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Earth and Space Science

The Rock Cycle

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Stefanie Thews Stefanie Thews 455 Points

Hello!  I am a student teacher and am making a lesson plan for the Rock Cycle.  I have a couple a resources for the lesson plan itself but, I am having trouble with the length of the lesson plan. I tend to make the lesson plan longer so the students have more time to explore and have opportunity for group discussion. This a 6th grade class and is only 45 min. How can I still have the hand-on activity within this period of time? Any suggestions?

Peggy Ashbrook Margaret Ashbrook 9645 Points

It would be helpful to know what the students already know about rock formation and earth science in general. If they have a basic understanding of rock formation then a hands-on activity identifying rock samples in a general way would reinforce their beginning understanding of the characteristics of sedimentary, metamorphic, or igneous rocks. The processes that form rock are more easily understood when looking at actual rocks.

Ambar Fernandez Ambar Fernandez 230 Points

Hello Stefanie! I feel that having a good understanding of what the students already know about rocks can be very helpful for you to estimate a time for your lesson plan. In a rock lesson we had, we had students looking at rocks and make a Ven diagram where they were asked to observe the rock and write its physical properties from each rock and then similarities. Students seemed to enjoy the activity because they felt like they were in a investigation since they were using magnifying glasses.

Lori Doria Lori Doria 210 Points

To help you with the length of the lesson plan, you can add a short interactive video to show to your students. You can bring out rock or make a slide show of the different kinds of rock. This will help your students who are visual or hands-on learners. 

Callie Bonds Callie Bonds 225 Points

Hello, Stefanie!  I loved learning about the rock cycle around that age!  I remember my favorite project was when our teacher told us that we were going to be investigators for the day and we had to figure out the different properties of rocks to determine what type of rock it was.  We had different rocks at each table and split up into groups. Each group had about 10 minites at their table.  This would fit well into youe 45 minute period because not every student has to see every table.  If you wanted, you could douplicate some rocks to where there is just 3 different ones scattered around the room and the students could see all 3 kinds then compare their notes at the end of the class with the other students.  If you feel yourself running low on time you could always drop one of the tables and just have your students investigate 2 types of rocks.  Hope this helps!

Jennifer Toy Jennifer Toy 715 Points

Hi Stefanie, I recently just started teaching the rock cycle this year and many of my students found this activity really fun and engaging . Of course it is a little bit messy so it would be nice if you could have some students volunteer to be your classroom helpers that day, but overall I think it helped them learn kinesthetically and visually. 

Ayline Rangel Ayline Rangel 515 Points

Hello Stefanie! As an advice, I suggest that the students should first have a conception of what Earth and Space Science is about. Learning this will make them easier to understand about the Rock Cycle and it's formation. It can be very helpful for both to students and to you because it will make the lesson easier and understandable which means you will have enough time to do hands-on activities. Also, I suggest you first show your students videos and pictures about the Rock Cycle to refresh the students memory before beginning the lesson. Best of luck!

Karina Herrera Karina Herrera 485 Points

Hello Stefanie! My name is Karina, and I too am a student teacher! You must feel very excited to be constructing a lesson plan over the Rock Cycle! For one I can say that time management is a big thing to keep in mind when developing a lesson. I do not know if you have ever heard of the 5E Lesson Plan. But, if you have yet to hear about it, it is basically an instructional tool that teachers who are teaching a science lesson can use to guarantee that students will grasp the new information presented to them successfully. Additionally, it helps teachers' to make sure they have sufficient time for an engagement phase, an exploration phase, an explanation phase, an elaborate phase, and finally a evaluative phase. In your case I believe it will be helpful for you to use as a guide and as an assurance that you have sufficient time for your hand-on activity. Also, what I would do is practice presenting my lesson and timing it to assure that I have sufficient time. I hope this helps! Best of luck!

Cris DeWolf Cris DeWolf 11925 Points

Hello Stefanie- Here is an activity that you may be able to incorporate into your lesson on the Rock Cycle. I saw it modeled once at a teacher workshop and plan on using it this summer with the campers I work with at Camp Watonka.

Diane Ripollone Diane Ripollone 2525 Points

Hi Stefanie

I did this in class as demo. Its a really good visual about rocks. NSTA has a great book called "Project Earth Science: Geology, Revised 2nd Edition" This activity appears in the book and there is another activity called Rocks Tell A Story. You need to have rock samples but you could easily use pictures on the internet. It also might be a great resource for you to have in the future.

Have A Great Day

Shalen Boyer Shalen Boyer 5400 Points

45 minutes is kind of tight for a lesson as well as a hands-on activity. I typically have a whole group discussion first and pass around rock samples and then the next day I do an activity with it. The crayon rock cycle listed above is one that my kids really enjoy. One suggestion for the "shaving" tool is that I've found a hand pencil sharpener works the best.

