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Try this great mini-lesson for teaching the layers of the earth!
What you need:
• Red hot candies – 1 per child
• Gum drops or spice drops – 1 per child
• Large marshmallows – 1 per child
• Graham cracker crumbs
• Paper plates or napkins for a workstation
What you do:
- I begin with a discussion of the inner core. I ask the students to describe what it is like, how we might know this since we’ve never been there, and to name an everyday item that might be similar to its makeup. Since finding something even remotely close to the temperature, density and makeup of the inner core is not feasible in the classroom, I use Red Hot candies (get it? Red hot?)!
- Secondly, we discuss how the outer core is somewhat softer than the inner core, but yet still very dense since both of these layers literally have the weight of the world on top of them! I have the students cram (note the real scientific term there: cram) the Red Hot inside the gum/spice drop.
- Next, for the mantle, we use the marshmallow. We discuss how the mantle is much more pliable (relatively speaking) than the core, and that the top layer actually “floats” on top of this spongy material. The students should then cram the core (the Red Hot inside the gum/spice drop) into the center of the marshmallow. At this point, the Earth may not look so “earthy” or round, but the point is getting across to the learner.
- Finally, have the students lick, but not eat, the outside of the marshmallow. They will then roll this concoction in the graham cracker crumbs to be… you guessed it… the crust. You can easily explain how the crust is a “crackly” surface even though it doesn’t look like it to us, and that it’s made up of plates that truly float on the mantle.
- Of course, by this point, the students are asking to “dispose” of their project. They will enjoy eating their Earth, so this is an opportunity to tell them that they’d want to eat a clean Earth, so hopefully they didn’t pollute their Earth. Give them a few moments to enjoy their snack. As a follow-up, I usually have the students describe their model of the Earth – either as a short-answer question on a test or as a quick-write – using science vocabulary and proper terminology.
Food is a great way to get (and keep!) students engaged. They’ll love this lesson because it keeps them engaged while learning, and gives them a sweet treat in the process!
Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta and works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months.