Overview of Earth's Systems

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SWBAT describe Earth's Systems as the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.

Big Idea

Students work in groups to research one of the Earth's systems and then become the experts in that area to teach their peers.

Rationale and Preparation

The Why Behind Teaching This: 

Unit 5 covers standards relating to Earth's Systems.  It covers Standard 5-ESS2-1: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.  Students will be learning the difference between each of the systems, and ways that each of the systems interact to help make Earth what it is today.  The other standard covered is Standard 5-ESS2-2: Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth. 

Modeling will be an important component of this unit.  Students will be modeling layers of Earth, the water cycle, land forms, and more.  The unit begins with an overview of all the systems, then each system is taught in isolation.  As each new system is covered, how it depends on or interacts with the previous systems will be addressed.  In addition to the end of unit assessment, there will also be a culminating activity where groups build a model to demonstrate how 2 of the systems interact.  Connections to several previously covered standards will also be made throughout this unit.

This specific lesson covers standard 5-ESS2-1 by providing an introduction to each of Earth's Systems.  Being the first lesson in this unit, the goal is only to provide a foundation of knowledge to build on in future lessons.  We will go more in depth with each system through hands on activities as the unit progresses.  At the end of the unit, students will make models to demonstrate their understanding of how all of these systems are related and affect one another. 

Lesson Goal: 

The goal of this lesson is for students to be able to describe each of the Earth's Systems. 

Success Criteria: 

Students will demonstrate success on this lesson goal by correctly identifying each system on the exit activity. 

Preparing for the Lesson:

Warm Up:

  • A piece of chart paper with the following question on it: "What makes the Earth what it is today?"
  • conversation bubble for each student.  I copied them in multiple colors to stand out more against the white chart paper.

Guided Practice:


  • Playing cards divided into sets of 4 cards, each set including 2 face cards (one red and one black), and 2 number cards (one red and one black).
  • 2 Laptops for each group 
  • 5 Large versions of the foldable created from chart paper.  These should be hung around the room for groups to teach at. 
  • A copy of the Guiding Questions to place on the overhead while groups research 

Wrap Up:  

  • Four sticky notes of different colors for each student. 
  • A poster created resembling the front of the foldable for students to place their sticky notes on.

Warm Up

10 minutes

What Makes Earth What It Is Today? 

I have a piece of chart paper on the front board with the following question written on it: "What makes Earth what it is today?"

I provide each student with a conversation bubble and ask them to record their answer to this question in the bubble.  I tell them not to discuss it or look at anyone else's response.  Students can record anything they think of when they think of what makes the Earth.  After students have their thoughts recorded, I have hand them a piece of tape and have them go hang it on the chart paper in the front of the room.  When everyone has added something, I share a few of the different ideas that are up. 


Student responses include things such as land, people, animals, water, buildings, etc.  Some students thought "outside the box" a little and included things such as technology, pollution, and gravity. It was interesting to see all of the different ideas students came up with and led to some great science discussion.   

Why Begin the Lesson With This Activity 

I begin the lesson with this so that I can see the variations in thinking among the students.  When I share some of the responses with the class, it also allows students to hear what their peers are thinking that maybe they hadn't thought of.  

Guided Practice

10 minutes

Setting up the Foldable 

I provide each student with a copy of the Earth's System Foldable Cover that has been cut on the two horizontal lines up to the middle square.  I also provide them with a copy of the Earth's System Foldable Inside which has not been cut. I instruct students to place the cover page on top of the inside page so that everything lines up.  I have students glue the two pages together by placing glue down the center of the back of the cover page and gluing it onto the inside page.  They can then fold the four rectangle sections back making a seam for the foldable down the center.  


I tell students that they will be filling in the information for their foldable in groups.  The cover of the foldable should be a picture, illustrating what each system is composed of.  The inside of the foldable should contain three - five facts about each system.  



30 minutes

Expert Teaching Groups 

My classroom is already set up into table groups of 4 students in each group.  I provide each group with four playing cards, two number cards (one black and one red), and two face cards (one black and one red).  Students are going to become experts in one of Earth's Systems and then go back to their table group and teach them about the system.  

All students with a black number card (one student from each table group) get together to research the Geosphere.  All students with the red number cards get together and begin researching the Biosphere.  All students with the red face cards form a group to research the Hydrosphere.  All students with the black face cards get together to research the Atmosphere. 

I have Guiding Questions on the overhead for students to refer to as they research.  This helps give them suggestions on things to look for while reading through information. You can see one group in the video of group researching the geosphere using the guiding questions to determine what they should be searching for.  Without these questions, students may not know where to begin or the group may have a lot of different ideas. For this to be the most productive it is crucial to have some questions outlined for them to refer to.  

Each group has two laptops to share among the five members to look up information.  They all decide on the meaning of their system and draw a picture on the front of the foldable in their section.  They then discuss what they want to record on the inside of their foldable for the 3 - 5 facts about their system.  All students in the group should record the same information.  You can see in the video of group researching the geosphere 2 that two of the members took the lead on reading the information on what was important, but all four members are listening and recording the information.  This is the way most groups decided to handle the research which was fine with me because all of them would be responsible for teaching it later.  This is particularly helpful for ESE and ELL students who need to hear it and see it before they might feel comfortable teaching it to others. 

After about 10 minutes, I ask all students to return to their table groups.  

Sharing Back With Groups 

I have five large versions of the foldable hanging on the walls around the room and a bucket of markers.  I created the larger version of the foldable out of chart paper.  I assign each group to one of the areas with a large foldable.  Each student in the group takes a turn teaching the group about their Earth System.  They begin by drawing the picture and explaining what it represents.  The other students in the group copy down the drawing onto their own foldable.  The student teaching, adds in the facts about their system on the large foldable while others copy these facts down.  The students in the group have an opportunity to ask questions if there are any, then a new student takes the role as the teacher.  I circulate to watch groups teaching.   This earth system expert teaching video 1 is a good example of how the students should present the information in their own words, and then add bullet points for the information.   

Why Have the Large Versions of The Foldable

I chose to create the larger version of the foldable and have students use it to teach their group for a couple of different reasons.  One reason is so there would be a model for the ESE/ELL students to copy the information from.  Another reason is because it allows for them to stand in front of their group and take on the role of the teacher.



Wrap Up

5 minutes

Exit Activity 

I provide each student with four sticky notes, one purple, one yellow, one blue, and one green.  On the overhead I place a green sticky note labeled Biosphere, a purple sticky note labeled Geosphere, a blue sticky note labeled Hydrosphere, and a yellow sticky note labeled Atmosphere.


I tell students to put their initials on the back of each sticky note, and then write 5 words or less to describe each of Earth's Systems on the color shown on the overhead.  By color coding them, I am saving time in copying down the name of each system.   Just copying those four words would take some students 2 - 3 minutes.  I want this exit activity to take a total of 2 - 3 minutes.  

Once they have the sticky notes completed, they go to the back of the room where there is a piece of chart paper divided into four sections just as their foldable was.  They place the sticky note in the correct section and then return to their seats. 



Information From the Exit Activity 

This exit activity allows me to assess student understanding very quickly.  I can look over the information on the sticky notes later in the day when I have time and remove the sticky notes with misinformation on them.  The only section that had any misconceptions was the geosphere.  Several students put rocks down as the answer for what the geosphere means.  The geosphere refers to things other than rocks so this is something I will reinforce in future lessons.  By removing the sticky notes that are incorrect, I can quickly see which students I need to review with by the initials on the back.  Having the initials on the back and not on the front means that students are not able to tell who got it right or wrong, only I will know.