Layers of the Earth

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SWBAT create a model of the layers of the Earth and describe each layer.

Big Idea

Students work with a partner to research properties of the layers of the Earth, then create a foldable modeling the layers with facts about each on it.

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 is building knowledge necessary to understanding the geosphere.  Students will be connecting this lesson to future lessons to help them understand how all of Earth's Systems are connected, standard 5-ESS2-1. 

Lesson Goal:

The goal of this lesson is for students to be able to identify and describe each layer of the Earth.  

Success Criteria: 

Students will demonstrate success of this goal by correctly identifying facts about each layer from their research fact sheet. 

Preparing For The Lesson:

Warm Up:

  • Make a dessert: a layer of cut up strawberries, a layer of strawberry gel that can be found in a container by the strawberries in the produce section, a layer of torn up angel food cake, and then a layer of Cool Whip with varying thickness. 

Guided Practice:

  • Each student will need: a large green circle cut from construction paper, a slightly smaller yellow circle, an orange circle about half the size of the yellow, and a small red circle. 


Wrap Up:  

The only materials that will be used in this section are the dessert from the warm up (you will need small plates or cups, and forks), and the foldable that was created in the guided practice section. 

Warm Up

10 minutes

My Favorite Dessert 

I show the class a big bowl of my favorite dessert, layered strawberry shortcake.  It has a small number of cut strawberries on the bottom (not visible in the picture because they are in the center), a layer of angel food cake torn into pieces, then a layer of strawberries mixed with strawberry gel (comes in a container in the produce section), topped with a thin layer of Cool Whip.  I tell mystudents While making my favorite dessert last night, I realized that the dessert has some similarities to Earth.  What do you think is similar between my favorite dessert and Earth? 

Students tell me that they both have layers.  I respond by saying, my dessert has four layers of deliciousness, how many layers does the Earth have? Students believe that it also has four layers.  Let's do some research to find out if that is right, and to see if there are any other similarities between the dessert and the layers of the Earth.  


Why Use This Comparison 

Food is always a good tool to use when teaching students.  They love food, and it helps give them something to remember that they can refer back to when questions about the layers of the Earth come up.  Students will get to eat some of it at the end of the lesson.  Seeing it, tasting it, and talking about it in comparison to the Earth, will all help them retain the information better. 

Guided Practice

10 minutes

Creating the Foldable 

I begin by doing a Google Search for "Layers of the Earth" and showing them this picture.


I count the layers and say It looks like you were all correct, there are four layers.  We're going to make a model of these layers to help us remember.  

I provide each student with a large green circle cut out of construction paper, a yellow circle that is slightly smaller than the green, an orange circle that is about half the size of the yellow, and a small red circle.   There is really no reason I selected these specific colors except I wanted the outside to be green or blue (to represent land or water) and the inner core to be red (to represent the hottest part). I have precut all of the circles to save time in class and to ensure that they are all equal in size.  

I have students layer them with the largest circle (green) on the bottom, to the smallest circle (red) on top.  As they are doing this I ask why they believe some of the circles are close in size while others leave more space in between.  They tell me it represents how think each layer and some are thicker than others.  I then tell them to fold the circles in half, then unfold them and glue one side down so that half of each circle cannot move, while the other side can still open and fold over. 


After students glue the circles together, we label the edge of the green circle Crust.  The yellow circle Mantle, the orange circle Outer Core, and the red circle Inner Core.  I explain to students that this will be our foldable for the layers of the Earth and that we will be adding information to it about each layer. 



20 minutes

Selecting a Partner 

I walk around the room and assign a number to each student.  The regular education students are assigned as ones and ESE students are assigned as twos.  Students have no idea how I selected ones and twos since I just randomly walked around the room telling them a number.   I tell all ones to move to one side of the room, and all twos to the other side of the room.  I allow students to choose a partner to work with for this activity, but it must be a one working with a two.   After selecting a partner, they find a spot around the room away from other groups to work.  

Students will be using laptops so two students working together is a good number, if there is an odd number I have one group of three.  With groups of two, both students are able to see the computer and help navigate through sites.  If there were more students, such as four, then there would be less involvement and more playing around.  

Learning About the Layers 

I provide each pair of students with a Layers of the Earth Fact Sheet.  The fact sheet helps guide them on what to look for while doing the research.  I have included the information that I want them to look up for each layer so that we can compare it to the other layers, as well as a section titled "Did You Know:" that can be used to record some fun facts they may come across.  

We will use the information from the fact sheet to complete our foldable after the research is complete.  I circulate the room while groups work to ensure everyone is on task and sharing responsibilities with their partner.  I also want to scan websites being used for research to make sure that students are on credible sites.  They have discussed how to complete research and how to identify credible websites and resources in Language Arts class.  I do not provide them with websites to look information up on so that they can practice these skills and be more comfortable with conducting research before moving on to middle school.  Differences in facts is expected when students are free to research on their own. These differences allow me to model how to search for facts when I pull up information to prove which answer is the most accurate during our discussion. 


Wrap Up

20 minutes

Sharing Information and Completing Our Foldable 

Students take out their layered foldable that was created earlier in the lesson.  I place my copy of the foldable on the overhead as an example for students to copy from.  I randomly call on groups to tell me the information they found for each section.  After a group tells me a fact, I ask if any groups found something different.  If group information is not consistent, I go to the computer and look it up, projecting the information on the overhead for them to see.  Once we discover who is correct, we use that information.  This only happened in a couple of instances, mainly with temperature and thickness because both can vary.

As we share information, I record it on my foldable on the back of the flap that folds over for each layer.  Students copy down the information as I record it.  Here is the information that was shared:


Thickness: 3 (oceans) - 25 (mountains) miles thick 

Composition: Solid rock and minerals   

Solid or Liquid:  Solid with water on it 

Temperature: Varies with thickness (average 870 Celsius) 

Did You Know: Cut into pieces that float on the mantle 


Thickness: 1,802 miles thick 

Composition: nickel and iron 

Solid or Liquid: Liquid 

Temperature: 4,000 - 6,000 Celsius

Did You Know: 85% of the total weight of Earth 

Outer Core

Thickness: 1,367 miles thick

Composition: Iron and Nickel 

Solid or Liquid: Liquid

Temperature: 4,000 - 5,000 Celsius 

Did You Know: Has a magnetic field 

Inner Core

Thickness: 750 miles thick 

Composition: nickel and iron

Solid or Liquid: Solid 

Temperature: 4,300 Celsius 

Did You Know: It spins faster than other layers 


Why Have Them Record Research Information Twice

I have students record the facts they gather while researching on the research fact sheet and then again on the foldable so that I can compile the facts and check for accuracy.  Having them research the information and be the ones to tell me what to record in the foldable, makes them take ownership in the lesson.  Some groups may find misinformation which I want to be able to check as well.  It also offers an opportunity to discuss slight differences, such as differences in the thickness or temperature of each layer.  Groups found slight differences in information for these areas so I was able to explain that scientists have never been past the crust of the Earth and are relaying on scientific investigations and tools to learn about the deeper layers.  

Connecting it Back to the Dessert 

I get the dessert back out and ask them what other similarities they have discovered between my favorite dessert and the layers of the Earth.  They tell me that the strawberry gel layer is bot solid and liquid similar to the mantle, the angel food cake is a thick layer similar to the outer core, and that the Cool Whip has different elevations (I made mountains and valleys in it on purpose while making it) similar to the crust between land and oceans.