Teaching Earth’s compositional layers is always a good way to start your middle school earth science unit. First, it is a pretty simple concept for students to understand. Second, you can tie the compositional layers of the Earth to how the Earth formed. When everything was hot, elements settled according to density, so the inner layers are more dense than the outer layers. Speaking of density, this is a great opportunity to show your students how scientists use topics such as density to explain the world around them.
I like to teach Earth’s compositional layers before teaching the mechanical layers of the Earth because it is easier to understand, and it gives students a firm foundation to learn about the mechanical layers. How will your students understand that the asthenosphere is a part of the mantle if they don’t know what the mantle is?
Using Pictures to Teach the Earth’s Compositional Layers
Whenever I can, I teach using pictures. Our brains understand pictures faster and easier than words. Maybe that is why a picture is worth 1,000 words. So, I would start my lesson on the Earth’s compositional layers with a picture. It doesn’t have to be fancy, you can even draw it on the board. I would also have students draw the picture in their science notebooks. Then, they can add information to the picture as they learn about the compositional layers of the Earth.
Using Videos to Teach the Earth’s Compositional Layers
I also like using videos to teach scientific concepts. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many words is a video worth?! I especially like videos that model how the Earth formed in space. I find this fascinating, and I always try to find ways to bring a sense of wonder to my science lessons.
Here are some of my favorite videos for teaching the compositional layers of the Earth:
The History of the Earth – How the Earth Formed – The beginning of this video has a great visual for the early Earth.
Birth of the Earth – This video explains how the Earth formed.
Layers of the Earth. What is Beneath Us? – This is a simple introduction to the compositional layers of the Earth.
The Diagram of the Earth is a Lie – This video explains what the Earth’s compositional layers really look like.
Layers of the Earth Based on Chemical Composition and Physical Properties – This video is good to bridge the gap between compositional layers and mechanical layers.
Teaching the Mechanical Layers of the Earth
Once students know about the compositional layers of the Earth, they are ready to learn about the mechanical layers of the Earth. In my opinion, the mechanical layers are a little bit more difficult to understand. That’s why I like to teach them second.
Moving on from the Layers of the Earth
Now that your students know about the layers of the Earth, they have the background knowledge they need to understand plate tectonics and the rock cycle. Again, how could students understand the tectonic plates if they didn’t know about the lithosphere or asthenosphere?
Before moving on, you will want to assess your students’ knowledge of the layers of the Earth. That means it is time for a test. A quick test will tell you if your students need more instruction before moving on from the Earth’s compositional layers. Using assessments to drive your instruction will ensure that your students have the background knowledge they need to be successful with the next topic.
Feeling overwhelmed? I got your back! I have reading passage sets on both the Earth’s compositional layers and the Earth’s mechanical layers. The reading passage sets have everything your students need to learn about the layers of the Earth. They are on Google Slides, so you can share them on Google Classroom or print them for your students. These reading passage sets are designed to be used independently by students so that you can focus on supporting the students who need it while others learn at their own pace. Click on the pictures to get the reading passages at Teachers Pay Teachers.
Are You Teaching Another Science Topic?
I am working on creating more science units so that every science teacher can get exactly what he or she needs for her students. You can also read about how I use brain science to teach other science topics on my blog. Click the pictures below to learn more.