Enjoy Teaching Fossil Layers and Evidence for Kids

Teaching fossil layers requires a step-by-step approach. First, kids must understand how rock layers form. Second, they learn about evidence and records left behind. Hands-on earth science labs allow them to simulate the process. Finally, they’re ready to analyze fossils and identify conditions under which specific layers were formed.

Ms. Sneed Prepares Lesson Plans for Fossil Layers

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sat at the side table with her co-teacher, Mr. Frank. “Time to plan our geology lesson plans,” she said.

Mr. Frank sighed. “This year, I want to move away from the textbook.”

“Me too.” Ms. Sneed turned her laptop so it faced her teaching partner. “Check out this set of fossil evidence activities.”

Focusing on Fossil Layers

As she clicked through the preview, Ms. Sneed called out features of the resource. “The first part focuses on fossil layers.”

Understanding Fossil Layers Form Through Slow Changes

Mr. Frank pointed to the lesson plans. “On the first day, kids review slow changes to Earth’s surface with videos and this infographic. Our students can definitely use some reinforcement of these geology concepts!”

Three slow changes to Earth's surface are responsible for fossil layers: weathering, erosion, and deposition.

Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Making Rock Layers

As Ms. Sneed scrolled down on the page, Mr. Frank continued. “Then they use play dough to build their own rock layers. This earth science lab is simple and age-appropriate.”

“Yep, and after they build them, the groups trade. Then they analyze one another’s models. Early on, they focus on order and observations.”

These directions show how kids can create fossil layers with play dough and a few other materials.

Focusing on Fossils

Ms. Sneed paused. “This scaffolds nicely. First our students will review weathering, erosion, and deposition. Then they simulate the process with their own models.”

She scrolled down a bit more. “Here teaching shifts to the specifics of fossils.”

Learning About Evidence Left in Fossil Layers

Mr. Frank commented on the next portion of the unit. “Next, kids learn about types of fossils – molds, casts, traces, and true form. Then they focus on clues that petrified remains give us.”

Images and text explain how specific features of fossils indicate whether the organism lived in water or on land, if it was a carnivore or herbivore, etc.

Creating Fossils with Clay and Glue

“Then it’s time to make their own fossils,” said Ms. Sneed. “Look! No plaster of Paris. Instead, they use glue. Oh, our kids will love this!”

The two teachers studied the directions. “Much better than our previous fossil-making activities!” Mr. Frank said.

Directions and pictures show how kids can make their own fossils. First they press a shape into a lump of clay to form an impression. Then they pour glue into the impression. When it dries, they pop out the fossil.
Analyzing Fossil Layers

“Next, they get down to the nitty-gritty of the standard,” said Ms. Sneed. “On this worksheet, kids look at a cross-section diagram. They use the key to identify organisms. Additionally, they have to order the layers.”

“Yeah, and they have to determine whether the layer was formed on land or water.”

“Perfect!” Ms. Sneed smiled.

This worksheet asks kids to analyze a cross-section diagram of an area that has been partially eroded. They look at fossils found in the layers, determine whether the layer was created under water or on land, and identify organisms.
Identifying Land and Water Fossils

Mr. Frank pointed to another information page. “If we want, we can teach about the Geologic Time Scale.”

Ms. Sneed nodded, deep in thought. “And we finish up with more analysis of fossils. Here, kids look at skulls to determine whether the animal was a carnivore or herbivore. Furthermore, they study two fossil layers and tell if they were formed on land or under water.”

On this worksheet, kids look at four images. For the first two, they determine whether the fossil was an herbivore or carnivore. For the second two, they figure out if it was formed under water or on land.

Finally, the two teachers checked out the study guide and quiz.

“Very thorough,” said Mr. Frank.

“And not too much reading,” Ms. Sneed added. “Just the way I like to teach. Hands-on, minds-on.” As expected, that famous teacher smile spread across her face.

Enjoy Teaching

For more than 30 years, I enjoyed teaching upper elementary students – mostly fourth grade. Now I tell my tales through a fictitious educator, Ms. Sneed. Like you, she grapples with day-to-day classroom challenges. And like you, she meets those challenges head-on. Hopefully, each of her stories will give you some ideas and inspiration.

Brenda Kovich
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