Lesson 1: What is a fossil?

Lesson 2:  Identifying fossils

Lesson 3: The eras of the earth's history

Lesson 4: Endangered species

Grade Level: 5

Estimated Time Frame: 5-6 lessons

Setting: Fifth Grade Classroom

Interdiciplinary Areas: Language Arts,  Literature, Computer, Art , Science,  Social Studies.

Pupils will learn that we can discover much about the earth's history by examining what we find in the earth itself. Layers of the earth hold clues to the climate, surface and life forms that were found on this planet. These clues are found in the various kinds of fossils that scientists have unearthed over hundreds of years. We will also learn that these clues help us make a reasonable scientific guess as to the age of our planet.

Lesson One

Lesson One involves the study of fossils. Pupils will dig and find their own fossils. They will record their findings on a worksheet and draw conclusions  on the age of the fossil and its location or layer placement.


Fossils, fossil boxes filled with sand or dirt, brushes, worksheet, Science - Grade 5 text Addison -Wesley, computer with Internet capabilities, word processing application such as Student Student Writing Center by Learning Company


limestone         sediment           dig          shale          excavate                fossil                 tag           layer


1. Visit http://dinoheart.org  (site of Willow, the Dinosaur with a heart; North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences)

Dinosaur Heart - photo from site

Read article about the discovery of one of the oldest fossils found by scientists. It relates the discovery of a dinosaur skeleton that is around 66 million years old. Inside the specimen scientists discovered a fossilized heart. Nicknamed "Willo,"  this fossil helps support the hypothesis that dinosaurs were warm blooded animals. Discuss this with class. Ask students to guess the age of the earth based on what they have just learned.

2. Have students view the web site of Collecting Fossils In California at http://gtlsys.com/. This site describes what a fossil is, fossil collecting sites and instructions on fossil collecting. Have students click on the Why button which will take them to an introduction to collecting fossils. Students will be asked to explain the following quote from the introduction: "Fossil collecting is like time travel to a distant past." What are fossils? What is fossilization? View the section on shells, trees, leaves,  ask "How do the pictures on this site help explain the earth's past?"

3. Divide class into groups and explain that they will be scientists digging up clues to the earth's history. Assign jobs of leader - directs group, sees to the distribution of supplies, encourages participation of all members of the group, researcher - uses Internet web sites to locate related information, recorder- records information found by group, journal keeper - keeps a group journal using the journal option of Student Writing Center, illustrator- illustrates findings, reporter - presents information to group and to class.


1.    The teacher will demonstrate how to dig carefully for fossils using a fossil box containing plastic fossils. These fossils are placed at different levels or layers in the dirt or sand . Pour some dirt or sand in the box,   arrange plastic fossils in different places in this area under dirt .Cover this first layer with a long sheet of paper. Add about an inch of sand or soil for the next layer, place fossils, cover with dirt then paper to indicate another layer. Add as many layers as desired, although 3 layers should be sufficient. Begin by searching, carefully dig for a fossil, carefully remove, brush off and set aside. Label fossil and the layer it was found in, record on sheet. Identify as plant or animal. Draw picture of fossil on board.

2.     Distribute fossil kits to each group. Allow groups to discover, examine and label. Assist groups as needed. Compare these tools to the tools and equipment used in the Collecting Fossils In California site.

3.     Have groups share their results. Elicit fact that older fossils are found in the lower layers. Pupils should also be  able to see that older fossils are simpler, less complex.

4.     Read text, Science - Grade 5 text Addison -Wesley, pages 238 to 243. Compare data from text with group findings.

5.     Discuss the importance of working carefully.

6.     Review the value of  working together and doing one's job, listening to and respecting ideas of others.

Related URLs:
This is the web site for the American Museum of Natural History. Teachers will find resources and materials that can be downloaded.

Related Resources:
The Fossil Times, a publication of the American Museum of Natural History

Follow up:
1.    Participate in the discussion forum set up at http://gtlsys.com/.
 2.    Write questions to Ask-A-Saurus (paleontology advice columnist in The Fossil Times, a publication of The New York City Museum of Natural History.