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Let's Go! Virtual Yellowstone Tour

Grade Level: 4-6



Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is known for its unique geologic features and stunning wildlife. Geysers, mudpots, hot springs, and waterfalls are just a few of the natural attractions that Yellowstone has to offer.
  • A geyser is a column of hot water and steam that erupts from the earth's surface. Pools of water deep under the earth's surface are heated to the point of boiling. As the pressure builds from the boiling, the water and steam explode into the air through underground cracks in the earth and burst into the air in the form of a geyser.
  • Hot springs are pools of hot water that have seeped to the earth's surface to form small ponds. At Yellowstone, algae and bacteria flourish in the hot springs and give the rocks beautiful hues of color. The mineral deposits from the water form terraces and other rock formations.
  • Boiling ponds of mud (mudpots) are also present and are formed by sulfuric acid in the water. The acid dissolves the rock into tiny pieces of clay and the clay mixes with the hot water to make mud. As the steam rises from the within the earth, the mud bubbles as the steam releases into the air.
  • Yellowstone River runs right through the park. The river flowed during a time period of massive uplift of the area that was caused by forces deep within the earth. The combination of river erosion and uplift has resulted in spectacular canyons and waterfalls within the park.


Students will:
  • research the geologic wonders (geysers, hot springs, mud pots, canyons, and waterfalls) of Yellowstone National Park.
  • locate the main geologic features of Yellowstone on a map of the park.
  • write a description of the geologic features to be included on the map for a self-guided tour for park visitors.
  • define the terms geyser, mud pots, hot springs, erosion, and uplift

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards
Content Standard D: Understanding the structure of the earth system
  • Landforms are the result of a combination of constructive and destructive forces. Constructive forces include crustal deformation, volcanic eruption, and deposition of sediment, while destructive forces include weathering and erosion.
  • Water is a solvent. As it passes through the water cycle it dissolves minerals and gases and carries them to the oceans.
National Geography Standards
  • Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information.
  • Standard 4: The physical and human characteristics of places.
  • Standard 7: The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.

  • markers or colored pencils
  • maps of Yellowstone Park copied onto 11" X 17" copy paper.


Teacher will need to make copies of a map of Yellowstone National Park ahead of time. Print a map from the National Park Service (, and then use correction fluid to delete the towns (students will be locating these towns and placing them on the map later). Enlarge the map onto 12 _" X 19" copy paper for students (one map per group of four students).

  • Start a class discussion by using a KWL chart [what students know (K), what students want to learn (W), and what they did learn (L)]. Elicit from the class what they already know about Yellowstone and write their comments in the K column of the chart. Has anyone been there? Where is it? Why is it a national park? What is there to see and do? What kind of wildlife lives there? Then ask them what they'd like to learn about the geology of the park and write their answers in the W column of the chart.
  • Tell them that they are going to become park rangers for this assignment and their first job is to make a map of the park for tourists to use when they come to visit. The map will include a brief physical description of points of interest and an explanation of how they were formed. Some of these natural attractions can be viewed on the Yellowstone video (02:41-03:40), and more information on these sites can be found at the "Reflections on Yellowstone" and "A Virtual Tour" pages on this website.
  • On the front of the map, students will add each entrance to the park and the following villages: Mammoth, Tower Falls, Canyon, Norris, Madison, Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and Grant Village. On the back of the map, students will write descriptions of the following sites along with how they were formed geologically: Old Faithful area, Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
  • Divide students into groups of four. Give each group a set of materials and show them the available references. Suggestions for references are listed in the Resource section below. They will work together to locate and place on the map the villages listed above. Then each student will research one of the points of interest and write the description on the map near its location or put it on the backside of the map.
  • Review the information that was gathered on the maps. Each group will report on one geologic attraction that they researched. List the facts that they report on the L column of the KWL chart -- pay special attention to the scientific/geologic principles students have researched (erosion, thermodynamics, etc.). List any other facts that another group may have found that weren't mentioned by the reporting group. Let the class vote on which attraction they would most like to see. They could then make bar graphs showing the results of their votes.

Assessment Suggestions:
  • Ability to work cooperatively in a group
  • Participation in class discussions
  • Completion and accuracy of description of points of interest
  • Accuracy of map

  • Have students explore the depths of a hot spring and watch a video clip of Old Faithful erupting at: A lesson that invites students to build model geysers may be found at
  • Research and locate on a map where similar geologic features (geysers, hot springs, mudpots, canyons) are found around the world. What do these areas have in common that could explain where these features are found? Create concepts maps that illustrate student findings.
  • Expand research to include other natural attractions such as Tower Falls, Canyon, Madison, Yellowstone Lake, and Grant Village.
  • Research the history of the park and add it as an introductory paragraph on the back of the map.


Map: (click on the blue "in depth" link, then click on "Planning a Visit," and then click on "Maps & Orientation."

Web resources for student research:

PBS Going Places: Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park

American Park Network: Yellowstone National Park

Great Outdoor Recreation Places: Yellowstone national park

National Geographic Fantastic Journeys: Yellowstone


Tawney, R., 1998, Family Fun in Yellowstone National Park
Frank, S., and Frank, P., 1999, The Yellowstone Handbook: An Insider's Guide to the Park
Egan, L.H., 1998, Kids Discover: Yellowstone Park
The Yellowstone Association, 2000, Yellowstone: The Official Guide to Touring America's First National Park
Knapp, P., Getting to Know Yellowstone Park



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