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Teaching Ideas for the History of the Planet Earth – Earth Science

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Do your 4th Grade students understand how fossils tell the age of the earth?

Can they explain what causes earthquakes or how mountains are formed?

If not, we can help. If they can, well, it doesn’t hurt to learn a little bit more, does it? We’ve gathered ideas for teaching the NGSS standards on Earth’s Place in the Universe, focusing on Earth’s history. With the help of these resources, your students will be prepared to investigate natural phenomena and explain what the evidence tells them about the history of our world.

Teach students about the history of the Earth with these science experiments, teaching ideas, and science curriculum. Students identify evidence form patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to explain landscape changes over time. Students become mini geologists as they study how mountains are made, plate tectonics, earthquakes, and more!

We offer many resources in this post to ensure you and your students understand how rock and land formations tell the story of our planet. Keep reading, it’s worth it!

In this post we:

As always, we design our Science Stations and the information in our teaching ideas blog posts to follow the Next Generation Science Standards.

NGSS 4th GRADE Standards for Earth’s Place in the Universe

If teaching with the NGSS is new for you, we have a couple of great blog posts to help you get started. How to Read the Next Generation Science Standards outlines where to start reading, interpreting, and teaching the NGSS. For 4th Grade Science, things can get a little more complicated, so we wrote Unpacking the 4th Grade Next Generation Science Standards. Give them both a look if you need help.

The ideas in this blog post align with the Next Generation Science Standards for Fourth Grade 4-ESS1-1 Earth’s Place in the Universe. This blog post covers 4-ESS1-1.C (The History of Planet Earth).

Below is a description of how each individual Performance Expectation (PE) and Disciplinary Core Idea (DCI) align and relate to each other.

4-ESS1-1 Earth’s Place in the Universe

4-ESS1-1  Earth’s Place in the Universe:  Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time.

Aligns with the DCI:

  • ESS1.C: The History of Planet Earth
    • Local, regional, and global patterns of rock formations reveal changes over time due to earth forces, such as earthquakes. The presence and location of certain fossil types indicate the order in which rock layers were formed

Now that you understand the standards and the basis for these teaching ideas, let’s move on to the fun stuff!

SCIENCE STATIONS ABOUT THE HISTORY OF PLANET EARTH

For The History of Planet Earth, we have one bundle that covers all of the related standards. It contains eight science stations with hands-on activities designed to engage students on a deeper level in understanding plant and animal structures and processes. The bundle also includes vocabulary cards to help students with core concepts.

The Changing Earth – History of Planet Earth UNIT BUNDLE includes the following stations:

Click to see more about the Forces of Erosion SORT station.

Fourth grade students sort landforms by how they were created: by river, glacier, ocean, or wind erosion. Over time, the land changes. This process is called erosion. In this science activity students learn about erosion that takes place over long periods of time. Students look at various landforms and determine how it was formed.

ADDITIONAL LESSON IDEAS FOR TEACHING ABOUT THE EARTH’S HISTORY

While we have written resources for teaching about the history of planet Earth, there are many more ideas that you can use in your classroom without purchasing our units and science stations.  Below are ideas for demonstrations and experiments, books, and videos to enhance your science lessons.

DEMONSTRATIONS AND EXPERIMENTS FOR LEARNING ABOUT THE EARTH’S HISTORY

The following science experiments and teaching ideas focus on changes to the landscape caused by earthquakes, rivers, the rock cycle, weather and erosion, as well as fossilization.

DIY EARTHQUAKE

This messy, sticky-sweet experiment provides students with an in-depth and hands-on look at how destructive earthquakes can be without having to experience one first-hand. The background information provided gives a great overview of different types of earthquakes. Students can also come up with their own variations to the test.

MODEL HOW RIVERS CHANGE THE LANDSCAPE

It’s time to let students get creative! In this experiment, students will create their own landscapes with rivers. Using variations in how the water flows, they will see how the rivers shape their landscapes. They can repeat the experiment many times to see the differences created, depending on how the water flows.

SLINKY P WAVES AND S WAVES

Slinkies make the best models for demonstrating waves. This experiment allows your students to see the difference between an earthquake’s P waves and S waves. After the experiment, can they tell you which one is more destructive and why?

EDIBLE MOUNTAIN BUILDING

Who doesn’t love a fun experiment and sweet treat combination? In this experiment, your students can model the different movements of tectonic plates and how mountains are formed while enjoying a simple, tasty snack. It’s easy to set up and encourages discussions on how reality might differ from the experiment.

Teach students about the history of the Earth with these science experiments, teaching ideas, and science curriculum. Students identify evidence form patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to explain landscape changes over time. Students become mini geologists as they study how mountains are made, plate tectonics, earthquakes, and more!

