California Geology Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students are going to learn about geologic maps and the geologic history of California. They will apply this through a group map-analysis activity.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify a geologic map and demonstrate the ability to locate information within one
  • Describe the impact of geologic events like tectonic movement on the physical landscape of California
  • Acknowledge the role that geology has played in the human history of California


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.

  • HS-ESS1-5

Evaluate evidence of the past and current movements of continental and oceanic crust and the theory of plate tectonics to explain the ages of crustal rocks.



  • Begin class by projecting an image of a geologic map of California. Ask students what they are looking at.
    • Most information of geologic maps portrays features below the surface? How can these impact the world we see around us?
    • What geographic traits do you associate with California? What sorts of landforms can you see? How do you think geology and geologic history impact this?
    • How do you think geologists create maps like these?
  • Distribute copies of text lesson California Geology: Geologic Map & History. You will read this lesson as a class, with one student reading aloud at a time. Switch the reader with every paragraph.
  • Using this method, read through the sections ''Amazing Geologic Formations in California'' and ''Plate Tectonics, Uplift, and Mountain Formation''. Pause here and discuss this information as a class.
    • What are plate tectonics? What impact has this had on California's geology? What happens when two plates meet?
    • Why does California have so many mountains? Are all of these mountains formed the same way? In terms of both geology and geography, do you think mountains formed in different ways would look different?
  • Continue reading the lesson as a class, and complete it. Discuss this information as a class.
    • What impact has geology had on the human history of California?
    • Why does California have so many state and national parks? How do you think the state's geologic history influenced this?
    • How can natural disasters impact the history of a state?
  • You may test student understanding with Lesson Quiz.

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