This two-week, 7-lesson unit introduces the basic principles of sedimentology and stratigraphy to students at the 6th grade level. The unit contains several hands-on activities for students to work with sediment and water tables. Based on these activities, students will learn to look for evidence in sedimentary rocks (i.e., grain size and shape) that can tell them about the environment where the rock was formed. Students will complete a final project where they create a stratigraphic column based on a provided series of sedimentary rock layers.

  • Students learn that sediment is eroded and transported across the earth’s surface.
  • Students understand that different grain sizes require different amounts of energy to move.
  • Students understand the relationship between the smoothness of a sediment grain and how long the grain has been transported.
  • Students learn that sedimentary rocks form layers and different layers represent the different environments where they were deposited (i.e., a rock formed in a lake looks different than a rock formed in a river).
  • Students can reconstruct the sequence of events when looking at a geologic cross section and know that the oldest sedimentary layers are below younger layers.
  • Students can be given a description of an environment and describe what kind of sediment would be found there.
  • Students can look at a series of sedimentary rocks and determine the environment where the rock formed.
  • The surface of the earth has always looked the same and will always look the same.
  • Rivers only transport water.
  • Sand at the beach comes from the ocean.
  • All sedimentary rocks formed in the same environment.
  • Rocks in high energy environments are small because they get broken apart.
  • Sediment shape is related to the energy of the environment.
  • Sedimentary rock layers were all made at the same time.
  • Oldest rocks are ones with dinosaur fossils.
  • This unit is made up of 7 lessons. Each lesson contains PowerPoint slides with several functions; to explain background material for the teacher, activities to engage the students with the lesson material, instructions for hands-on student activities, discussion and assessment suggestions. There is also a 5E lesson plan for each lesson that describes student and teacher roles in relation to the 5E teaching method. Most lessons involve hands on activities that require various materials listed in the PowerPoint files. Some lessons have handouts for students including worksheets, written procedures, or digital activity files.
  • Introduction to sediment erosion and deposition through hands-on water table activity.
  • Understanding the relationship between grain size and energy with water table activity.
  • Understanding the relationship between sediment shape and transportation time with lollipop activity.
  • Applying knowledge from previous lessons to build sediment layers based on environmental description.
  • Applying knowledge from previous lessons to interpret cliff stratigraphy and create a stratigraphic column.
  • Using data from previous lesson, make hypotheses about the environments where rocks were formed.
  • Taking a “core” of a layer cake to see how scientists study sedimentary rocks under water.
  • This unit was designed for a 6th grade science class in San Diego, California. Each lesson was planned for a 60-minute class period. Lesson 5 may take 2 class periods, or students could be assigned homework to conclude the lesson. Students should have an understanding of the rock cycle before beginning this unit. The unit leads well into lessons on plate tectonics.
  • Each lesson provides an opportunity for assessment in the form of discussions, student participation, worksheets, or exit slips. These are detailed in the individual lesson plans. In lessons 5-6, students will be creating a graphic project that can be used as a formal assessment tool.
  • Each lesson has an associated document (5E Lesson Plan) explaining the lesson in the context of the 5E learning method. In order to get students interested, it’s important to emphasize that students will be acting like real geologists and investigating the history of the earth. How has the earth changed? What has your town looked like in the past? Was it more tropical? Were there dinosaurs? In this sense, the students are similar to detectives – collecting evidence and making interpretations about past events.
  • In lessons 5-6 students will collect evidence from sedimentary rock layers and create a graphic representation known as a stratigraphic column. These columns are used by geologists to record information they collect in the field and graphically share this information with others. Students can be graded based on how well their columns represent the rocks described in the activity.
  • 2a. Students know water running downhill is the dominant process in shaping the landscape, including California’s landscape.
  • 2b. Students know rivers and streams are dynamic systems that erode, transport sediment, change course, and flood their banks in natural and recurring patterns.
  • 2c. Students know beaches are dynamic systems in which the sand is supplied by rivers and moved along the coast by the action of waves.
  • 7a. Develop a hypothesis.
  • 7b. Select and use appropriate tools and technology (including calculators, computers, balances, spring scales, microscopes, and binoculars) to perform tests, collect data, and display data.
  • 7c. Interpret events by sequence and time from natural phenomena (e.g., the relative ages of rocks and intrusions).
  • 4c. Students know that the rock cycle includes the formation of new sediment and rocks and that rocks are often found in layers, with the oldest generally on the bottom.
  • 4e. Students know fossils provide evidence of how life and environmental conditions have changed.
  • 7d. Construct scale models, maps, and appropriately labeled diagrams to communicate scientific knowledge (e.g., motion of Earth’s plates and cell structure).

Sediment Layers

Cliff Stratigraphy

Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 6th grade
  • Time Frame: Two-week, 7-lesson units

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