Erosion & Weathering Activities

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Looking for new activities to add to your Erosion and Weathering unit? This lesson contains ideas that you can modify to fit the needs of your students. These activities range from those requiring very little equipment to those that use a full stream table.

Erosion and Weathering

Erosion and weathering are among the most accessible of Earth's processes. This is due simply to the fact that they are everywhere! Weathering and erosion are caused by wind, water, and gravity, so you will undoubtedly be able to find examples of these processes in the world around you. The activity ideas below range in complexity from quick demonstrations to multi-day inquiries.

Outdoor Erosion and Weathering Activities

As you likely are aware, students love going outside. This is a great way to introduce the concepts of erosion and weathering, because students will be able to see the effects of these processes in the real world. Be sure to tell your administration your plans for the day and double-check the weather!

Erosion and Weathering Tour

To introduce erosion and weathering in the real world, take your students on a tour of the area surrounding your school and point out several areas in which these processes have occurred (or are occurring). You will want to scout out a few prime locations beforehand. Any steep hill, stream, ditch, or even parking lot can be a great place to see erosion and weathering, particularly after a heavy wind or rain event.

Have students take notes of what they see and sketch areas of erosion and deposition. You may even engage students in a conversation about patterns they notice along the tour.

Stream Erosion Lab

If you have access to a stream near your school, students can perform a quick and easy inquiry to learn about stream erosion. You will need meter sticks and some sort of measuring tape, and students will need to wear waterproof boots. The idea behind this lab is that, in a bend in a stream, erosion occurs more profoundly on the outer edge of the bend than in the inner edge.

Have students take depth measurements at three data points along three transects of the stream (one transect in the middle of the bend, and one on each side about 6 feet up- and downstream). By looking at their data, students should be able to see that streams are generally deeper at the outer edge of a bend and more shallow at the inner edge. This is due to the fact that water whips around the outer edge more quickly, causing erosion to occur at a great rate. If you can have students take data at several stream bends, this realization will be more profound.

Gravity Erosion Demo

For this demo, you will simply need a large piece of plywood or similar material, some dirt or sand, a shovel, and a few student volunteers. Start by asking students what they think will happen to sand or soil shoveled onto the board if it is lifted to different angles. Then, throw some dirt on the board with a shovel (or better yet, ask a student to do it!), then have a few students lift one edge of the board about 6 inches off the ground. Ask students to take notes as the student volunteers lift it up more, 6 inches at a time.

Eventually, all of the dirt will roll off the board, creating a small talus slope. Ask students to draw this mock land form. This demo will help them understand gravity erosion when you cover it in class.

Indoor Erosion and Weathering Activities

Erosion and weathering can be meaningfully reproduced in the classroom. This is great news, because many of Earth's processes are simply too unruly to be brought into the classroom (think volcanic eruptions!). The activities below do often create quite a mess, so be sure to set aside some time to have students clean up!

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