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SWBAT describe how fossils are found in rocks and what they can tell us.

Big Idea

Another use for rocks? Fossilizing plants and animals so we can learn about them millions of years later!

Teacher Preparation

In this lesson, students will look closely at real fossils and take notes in their journals. Then we will look at some videos and pictures to discover how fossils form over time and how rocks play a huge part in that process.

This lesson aligns to Essential Standard 1.E.2.1, Summarize the physical properties of Earth materials, including rocks, minerals, soils and water that make them useful in different ways. Click here to hear my Explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question.

Our essential question for today is "How do fossils form?"

Check out this website for teacher information about fossils before teaching this lesson. There are also some great resources about fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits website.


*Specimens of fossils - amber, petrified wood, etc.

*Hand lenses

*Science journals

*Internet access

Warm Up

10 minutes

It does not take much to get first graders excited about dinosaurs! To get this lesson off to a good start, I begin by giving each table group of 4-5 student a plate with a few different fossils on it and some hand lenses. I say,

"Today, we are going to do a little exploration before we even get started! Take about 10 minutes and look carefully at what is on your table. Take some notes and make some sketches in your science journals, and record any questions you might have".

As the students work, I help students who may have difficulty recording their questions by writing with them. After about 10 minutes, I ask everyone to join me with their journals on the carpet.

Analyzing and interpreting data, including recording information, pictures, and drawings, supports Science and Engineering Practice 4.


20 minutes

Once we are settled on the carpet together, I say,

"Fossils are usually found in sedimentary rock. Let's look at some examples of how real scientists - usually paleontologists - find fossils".

 I show this National Geographic video which shows paleontologists in action.

Then I show this website which has good images of fossils and lots of information to talk about. As we go through the page, I read to my students and we talk about the vocabulary words like 'petrified wood', and I give them a piece to pass around. Showing specimens of these types of fossils while we are discussing them helps students to really connect the abstract things we are learning about --fossils forming for millions of years --with the objects.

Then I show a picture of amber and explain that it is fossilized tree resin and I pass a piece around for my students to touch.

Finally, I share the La Brea Tar Pits website with my students and we watch the video of the excavation in progress and talk about how they could visit as the paleontologists are still finding new fossils every day. We also talk about how that could be a career choice if someone was really interested in rocks and fossils!

There are lots of other good videos on this website, too, if we have time!

Learning about the natural world through media supports Science and Engineering Practice 8.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

To end the lesson, I always ask my guiding question. I have students turn and tell a partner how fossils were formed, then I ask 3-4 students to share with the class. Communicating information and ideas supports Science and Engineering Practice 8.

To have a bit of fun with this lesson, I end with this Fossil Rock Anthem video which is really fun but also shows good images that review lots of the concepts we talked about today with fossils.