Coal Lesson for Kids: Facts & Formation

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Coal is a black rock that can be used to generate electricity. This lesson will teach you how coal is formed, where it's found, and how we use it to power our lives!

Coal is a Fossil Fuel

Did you know that a plant can turn into a rock? It's not magic, but it can happen, if you don't mind waiting a few hundred million years! Coal is a black rock that formed from decayed plants that were trapped underground millions of years ago.

A piece of coal

Coal is a type of fossil fuel, a material that is made up of dead plants or animals from long, long ago that can be turned into energy. Coal is widely used to generate electricity. So, while maybe you haven't held a piece of coal in your hand, you likely benefit from it every day when you turn on an electric light or plug in your computer.

How is Coal Formed?

You can't make coal because it takes too long to form. The coal that is in the ground today started forming even before the dinosaurs started walking on Earth.

Millions of years ago, large plants grew in swamps. When the plants died, the dead parts went to the bottom of the swamp and got buried under layers of dirt and rock. As more stuff built up, so did heat and pressure which transformed the dead plants into coal.

No one was around millions of years ago, so how do scientists know that coal was once a living plant? They know this because coal contains a lot of carbon, which is found in all living things.

How is Coal Used?

Companies use coal as an energy source. Coal can be turned into a gas or liquid, but most coal is used to create electricity.

There's a good chance that the electricity that powers your home and school is generated at a coal-fired electric power plant. A power plant burns coal in a large furnace with a boiler. When the water in the boiler gets hot enough, it makes steam that turns large machines that make electricity!

Coal Mining and Burning

Coal is mined from the ground by coal miners. Surface mining is used to remove coal that is less than 200 feet below the Earth's surface. Underground mining is used to retrieve coal that is deeper.

Coal is found underground. Here, a coal miner digs for coal in 1942
coal miner

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