What are Fossil Fuels?

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SWBAT explain how fossil fuels were formed and how they impact climate change.

Big Idea

What's the big deal with fossil fuels? What are they and why are they so important? This lesson introduces students to the role of fossil fuels in creating new technologies.

Read This First

2 minutes

This is a great lesson if you are looking for flexibility. If you are a science teacher, the Engage Section includes a strategy called Dig Deeper into the Science, a method of phenomenon teaching. The Explain Section introduces a movie and uses modeling as a teaching strategy. The lesson includes a concept map.

If you are a Language Arts teacher, you can start with the Explore Section. There is an article entitled “Problems with the Fossil Fuel Economy” from the site howstuffworks.com. Student annotate the article because in the Evaluate Section, they use the article to support the statement “Fossil Fuels are Essential to the Economy.” The writing strategy is a 3 X 3 Box. This writing piece can be extended into longer writing piece.

As the Science teacher, I assessed the 3 x 3 Box for science content and gave the advance organizer to the Language Arts teachers. They used the advanced organizer for a writing project and I skipped the writing component. It worked out great for all of us.


5 minutes

I begin the lesson by asking, "What do you know about fossil fuels?" Students are allowed to write down any word or phrase they can link to the term fossil fuel.  My intention is to gather background knowledge to determine the holes in student understanding. Student work in groups of three or four. I give them lap whiteboards to write their answers on. My strategy is social learning as students review information. It is really fun to watch as some students remember a term associated with fossil fuels and others ask them what it is or will say, "I've heard of that!" 

Students share their whiteboards in a strategy I call Stand Up and Share. I ask students to number themselves and I randomly call out a number. The person with the same number I called out must stand and share the table answers. I give the group a few minutes to talk over the answer with the "stander" to help build confidence. 

With the background information, I begin a strategy called Digging Deeper in Science. Based upon student answers, I ask questions. For example, a typical response is "Renewable." I ask, "What does that mean?" Another typical response is "It's old." I ask, "Why did you write that?" When a student responds, "Coal." I ask, "Why is it considered a fossil fuel?" 

It is interesting to see where student understanding of fossil fuels abruptly ends. Because of the word fossil, they will say it is old. When I dig deeper, many say they know this because of the word "fossil". There are always a few students that have more background knowledge than others. I ask them, "How do you know this?" Sometimes they will explain a teacher that taught them. I love this because there are others in the class with the same teacher and I can ask the students to make links to prior learning. 


7 minutes

To help students understand how fossil fuels were formed I show them a movie. This video is Australian, and the presenter has an accent. I point this out to the students beforehand so they will not be as distracted. 


After the movie I ask student groups to draw a conceptual model of fossil fuels on their lap whiteboards.  I ask students to share their drawings and we determine the best representation of the formation of fossil fuels. For example, one group might neglect to record the importance of the time it takes to form fossil fuels and another drawing will show it. I'll ask, "Why is it important to include time on the drawing?" 

When the class has discussed how to draw the model, I ask each student to draw the model in their notebooks. My intention is to allow the students to use many different intelligences to understand the concept. They have learned through listening, speaking, and by drawing. In the movie I show students samples of the white boards and the student notebooks. 


10 minutes

After the students have drawn a concept of how fossil fuels are formed, I ask introduce an article about fossil fuels and the economy. My intention is to ask students to consider why fossil fuels are so important. The article explains that fossil fuels are important for the economy and then it explains the environmental disadvantages of using fossil fuels. 

I introduce the reading with a vocabulary dig. Students read the article once, looking for words someone might not understand. In groups of three and four students write the unknown terms. I collect the terms and ask if anyone knows the definition of the terms listed. My intention is to allow the students who might know the terms the opportunity to share their knowledge and teach the class. I define the terms that no one uses by using dictionary.com, by drawing, or by linking the word to something I think the students may already know. I then place the word on my Word Wall to use as a reference for future writing and future discussions. 

After we have discussed the vocabulary, I ask students to read the article by themselves. I explain the purpose of the article is to answer the question, "Why are fossil fuels so essential?"

Students annotate the article with symbols. If the information answers the essential question, students make positive symbol. When fossil fuels present a problem, students use a negative symbol. I allow the students to choose their own symbols. To encourage curiosity and student led learning, I ask students to use a series of exclamation points if they felt there was interesting information. 


10 minutes

After the students have completed the annotations, I ask them to support the position, "Fossil Fuels are essential to our economy."  They are required to explain their answer in a five to seven sentence summary with a citation. In addition, they are required to use the transitions however or although to explain how fossil fuels have harmful environmental impacts. 

In addition, students can use information from the movie. I ask if they want to watch the movie again to help write their position. 

To help student organize their writing, I ask them to complete a 3 x 3 box. Using their annotations, they record evidence for the position and evidence against the position. 

There are common writing mistakes my students make as evidence in the Fossil Fuel Student Samples. Some students do not follow the directions and report on why fossil fuels are a problem. It is an easier summary to write because they have more background information. In addition, the authors spend more time writing about the problems. I spend time explaining how they are not writing what they commonly know.  

A writing mistake commonly made is putting the quote at the end almost gratuitously. The student put in a wrote but did not think about the strongest place to write it. I ask them to change the arrangement of the sentences to make the paragraph stronger and flow better. 









Fossil fuels are essential to our economy.