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Rock Cycle 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 to make your rock cycle unit a bit more lively? This lesson contains several ideas for activities you can have your students do in the classroom. Ideas found here range from simple demonstrations to complex inquiries.

The Rock Cycle Dilemma

The rock cycle, like many other topics in Earth Science, generally cannot be studied directly. This makes it difficult for teachers to bring the cycle alive for their students and poses a distinct dilemma. How can teachers engage students with a cycle that is taking place on such a grand scale, both in space and time? The activity ideas below offer some guidance. Remember that each of the ideas in this lesson can be modified to fit your classroom, your budget, and your students' needs.

Activities With Rocks

It's always a good idea to bring the real thing into the classroom when learning about topics in science. In the following activity ideas, students will be working directly with rocks. Rocks can either be collected (if you know what you're looking for) or can be purchased from several educational retailers.

Rock Cycle Sorting Activity

In this activity, students will sort rocks based on their type and place them on a rock cycle diagram. This will help them see how rocks change from one form to another. First, distribute a large rock cycle diagram to each student. Then, distribute a wide variety of rock samples. Based on the texture, composition, and other properties of the rocks, ask students to sort them into sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks. They will then place them in the appropriate spots on the diagram. After this, you can have students theorize what the intermediary materials (e.g. magma, sediments) might look like.

Sandstone Weathering

Although most rocks cannot undergo any rock cycle processes in the classroom, sandstone is a great way to have students see the process of weathering in action. Give students small pieces of sandstone and some time to play around with it. Ask them to weather the rock in any way they desire. Give them access to running water for this activity, as this will help students see the importance of water to the rock cycle. They will likely see a bit of weathering occur when running their stone under a stream of water but will notice quickly that it might take a while (as it does in the real world!).

Students can also take a variety of tools to their sandstone (metal or plastic, any everyday object will work). Once students have weathered their sample into sand, ask them to discuss the processes that took place in the classroom, and how these processes might actually take place in the real world.

Activities Without Rocks

There are plenty of activities that can be done without rocks when studying the rock cycle. The ideas below are just a few that can meaningfully engage students.

Rock Cycle Dice Game

Prepare a game in which students roll dice to advance through the rock cycle. Provide students with a die, the chart that follows, and a diagram of the rock cycle that shows which 'moves' are possible from which phases and processes (e.g. moving from igneous to melting is possible, but from igneous to cooling/crystallization is not). Students can start with any rock type or intermediary material (i.e. sediment or magma) they desire.

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