Vivian Del Cid Vivian Del Cid 3265 Points

This is a great idea! I also like the idea of students creating a model of the rock cycle using materials in the class. They could tell the characteristics of each major group of rocks, how each type of rock forms, and how these groups fit into the rock cycle.

Nayeli Salas Nayeli Salas 990 Points

Hi Stefanie, High-five for student teaching! I am a student teacher as well. I had the same issue when planning my lesson on the ladybug cycle. I was stressing over the time because my class only dedicates 45mins to Science as well. My professor told us it was okay to split the lesson between days. You could teach the engage and explore one day and the explain, elaborate and evaluate another day. I don't think it would be ideal to rush it. Goodluck on your lesson!

Amy Stewart Amy Stewart 435 Points


I teach 6th and 8th grade science.  What I find with the 6th graders is that their vocabulary knowledge is lacking.  I like to start a unit or even a lesson with students up and engaged by using a good old card sort....vocabulary words on one set of cards and definitions or pictures on the other set for them to work in groups and match.  You can walk around the classroom and check or engage with each group.  You can time this activity or let them work until all groups have the correct matches.  As you go through the lesson the students will be cataloging their knowledge based on the pictures/definitions presented at the beginning of the class.  I like to finish the class period or begin the next period with the exact same card sort.  This reinforces what they have learned.  Kids are competitive at this age and enjoy this activity. I go over the correct matches out loud at the end and allow the students to "check" their answers.  This allows me to make sure all students have the correct information.  They love standing up and being engaged.  I use these activities often and before midterms or finals we use them as content review.  


Debbie Morgan Debbie Morgan 934 Points

This is late to this board, but I thought I'd throw this idea out there anyway because I've found it so successful-

Play-Doh! It is an incredible way to help students tell a story, explain a concept, and learn or demonstrate knowledge. (1) Give each student a small container of play-doh, (2) present a slide, picture, or hand sample that indicates a part of the cycle and ask students to share what they know (think,pair,share) and then create a representation with their play doh (3) move through each phase of the cycle with a similar process until all parts have been explained and modeled. (4) Pass out a die to each group. Have the groups roll the die and have a key on the board corresponding each roll of the die to a phase in the rock cycle. (5) Each team rolls the die and creates that phase- as time allows groups can share out. Walk around the room and listen in for misconceptions or great modeling- fix or praise! An extension would be to have students in the room create their phase of the rock cycle  and then find someone else in the room who has a phase near theirs in the rock cycle. This is a great activity for any age Pre-100+. Just be sure not to overuse play-doh as a learning tool or it loses its power to be novel and exciting.

Happy sciencing!


Paula Young Paula Young 320 Points

Here's a great resource (at least I think so, since I authored THE ROCK HOUND story!).  Seriously, you will find super teacher and student resources FREE! Go to (Issues in Earth and Space Science).  They publish earth science-related stories twice a year suitable for middle or high school with teacher resources to accompany them.  Russ Colson, the publisher, is a professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, and has authored "Learning to Read the Earth and Sky: Explorations Supporting the NGSS, Grades 6–12" (available in the NSTA bookstore). 

My story has  5-E learning model activities, and is aligned to the NGSS.  ( ) Enjoy and please give me some feedback ( ).  Also check out my blog--you will find lots of activities there for grades K--8 and reviews of science related kids literature.

Brady Schmidt Brady Schmidt 2440 Points

In one of my classes we did this really fun activity with the rock cycle.  It was where there were a bunch of different stations, and each student started at a certian part of the rock cycle.  Then they would role a die and (depending of the probably of something happening EX: heating slowly or heating quickly) where ever they go next was part of the process.  The students will see that most rocks dont make it above ground and see what is common and uncommon for a rock to become.  They will see that the rock can be a different  thing and that over time it changes.  This is a very fun experiment that really makes a difference in the hands on learning for the students.

Brady Schmidt Brady Schmidt 2440 Points

In one of my classes we did this really fun activity with the rock cycle.  It was where there were a bunch of different stations, and each student started at a certian part of the rock cycle.  Then they would role a die and (depending of the probably of something happening EX: heating slowly or heating quickly) where ever they go next was part of the process.  The students will see that most rocks dont make it above ground and see what is common and uncommon for a rock to become.  They will see that the rock can be a different  thing and that over time it changes.  This is a very fun experiment that really makes a difference in the hands on learning for the students.

