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THE LAND: Shaping the Earth

Falconer Dan O'Brien's ranch is near a famous South Dakota landmark – Bear Butte. Bear Butte – Mato Paha in Lakota – is not truly a flat-topped butte. It is actually mountain shaped. If you venture even further into the past, you'll find that ancient seas once covered the area where Bear Butte stands.

The Formation of Bear Butte

Objective: As a result of this activity, students be able to describe and demonstrate how different major geological processes shape the physical environment of the earth.


View the standards correlated with these activities.


Group oral presentation with visual aids and 200-word group report.



Videotape of "Falconer's Memoir" to view prior to beginning unit; research materials to include library resources, internet resources, textbooks, and content experts; modeling clay, sand, dirt, water tables, and other materials to build models that will demonstrate the formation of buttes or other land forms; poster board, markers, presentation software and hardware, overhead projector, or other materials for students to make visual aids for group presentation

Check out more about Bear Butte.

Also, more related information about Devil's Tower in Wyoming.

A variety of activities are provided in the curriculum unit, "The National Parks: Teaching the Geology of America."  The unit has these objectives: to present introductory geologic terminology and concepts; to develop an understanding of those terms using specific examples found in the National Parks; to develop an understanding in the student of the vastness and diversity of our geologic resources; to provide activities and demonstrations to reinforce understanding of the scientific principles illustrated by geologic process; and, to instill an appreciation of the value of the National Parks and a sense of pride in their collective ownership of the Parks. The unit is divided into four major headings; Volcanism, The Mobile Crust, Erosional Forces, and Social Implications of the Parks and includes terminology, selected representative parks, and developed classroom activities.



  • Upon completion of a unit on geological/physical processes and viewing "Falconer's Memoir," students will work in small groups to research physical processes such as those that cause formations like Bear Butte in South Dakota.

"A Falconer’s Memoir" does not specifically address the geological processes that form buttes and other similar landforms. However, excellent views of Bear Butte may be seen throughout the video, especially within the first five minutes of the program.


  • Teachers may wish to have students use the following web sites to study the geological processes:

Geologic Scenery Images
Illustrates how geology is expressed in the landscape. Images include deposition of layers and erosion into a canyon, erosion of layers into a mesa and a buttes, tilted layers and their topographic expression, and others.

Geology Overview of Colorado
Looks at geological periods and formation events (ancient seas, volcanic action, sedimentary layers, metamorphic layers, igneous layers, glacial leftovers, and erosion.)

Building Volcano Models
Gives step-by-step instructions for building working models of volcanoes.

  • Students may decide to research and report on land formations from their region of the country. Students' research should include processes such as water and wind erosion, weather phenomena, volcanic activity, geological shifts, and the advance and retreat of glaciers.
  • Then, each small group will choose to develop either a model project or give an in-class group presentation that demonstrates how the major earth processes caused the formation of their chosen landform.
  • Each group will also produce a group report of 200-300 words that summarizes their findings.



Geography Standard: 7

Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth's surface.


Level III (6-8):

Knows the major processes that shape patterns in the physical environment (e.g., the erosional agents such as water and ice, earthquake zones and volcanic activity, the ocean circulation system.)

Knows the consequences of a specific physical process operating on Earth surface (e.g., effects of an extreme weather phenomenon)


Level IV (9-12)

Understands how physical systems are dynamic and interactive (e.g., the relationships between changes in landforms and the effects of climate such as the erosion of hill slopes by precipitation, deposition of sediments by floods, and shaping of land surfaces by wind.)

Understands how physical processes affect different regions of the United States and the world (e.g., effects of desertification and soil degradation, flash floods, dust storms, soil erosion.)

Language Arts Standard 1:

Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process.


Level III (6-8) and Level IV (9-12)

Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies.

Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work.

Editing and Publishing: Uses a variety of strategies to edit and publish written work.

Evaluates own and others' writing.

Writes expository compositions.

Language Arts Standard 2:

Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing.


Level III (6-8) and Level IV (9-12)

Uses paragraph form in writing.

Uses a variety of sentence structures to express expanded ideas.

Uses explicit transitional devices.

Level IV (9-12):

Organizes ideas to achieve cohesion in writing.


Language Arts Standard 3:

Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions.


Level III (6-8) and Level IV (9-12) – All benchmarks.


Language Arts Standard 8:

Demonstrates competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning.


Level III (6-8):

Presents simple prepared reports to the class.

Uses explicit techniques for oral presentations.

Level IV (9-12):

Adjusts message wording & delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes.

Makes formal presentations to the class.

Uses a variety of explicit techniques for presentations.


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