Breaking it Down
Lesson Overview

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TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45 minute classes

OVERVIEW: This lesson discusses the processes of weathering and erosion and how they work together to shape the earth’s landscape. An online game introduces students to the basic modes of erosion. The processes of chemical and physical weathering that enable erosion are then explored in detail using online media and hands-on laboratory experiments. Next, video clips from the NATURE episode “Violent Hawaii” are used to revisit in greater detail the causes and effects of erosion in the real world, and human attempts to limit it. The lesson culminates with an online game that reinforces students’ understanding of the lesson’s vocabulary and concepts.

SUBJECT MATTER: Geology/Earth Science


Students will be able to:

  • Differentiate and describe the processes of weathering and erosion
  • Differentiate and describe the processes of mechanical and chemical weathering
  • Model the process of mechanical and chemical weathering, drawing conclusions from their results
  • Determine which environments and climates are most likely to promote different types of weathering and erosion
  • Describe various human attempts to limit erosion


National Science Education Standards

Geochemical cycle

All students should develop an understanding of:


  • The earth is a system containing essentially a fixed amount of each stable chemical atom or element. Each element can exist in several different chemical reservoirs. Each element on earth moves among reservoirs in the solid earth, oceans, atmosphere, and organisms as part of geochemical cycles.
  • Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by the earth’s internal and external sources of energy. These movements are often accompanied by a change in the physical and chemical properties of the matter. Carbon, for example, occurs in carbonate rocks such as limestone, in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas, in water as dissolved carbon dioxide, and in all organisms as complex molecules that control the chemistry of life.

New York State Regents Core Curriculum Alignments:

Physical Setting: Earth Science Core Curriculum

STANDARD 1: Students will use mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design, as appropriate, to pose questions, seek answers, and develop solutions.

Key Idea 1: The central purpose of scientific inquiry is to develop explanations of natural phenomena in a continuing, creative process.

Key Idea 2: Beyond the use of reasoning and consensus, scientific inquiry involves the testing of proposed explanations involving the use of conventional techniques and procedures and usually requiring considerable ingenuity.

Key Idea 3: The observations made while testing proposed explanations, when analyzed using conventional and invented methods, provide new insights into phenomena.

STANDARD 2: Students will access, generate, process, and transfer information, using appropriate technologies.

Key Idea 1: Information technology is used to retrieve, process, and communicate information as a tool to enhance learning.

STANDARD 4: Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.

Key Idea 2: Many of the phenomena that we observe on Earth involve interactions among components of air, water, and land.

Performance Indicator 2.1p: Landforms are the result of the interaction of tectonic forces and the processes of weathering, erosion, and deposition.

Performance Indicator 2.1s: Weathering is the physical and chemical breakdown of rocks at or near Earth’s surface. Soils are the result of weathering and biological activity over long periods of time.

Performance Indicator 2.1t Natural agents of erosion, generally driven by gravity, remove, transport, and deposit weathered rock particles. Each agent of erosion produces distinctive changes in the material that it transports and creates characteristic surface features and landscapes. In certain erosional situations, loss of property, personal injury, and loss of life can be reduced by effective emergency preparedness.

Performance Indicator 2.1u The natural agents of erosion include:

-Streams (running water): Gradient, discharge, and channel shape influence a stream’s velocity and the erosion and deposition of sediments. Sediments transported by streams tend to become rounded as a result of abrasion. Stream features include V-shaped valleys, deltas, flood plains, and meanders. A watershed is the area drained by a stream and its tributaries.

- Glaciers (moving ice): Glacial erosional processes include the formation of

U-shaped valleys, parallel scratches, and grooves in bedrock. Glacial features include moraines, drumlins, kettle lakes, finger lakes, and outwash plains.

- Wave Action: Erosion and deposition cause changes in shoreline features, including beaches, sandbars, and barrier islands. Wave action rounds sediments as a result of abrasion. Waves approaching a shoreline move sand parallel to the shore within the zone of breaking waves.

-Wind: Erosion of sediments by wind is most common in arid climates and along shorelines. Wind-generated features include dunes and sand-blasted bedrock.

-Mass Movement: Earth materials move downslope under the influence of gravity.

Performance Indicator 2.1v Patterns of deposition result from a loss of energy within the transporting system and are influenced by the size, shape, and density of the transported particles. Sediment deposits may be sorted or unsorted.

Performance Indicator 2.1w Sediments of inorganic and organic origin often accumulate in depositional environments. Sedimentary rocks form when sediments are compacted and/or cemented after burial or as the result of chemical precipitation from seawater.

STANDARD 6: Students will understand the relationships and common themes that connect mathematics, science, and technology and apply the themes to these and other areas of learning.

Key Idea 1: Through systems thinking, people can recognize the commonalities that exist among all systems and how parts of a system interrelate and combine to perform specific functions.



NATURE, Violent Hawaii, selected segments:

Clip 1: “Hawaiian Coastal Cliffs”

Explains the geologic forces beind the creation of Hawaii’s dramatic shoreline.

Clip 2: “Water Erosion”

Demonstrates the erosive action of water on the Hawaiian landscape, and human efforts to limit it.

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Web sites:

Shape it Up!
An interactive game from the American Association for the Advancement of Science that challenges students to correctly identify geological processes that shape the Earth’s surface.

Types of Mechanical Weathering
Interactive Web site from the University of Kentucky featuring animations of the different varieties of mechanical weathering.

Graphing Tutorial
This tutorial from the National Center for Education Statistics explains the various kinds of graphs and demonstrates how to build them.

Erosion and Weathering
A media resource describing different causes and effects of erosion, and human efforts to limit it.

Relationship between Transported Particle Size and Water Velocity
Earth Science Reference Tables from the New York State Education Department charting the relationship between sediment particle size and the velocity of water necessary to transport it.

Weathering & Erosion Jeopardy
Interactive “Jeopardy” style vocabulary game based on the New York State Regents’ Earth Science Standards, with answers to each question found by scrolling to the bottom of the page.


For each student:

For each group:

  • “Weathering and Erosion Jeopardy” student organizer (PDF) (RTF)
  • “Chemical Weathering” student organizer (PDF) (RTF)
  • 6 effervescent antacid tablets
  • 1000 ml beaker (filled with hot tap water)
  • 250 ml beaker
  • stopwatch
  • thermometer
  • graph paper

For the class:

  • “Weathering and Erosion Jeopardy” student organizer answer key (PDF) (RTF)
  • “Mechanical Weathering” student organizer answer key (PDF) (RTF)
  • “Chemical Weathering” student organizer answer key (PDF) (RTF)
  • “Erosion” student organizer answer key (PDF) (RTF)
  • a hammer
  • plaster of Paris (available at art or hobby supply stores, or from your art department)
  • a small balloon
  • two empty pint milk cartons (bottom halves only)
  • a freezer
  • 2 effervescent antacid tablets
  • Blackboard or whiteboard


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video clips and Web sites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Download and make copies of student organizers and handouts as outlined in “Materials.”

Next: proceed to Activities

  • Marie Yancey

    Great Lesson plans for weathering & erosion. Love the way you can go from simulation to real world so easily.

  • hannah

    how does weathering erosion and depostion affect hawaii?

  • Mrs.Hackman

    Very well lesson review.Please make it a bit shorter. And also will you please make a 6th grade science lesson on minerals in the earth. I need it for a sample to present to the science fair.Thanks!!!!!!!

  • precious sopia

    ang pangit mo sa boung mundo

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  • L. Revlett

    I Googled for weathering/erosion info and was directed to this site. Worked out fabulously for my students. Will always go PBS for other topics that I may need some more information on. :)

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