Quyen Han Quyen Han 9875 Points


It would be difficult to teach a rock cycle lesson in just 45min with a hands-on activity and discussion.  You can introduce a phenomenon (short clip of video, image, etc) to engage students in exploring the why of rock formation with guided open questions and observations.  Then add in the hands-on activity later.

Justice Taylor Justice Taylor 1155 Points

Stefani, Knowing the amount of content that the students already understand is a major key to the lesson. If the students already understand what is going on within the lesson, then you can have them watch a short video clip to refresh their memory. After the video, you can go on and continue the 45min. hands-on activity and discussion.

Brandi Robledo Brandi Robledo 935 Points

Hi Stefanie!

I integrate a lot of science articles with my reading instruction. That could save you some time there. 

Brian Kucera Brian Kucera 585 Points


So, I would recommend using Google Earth if you are able to pull it up in front of your students. By doing this you could show different areas of the world and therefore different rock formations. You could also find different places where the rocks are at one section of the Rock Cycle. Looking near Hawaii or by any other type of active volcano, could give your students a fun exploring style lesson, while also showing them the basics of the cycle!

Hope it works out and good luck either way!


Denise Diaz Denise Diaz 385 Points

Hello! I would suggest to begin the lesson by asking some questions that'll allow you to see what prior knowledge do students have on the rock cycle. This can help speed up the process of the lesson and pick on what they do not know yet :)

Ryan Stacy Ryan Stacy 355 Points

We have taught this lesson multiple times either in our college classes or in the actual classroom. We have found that teaching the rock cycle can easily be done in that amount of time and you also have time to give the students manipulatives such as different types of rocks to help be developmentally responsive to the students needs.

Alyssa Jannello Alyssa Jannello 5155 Points

Hello. I am currently and Early Childhood/ Elementary Education major. When teaching about the Rock Cycle, it can be easier to spread out the lesson into three days. For the first day, students can learn about Igneous rocks. For the second day, students will learn about Sedimentary rocks. For the third day, students will learn about Metamorphic rocks. Each of the lessons can contain basic background information on the types of the rock, how can students identify the different types of rocks followed by an activity where students will be given several rocks to observe and determine what type of rock is it based on the characteristics and differences taught within the lesson. With the lesson spread out, it will allow the students more time to fully comprehend the rock cycle. 

Peggy Ashbrook Margaret Ashbrook 9645 Points

I agree with Aylssa that more time to have first-hand expereinces both with rocks of many kinds and with the local geologic formations will help students learn about characteristics of rocks. 

Considering a set of reflective questions can help us create more effective lessons: 

Peterson, Sherri, and Cindy Hoisington, Peggy Ashbrook, Beth Dykstra Van Meeteren, Rosemary Geiken, Sonia Akiko Yoshizawa, Sandy Chilton and Joseph B. Robinson. 2019. To Pin or Not to Pin? Choosing, Using, and Sharing High-Quality STEM Resources. Young Children. July 2019. 74(3): 79-85

One of the questions in this reflective tool is:

What is there for children to THINK about? 

a. Are there opportunities for them to make claims?
b. Can they come up with their own ideas based on evidence?
c. Does the activity engage children in thinking about scientific concepts? 

Have students hold rocks and wonder about their origins!


Christopher Roemmele Christopher Roemmele 2215 Points

The most important thing is to give kids time with rocks themselves. Your first lesson should be one of discovery and defining operationally - we presume kids know what rocks are because they "see" them - do they really? how well could they distinguish a rock from a non-rock?  Place a half dozen small hand samples in a container along with several other non-rocks items - a piece of styrofoam, a sponge, a cork or toothpick, a penny, a nail, a cotton ball, rubber band, a baggy of soil, a baggy of sand, and a little vial of water - if you can get one for each group of kids that's great.  Have the kids separate out the rocks from the not-rocks.  Then dive into that - why are the things in the not-rocks side on that side?  Can they define what a rock is based on that? (natural/solid/inorganic/cohesive/collection of one or more minerals)

The next stage can be done in one of two ways - give student group a sample of a mixture of each type of rock (all mixed together) - can they classify them based on a particular charcteristic? But what I like better - give each group a tray which is separated into 3 sections: 1 area has a few igneous, 1 area a few sedimentary, and 1 area a few metamorphic rocks.  SO now they have separated by their family - families are a concept all age ranges can appreciate.  What 1 or 2 identifiable things can they can distinguish about igneous rocks that they can say "some igneous rocks are..." or "if it has X, then it is likely an igneous rock" or "a couple of the igneous rocks have X" - Let them do that for each family - let them decide what features each family has that separates them out - they'll remember them better that way.  Distinguishing families is higher priority way more so that making kids memorize rocks (ugh!).  

