shaving Demonstration.

3. To create a metamorphic rock, I press down even more and place the paper plate in the microwave for 10-20 seconds so that the rock heats up but does not melt. 

4. Finally, to form an igneous rock, we melted the rock (almost) all the way in to microwave and let it cool. (I actually didn't melt the rock enough. However, this provided the opportunity to speak about the difference between metamorphic rock and igneous rock. The completely melted portion represents igneous rock while the heated/not melted portion represents metamorphic rock: Metamorphic & Igneous Rock.) Students couldn't wait to touch it! 

We then discuss how we could use the cheese grater to weather the rock back down into sediment, starting the process all over again. 


50 minutes


For yesterday's lesson, I projected and sketched the Rock Cycle Template on a large piece of bulletin board paper: Teacher Sketch on Poster. I also copied the Rock Cycle Template for each student (blown up on a 11 x 17 paper to ensure students have ample space for note-taking). Then, I introduced 15 terms that have to do with the rock cycle. As I wrote them on the poster (Key Terms on Rock Cycle Diagram), students also wrote them on their own rock cycle posters. 

Now that students have had the time to research all fifteen terms, it's time to come back together to complete our rock cycle diagram posters. Here's what the completed classroom anchor chart will look like at the end of this time: Rock Cycle Diagram Poster.

At this time, I invite pairs of students (research partners from yesterday) to grab one computer, pull up their research from yesterday (Rock Cycle Hunt Student Notes), and to join me at the front of the classroom. Some students sit on the carpet while others sit at nearby desks. The goal is for everyone to be comfortable, able to see, and ready to learn. 


To help student visualize the three types of rocks on Earth (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic), I collect and print several pictures each rock type: Rock Pictures. While completing the class anchor chart today, I'll show students the pictures when discussing each rock type and attach them to the poster. 

Rock Cycle & Rock Notes

We begin by discussing student research on the rock cycle and rocks: Rock Cycle & Rock Notes. Student volunteers explain their thinking as the rest of us take notes (I take notes on the large classroom anchor chart while students take notes on their own rock cycle diagram posters).

One student says, "The rock cycle is the process of changing one type of rock into another." Another student defines a rock as a "hard, solid material that consists of minerals." A final student explains that "there are three types of rocks: 1) igneous, 2) sedimentary, and 3) metamorphic."

During this time the majority of students have their hands up and are excited to share! To increase student ownership even more, I could have written student names alongside the student-provided facts on the poster. 

Melting & Crystallization Notes

Next, we move on to taking notes on melting and crystallization. One student says, "Rocks melt because of the heat under the Earth's surface." Another student adds, "The pressure causes melting too." We also discuss how different minerals have different melting points. We continue on in the same fashion until we have completed Melting & Crystallization Notes. At times, the students have to determine which information is most important due to limited space on our diagram. Determining importance is an essential reading skill for students to learn! I then ask students to turn and talk: How are the processes of melting and crystallization different? 

Extrusive & Intrusive Igneous Rock

We move on to examining the difference between extrusive and igneous rocks: Extrusive & Intrusive Igneous Rock Notes. Students quickly point out that extrusive igneous rocks form when lava cools above ground while intrusive igneous rocks form when magma cools below ground. We discuss how extrusive sounds like "exit" and how intrusive includes the word "in."

To further help students visualize how extrusive rocks tend to have smaller crystals and intrusive rocks tend to have larger due to the speed of the cooling process, I show students the following pictures of obsidian (black, glassy, extrusive) and pink granite (crystals are large and easy to see).


We also discuss a local boulder batholith in Butte Montana. Many students connect this nearby rock cropping of intrusive igneous rock that's now exposed due to weathering and erosion. Before moving on, I ask students to turn and talk: Explain how extrusive and intrusive igneous rocks are different. 

Weathering, Erosion, & Deposition

When discussing weathering today, I want to make sure students understand that weathering does not just happen because of weather (precipitation). I'm happy to hear students define this term as the breaking down of rocks on the Earth's surface. This is a great opportunity to draw a little tree to model how biological weathering includes plant roots breaking rock. (Now that I think about it, this contradicts our weathering definition. Perhaps it should read, "Weathering is the breaking down of rocks on or near the Earth's surface.") 

We then move on to taking notes on erosion and deposition: Weathering, Erosion, & Deposition Notes. To wrap up this section of the diagram, I ask students to turn and talk: What is the difference between the weathering, erosion, and deposition processes? 

Sedimentation, Compaction, Cementation, & Sedimentary Rock Notes

Next, students explain the processes that lead to the formation of a sedimentary rock: Sedimentation, Compaction, Cementation, & Sedimentary Rock Notes. This is the perfect opportunity to show students a picture featuring layers of deposited sediments. 

When discussing compaction and cementation, I show the following picture of fossils preserved in sedimentary rock and mention the fact that sedimentary rocks are the only rocks in which fossils can be found.

Before moving on, I ask students to turn and talk: Explain how sedimentary rocks are formed! 

Metamorphism & Metamorphic Rock

Finally, the students compare notes on metamorphism and metamorphic rocks and we take the following notes on our rock cycle diagram posters: Metamorphism & Metamorphic Rock Notes. I take the time to show students metamorphic rocks that are foliated (first picture below shows repetitive layering in metamorphic rocks) or nonaffiliated (second picture below, gneiss, shows no layers). These pictures also demonstrate the extreme pressures that push and twist on the rocky layers below the Earths' crust! 

Again, to encourage a high level of engagement and understanding, I ask students to turn and talk: Explain how metamorphic rocks are formed! 

Rock Cycle Simulation

To bring help students truly see the connection between all of their researched rock cycle terms, I play the following one-minute simulation. I hear several students respond, "Oh..." "Now I get it..." This just goes to show how important it is to attend to multiple learning styles.

Student Work

Here are a few examples of student work during this time. I could tell that students were extra proud of their work as they were the ones who were responsible for the research! 

Reflect & Apply

20 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings. For this reason, I invite students to observe how the spheres interact in the rock cycle using the picture below:

Teacher Note: This activity supports NGSS standard, 5-ESS2-1: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact

Google Documents

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 document, Rock Cycle & Spheres Response (in Google Documents). At this time, students grab their laptop computers from the cart and copy the document to make it their own editable version.

Modeling Expectations

To get students started, I ask: Can anyone explain how the geosphere interacts with other spheres in the rock cycle? One student explains that a volcanic eruption can cause gas and dust to enter the atmosphere. Another student adds on, "Sediment creates sandy beaches along the ocean."

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 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 conclusion can you draw about ____?
  8. How is the ______ (sphere) connected to the _____ (sphere)?


During this conference, Conferencing with Students, we discuss how the geosphere and hydrosphere interact in the rock cycle. One student explains that the melting snow carries sediment down the mountain. We then discuss whether or not the rock cycle would work as well without the water cycle. This written response process reminds me a complex multi-step problem in math. Students must first identify examples of the Earth's systems, and then explain how these systems (spheres) interact in the rock cycle. 

Student Work

Here are a few examples of student work during this time: