What is a Fossil?

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SWBAT use precise scientific vocabulary to define and explain fossils.

Big Idea

An initial understanding of fossils is enhanced by further reading and viewing and increased vocabulary.

Opening Question

8 minutes

I ask a opening question and students type (or write) independent answers.  This helps us know what our starting point is, and gives me ideas on how to guide the lesson.  I've learned never to make assumptions about what students do and do not know!

Common student responses were:

  • "A fossil is something that is dead."
  • "A fossil is something that died a long time ago."
  • "Dinosaur bones"
  • "Something from the time of the dinosaurs."
  • "A bone inside a rock"
  • "A skeleton of a dinosaur"
  • "Something that died and then was out in a dry place for a long time"
  • "Something that is extinct"

Fossil Basics. What IS a fossil?

54 minutes

My goal in this part of the lesson is for students to develop their understanding of what a fossil is through the use and understanding of precise scientific vocabulary.  At the conclusion of this lesson, their answer to the question, “What is a fossil?” should be more than “a dinosaur bone” or “an animal that died.”

In today's lesson, I use both online animations and a reading passage to help students expand their basic understanding of what does and does not constitute a fossil. I project these Guiding Questions (Introduction to Fossils) and we read them together as a class prior to students reading this article with a partner or independently.

Next, I project this animated explanation (click on the Resources tab) for students prior to having them read.   This animation of from mylearning.org (Arts Council England).  We discuss it and students share one new idea with a partner.

Third, I show students How Fossils Are Made from  Sheppard Software.

Finally, students read and discuss the Introduction to Fossils passage.  An alternative to the reading page that can be completed by high-level readers is the excellent What is a Fossil activity (Level One) from UC Berkeley.  


Exit Ticket

8 minutes

I ask students to write an expanded answer to the question "What is a Fossil?"  They write it in their science journals or on a whiteboard.  Then I ask them to think about a non-example, and why that object might be confused with a fossil.  Finally, I call on a few students to share out their answers with the class.