Also the important big idea as you teach about rocks: Every rock tells a story - a story about Planet Earth.  Frame your teaching of each rock family as: What stories do igneous rocks tell us about Earth?  and so on...

If you are able to use food items as demonstration pieces (you can put them in baggies) for analogs to each family - then use Jolly Ranchers, Root Beer barrels, peppermints or Werthers caramels as igneous rocks (cooled and crystallized from a liquid), granola bar, Nestle's crunch, Sweetart/Smartie, chocolate chip cookie as sedimentary rocks (pieces of sediment compacted/cemented together - fossils possible), and KitKat, Butterfinger and those wafer cookies as metamorphic rocks (foliated layers from the pressure of burial). 

I would stay away from that Pinterest popular chocolate rock shaving rock cycle activity - way too many misconceptions can arise from that.

Do a class size rock cycle - signs, yarn, samples (so go out and get a lava lamp at Target or Amazon)? Play the rock cycle game. Be sure they see the shortcuts.

Teach rocks as you would read a story to kids - they do tell stories and the minerals and elements that make up rocks...are in them as well - so they are very much connected to rocks.

All the best.

Danielle Hersey Danielle Hersey 100 Points

I love what you said about students remembering better as they start to figure it out themselves! This is a great teaching strategy and will help students especially with this type of low risk science.

Jeremy Goforth Jeremy Goforth 1416 Points

When I teach my middle school science class, the hands-on activity is the opportunity for students to directly experience the natural phenomena that is being studied. In my lessons, the concepts essential for student understanding are introduced early on in the lesson, which if in the middle of a unit may even just be a warm-up question set to engage student thinking on the topic. The hands-on activity often directly follows. The students will then build a model or engage with a model to facilitate their understanding of hands-on activity which may be a natural phenomenon. Following modeling, students may have group level discussions and then a whole class discussion which I lead by asking questions of the students.

Have you planned a model to facilitate student understanding of the hands-on activity?

Kaya Edwards Kaya Edwards 2365 Points

Hello! I'm a student at the University of Northern Iowa and I acutally participated in my Level 3 field experience in a 6th grade science class that was studying the rock cycle! Their class periods were only about 30 minutes long so I understand the difficulty of integrating meaningful experiences on a time crunch. When I taught, I conducted an experiment where the students put small granite rocks in a plastic jar and shook for one minute with a partner. This was a great quick experiement to do with the students that they enjoyed. I then had them observe and discuss how the rock formed the sand from the abrasion that happened within the jar. With productive questioning and talk moves, I was able to turn this quick experiement into a great learning experience! Let me know if you have any questions!

Camillia Ledbetter Camillia Ledbetter 795 Points


This quick experiment would also prove as a great segway into the weathering/erosion/deposition standards in 6th grade science. When I taught the rock cycle earlier this year, the other science teacher told me about an activity that she usually does with her students to demonstrate the rock cycle. Students had several Starbursts that they were told to weather (break into small pieces). Next, they were to make the "sediments" experience pressure (students squish them back together). This would form a sedimentary rock. Students then heat the sedimentary rock with their hands, fold it and apply pressure to make a metamorphic rock. Lastly, students melt the starburst (I used a small tabletop burner) and then let it cool to create an igneous rock. After all three "rocks" are created, I tell students to take that same substance and turn it back into another type of rock. Great experiment!

Brittani Coutard Brittani Coutard 645 Points

Hi Stephanie, learning the rock cycle was one of the most interesting things to me at that age. To save some time, the class before you teach the lesson or whenever you see them, try and get some insight on what  excatly the students know about the cycle. Aftwards you can go from there. Another thing you can do is spread the work out amongst the class. Introduce the rock cycle during a 5-10 minute introduction. Put them into groups and give each group a part of the cycle and tell them to write the name and a discription on what that part of the cycle is. One by one from beggining to end make them stand up for 2 to 3 minutes as a group and give a disciption on what their part of the cycle is. Hope this works goodluck. 

Madeline Henderson Madeline Henderson 240 Points

A short video for the class to watch that describes a summary of the rock cycle would provide more time for hands-on activities. This would help them retain previous knowledge about rocks and teach them new information quickly to provide more time elsewhere. 

Ryan Stacy Ryan Stacy 355 Points

Hi Stefanie, for such a short period of time for a lesson I think it's a great idea to show the students a short video of the rock cycle to just refresh their memory. If the kids are struggling with the vocabulary you could always play a game later on. But for your lesson plan something that I enjoyed doing hands-on with the rock cycle was always the starburst exeperiment. The lab is shown here There are multiple ways to do this lab but this is the one I have attached. If the kids need more time later you can always go back and help with more of the undestanding of the cycle and refer back to the lab as the kids will have a fun visual to go back to. 

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