Here is a video that also explains this activity.

MODELING PLATE MOVEMENT

Here is another experiment to explore the movement of tectonic plates. It’s definitely not as sweet as the activity above (please, don’t eat the shaving cream!), but there is a lot of valuable information to help facilitate your classroom discussion.

FOLD MOUNTAINS

Here is a simple experiment to set up and perform, yet it provides a great visual for how fold mountains are formed. Because the experiment itself is quick, spend time discussing the phenomena with your students and research actual fold mountains to give them a deeper understanding.

WEATHERING AND EROSION

This quick experiment from Generation Genius provides an overview of weathering and erosion. This is a great opportunity to discuss the difference between weathering and erosion while your students observe both in action.

EDIBLE ROCK CYCLE

This is a tasty experiment that guides students through the rock cycle. While this experiment focuses on using Starburst candy, you can substitute the candy with other treats, as long as they are malleable, can melt, and are distinguishable. (Dark, Milk, and White chocolate shavings can work).

Teach students about the history of the Earth with these science experiments, teaching ideas, and science curriculum. Students identify evidence form patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to explain landscape changes over time. Students become mini geologists as they study how mountains are made, plate tectonics, earthquakes, and more!

CRAYON ROCK CYCLE

Not as tasty as the Edible Rock Cycle experiment above, but this is still a fun experiment to use when teaching your students about the rock cycle.

FOSSIL FONDUE

This is an excellent activity where your students can study chocolate…er, fossils! We meant to say fossils. Honestly. In this experiment, students can create their own fossils using a small item (like a clean plastic toy) and melted chocolate to simulate the process. 

FUN WITH FOSSILS

PBS offers an entire lesson plan full of fun activities and videos that explores fossils. Your students will love making their own fossils and interacting with the lesson. 

MAKE A FOSSIL

This easy-to-make fossil activity isn’t as mouth-watering as the Fossil Fondue, because…chocolate…but that doesn’t mean your students won’t have a lot of fun. Let them find as many items to fossilize that they can think of and have fun. 

INSIDE A VOLCANO

Making an erupting volcano is pretty standard for science experiments, but what about a volcano your students can see inside? This experiment allows students to see what happens inside the volcano as it erupts. It’s easy to make, and your students will have a blast! 

BOOKS TO TEACH ABOUT THE EARTH’S HISTORY

Below are some of our favorite books to teach about the changing earth. Included are books about volcanos, earthquakes, fossils, geology, and more!

Earthquakes and other natural disasters


This DK reader was updated in 2010 and is still a great addition to your students’ reading list for studying earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural disasters. This book is packed with information on events such as Mount Vesuvius and the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, including details on what causes these disasters.

I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906

Part of the amazing I Survived series that children love to read, this one is set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. This book provides a thrilling story but also gives details on how earthquakes happen and how devastating they can be

Magic School Bus Presents: Volcanoes and Earthquakes

The Magic School Bus – need I say more? Students love learning alongside Ms. Frizzle’s class. Packed with detailed photos and facts about volcanoes and earthquakes, this book is a must-have addition to any reading list for studying the Earth. 

DK Eyewitness – Volcano and Earthquake

Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes can be devastating and scary, but do we know why some volcanoes are more active than others? Why do some places have earthquakes and others do not? The engrossing photographs and fact-filled pages in this book will answer a lot of the questions your students have when it comes to natural disasters like these and open the door to classroom discussion to answer the rest of their questions.

Dirtmeister’s Nitty Gritty Planet Earth

The Dirtmeister book engages students with its guidebook/graphic novel style – exploring all the processes that shape our planet. It includes activities to explore the concepts presented and biographies of scientists who have impacted the study of the Earth.

Fossils for Kids

High-quality photos coupled with detailed facts and information make introducing your students to the world of fossils much easier. Who knows, they might be able to teach you something about fossils after they finish reading

Geology for Kids

Geology for kids is a great way to introduce your students to the study of the Earth. It’s filled with information about the Earth’s layers, how mountains and oceans are formed, and much more. Activities throughout the book drive home the topics discussed.

VIDEOS ABOUT THE EARTH’S HISTORY

We have included videos and activities for the history of planet Earth in our 4th Grade Science Stations. Those activities include differentiated questions and ways for students to respond to the videos.

Here are links to other great videos that your students will enjoy as they learn more about structures and functions.

Generation Genius

Generation Genius makes any topic fun for students. Their videos are engaging and the lesson plans are thorough.

Crash Course Kids

Crash Course Kids offer a lot of great science videos that are as entertaining as they are educational. Some great videos that deal with our Earth studies include:

We hope the information presented here is helpful to you and that you feel both empowered and inspired to bring the world of structures and functions to life for your 4th-graders.

4th Grade Science Stations

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