Rock Cycle

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Students will be able to identify the three main rock types, and how they form.

Big Idea

Rocks and Minerals emerge from the ever changing Earth.


5 minutes

As students take their seats, I have the following song by Mr. Parr playing.

I then administer the Rock Cycle probe, which is aimed at revealing students ideas about the origin of rocks. Students commonly have the misconception that all rocks are the same and that minerals can be manufactured. In geologic terms, "Rocks and minerals are naturally occurring substances that are usually crystalline and solid." (OSU)

The student answers to the probe (SW probe 1SW probe 2SW probe 3) reveal exactly what I was looking for. All students identified the correct answer, going as far as mentioning specifically that minerals cannot be manufactured, and most mention the work we did in previous years. This tells me that we need not spend a lot of time going over rock cycle, and we can move on to the new concepts of uniformitarianism and geologic time.


20 minutes

I start the lesson by presenting the following slide-show:

Slides 8, 10 and 11 have specific instructions for the students to Think-Pair-Share, allowing students to engage in a scientific conversation with their peers (SP8). In this video you can see an example of the conversation being had during the pair portion of the TPS.

Slide 13 includes a link to the Rock Cycle Study Jam (movie), which is aimed at a younger audience, but does a great job of explaining the rock cycle to students.

This is a rather quick slide-show, used mostly for review and to activate prior knowledge. Uniformitarianism is a new concept in 7th grade, but the rock cycle and types of rocks are usually covered extensively in earlier grades. 

Rock Cycle Game - Day 1

20 minutes

I tell the students that they are going to play a little game called "Through the Rock Cycle" (adapted from Ride the Rock Cycle, Illinois State Museum Geology Online). I show the students the Rock Cycle dice and tent cards, and explain that they will start at their own tables. Each student will participate individually, so each one of them will:

  1. Roll the dice and read the information.
  2. Step to the side and write down what happened to them.
  3. Proceed to the place indicated by the dice (which sometimes means go to the back of the line at the same table).
  4. Restart at step 1.

In order to avoid confusion, especially since some students might stay at the same table for several turns, I ask for a couple of students to help me model the activity. As I am modeling this I am very explicit in demonstrating "read, step-away, write down, back of the line", which cuts down on the potential problems of whose turn is it to roll the dice. I also tell the students that they will use this journey during the next class session to develop a cartoon, which has to include 8 frames, so it is imperative that they have a record of their travels and move swiftly. 

I ask a student to help me set up a tent card and corresponding dice at each table and have students begin the game.

In the following video, I explain some of the benefits of the game as well as give tips for managing it in the classroom.

Students participating in this activity gain an understanding of how matter is conserved (CCC -Energy and Matter: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation*) as rocks travel through the rock cycle, as well as how the apparent stability of rocks might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time (CCC - Stability and Change**).

*Matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes. 

**Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time. 

Rock Cycle Cartoon - Day 2

50 minutes

As we begin the second day of this lesson, I ask students to bring out the data they gathered the day before as they traveled through the rock cycle. I hand out a copy of the rock cycle cartoon instructions and rubric to each student, and go over the directions expectations, including the rubric.

I tell the students that they will have the rest of the period to work on the cartoon. I also mention that I do not expect them to finish in one class period, so any portion that is not finished will have to be done outside of class time. They are expected to turn in their finished products in three days. 

I provide students with blank paper and coloring materials and allow them to get to work.

Note to Teachers: I decided to provide only one class period for the students to begin their cartoons and have them finish for homework because I want them to have enough time to turn in quality work. There are always students that take a long time to draw out their ideas. This makes it so that I have a group that is done right away and one that will benefit from more time. By starting in class and finishing at home, all students have the time they need to get it done without anyone having to wait. The conceptual load is not huge, and the students do not need my support to draw, so I'd rather they use their own time to complete this assignment and allow us to move on to the next lesson.

In this video you can see samples of the students' work.



5 minutes

To bring this lesson to a close, I have students go back to the Rock Cycle probe they completed at the on Day 1, and either correct their initial answer if they now have a different answer or confirm their original answer citing evidence from this lesson.

I collect the "corrected" probes and as I go over them, I am looking for answers that still reveal a misconception, and make sure that I address it with the individual students during the next session.

Note to teachers: On day one of this lesson,  where the students originally answered the probe, it became evident that there would be no need to go back to it. All students had correctly identified the character that provided the "right answer", and given sufficient evidence as to make going back to the probe unnecessary. Had my results been different, I would have given it back as planned. Having students revisit their original ideas is a powerful learning strategy. It gives students an opportunity to visualize that learning has taken place, promoting a growth mindset.