Engaging in Writing in the Science Classroom

This week we wrapped up the Rock Cycle. I have used this lesson multiple times and am still delighted when I see the students engage in this activity. It is simple and can elicit surprising results. Plus, all you need is a blank piece of paper and something to write with.

To begin, I hand out a piece of blank, colored paper to each student, then have them fold their papers into fourths (hamburger style twice). Next, we number each “page” or rectangle in the corners, with pages 1-4 on the front and 5-8 on the back. Finally, I guide them through writing a story as a rock. For each page, I give them a prompt (see below). I wait until each student is finished writing before going onto the next prompt. If a student finishes before the others, I suggest adding some drawing to help the story along. Some students write so much there is no room for pictures! However, the option of adding drawings is important and one I make sure everyone knows is available, though the emphasis is on the writing.

Prompts: Depending on the class, I sometimes add more or less details. If I feel they have the understanding of the rock cycle and processes on earth, I will give less details in the hopes it will spark more creativity.

Page 1: (Sometimes I ask them to close their eyes as I set the scene) Imagine you are a rock that currently lives in magma. For some time, you have been feeling the earth shake  and then settle. Suddenly, the earth begins to shake violently, the pressure inside the magma chamber is too great, and you are pushed up a volcanic vent and erupt through the top of the volcano. You are flying through the air. (Open your eyes). Write about this experience. What do you see? What do you feel? Begin with being in the magma chamber and write what has happened. Remember, you are the rock.

Page 2: You landed on the side of the volcano. Suddenly, a great windstorm comes along and beats you against the mountain. You feel bits of you breaking off and falling. The wind continues and you are swept down the mountain and land in a river. You are much smaller as only small fragments of you remain together. Write about your experience.

Page 3: As you sat at the bottom of the riverbed, more rocks continued to fall landing on top of you. So many rocks have fallen and pushed you deeper into the earth. You feel stuck to some of these new rock pieces. Write about it. 

Page 4: It has been a long time in this place. You are finally comfortable with the rock you have become and appreciate the different parts of your new form. Suddenly, though, you realize you have been traveling deeper and deeper into the Earth’s interior and it is very warm. The amount of pressure is almost more than you can handle. You begin to change again. You are not the same rock; everything is different. Write about it. 

Page 5: Though it is slow, things move. You drop into a magma chamber and melt. Write about it. 

Page 6: Reminiscent of earlier times, the earth begins to shake. You are pushed up toward the surface of the Earth. This time, however, you are not thrown into the air but instead flow into the ocean. You quickly cool and solidify and become a rocky part of the ocean floor. Write about it. 

Page 7: Over time, the ocean currents and waves have broken and carried you. You have traveled a great distance. The motion of the ocean washes you onto a beach. Write about it. 

Page 8: On this last page of your story, you decide what happens. Write about it. 

Once finished, I ask the students to read through their stories on their own. Then, we begin at page 1 and discuss the type of rock they are and the process that formed them. Next to the page number, I have them write the part of the rock cycle the story represents. For the storyline above, the labeling of pages would be:

  1. Igneous Rock
  2. Sediments
  3. Sedimentary Rock
  4. Metamorphic Rock
  5. Magma
  6. Igneous Rock
  7. Sediments
  8. They have to figure this one out as their stories are unique

I have modified the progression of events over the years. This is the version I used this year, but there are many different storylines you could choose. I think a conversation about the variety of events undergone by a rock is important, and hopefully will elicit an understanding that rocks do not follow a specific life cycle like animals do, but instead undergo processes that change them.

I usually choose a handful of stories to read to the class. Sometimes this part is the most fun 🙂

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