Teaching weathering is one of the great things about being a humanities or social sciences teacher. What’s not to love about showing students the fascinating landscapes of our planet?
Add to that the exploration of how the Earth creates these landscapes and you have the stuff that geography teachers’ dreams are made of.
Today we’re looking at weathering and activities you can do with students if you are teaching weathering. But before we start, some background information on weathering in case you are new to teaching humanities.
(Because we all know that sometimes teachers are teaching outside their areas of expertise. And not all teachers are as enamored of geological processes as humanities teachers are).
What is weathering?
Weathering is the gradual breakdown and alteration of rocks, minerals, and other geological materials on or near the Earth’s surface.
It is a natural process driven by various factors such as physical forces, chemical reactions, and biological activities.
Weathering is not erosion.
Weathering vs erosion
Weathering acts as a forerunner to erosion and the formation of sediment. So, first comes weathering, where materials are degraded and separated from their parent rocks.
Then comes erosion, which is like the kidnapper, picking up and moving the rocks from their parents to another location.
Finally, comes deposition, where the rocks are abandoned like orphans in a new location.
The weathering, erosion, and deposition of sediments is part of the rock cycle and is how the Earth recycles materials over time.
What does weathering do?
Weathering separates rocks from their parents, as we said before. And, along with erosion and deposition, helps to shape the landscapes that we see all around us.
Interesting ways that weathering shapes our landscapes include
- Creating soil by breaking down and mixing with organic materials, minerals, and water. In doing so, weathering also supports the plant and animal life that depends on the soil to grow and survive.
- Creating sediment in riverbeds, lakes, and oceans. This in turn creates geographical features such as deltas, alluvial plains, and sedimentary deposits.
- Shaping coastal landscapes such as sea cliffs, stacks, arches, and caves.
- Creating desert landscapes by breaking down rocks into sand grains. In turn, weathering shapes desert landscapes features such as sand dunes and desert pavements
- Carving out Karst landscapes in soluble rocks and forming caves, sinkholes, and underground rivers.
What are agents of weathering?
There are three agents of weathering that work to shape our landscapes. The three types of weathering are
- Physical weathering occurs when temperature changes force physical changes in the rock. For example, when water seeps into rocks, freezes and expands during freeze-thaw cycles and creates cracks in the rocks. Or when rocks expand and contract when they are heated by the sun. Often physical weathering occurs in places where there is little soil and low levels of vegetation, such as mountains and deserts.
- Chemical weathering occurs when rainwater, especially slightly acidic rainwater, reacts with minerals in the rocks and creates new minerals or soluble salts.
- Biological weathering occurs when living organisms contribute to the breakdown of rocks, such as tree roots forcing a path through rocks, animals burrowing into rocks, or bacteria, algae, or lichens breaking down rocks.
What does weathering look like?
Weathering will look different in different environments. For example, in mountain environments, physical weathering may cause large cracks between rocks.
Or in damp environments, algae and lichen may gradually decompose a rock for nutrients.
Now that you’ve done a quick review of weathering, you probably want some fun, fast, and easy activities to use with your students. Below are several weathering and erosion worksheets, as well as lesson activities.
Weathering and erosion worksheet
Crash Course Geography Weathering video and worksheet
- What is weathering?
- How is erosion different from weathering
- The three types of weathering
- Landscapes that are created by weathering
These worksheets are great because they are no-prep, contain teacher notes for you to preview the content, and enable students to take structured notes that are still creative while giving them ownership over their notes.
There are also helpful follow-up activities on the weathering activity sheet that you can use after the lesson to extend your students, create a formative assessment, or engage your students in more hands-on learning.
2. Before and after weathering and erosion worksheets by Innovative Teacher
These worksheets by Innovative Teacher enable you to show your students the ‘before’ and ‘after’ stages of different landscapes and formations that are affected by weathering and erosion.
These worksheets are no-prep and help your students visualize what happens to the landscapes and formations once they become weathered and eroded.
3. Crossword puzzle by Science Spot
These crossword puzzles by Science Spot are an easy way to review vocabulary words when teaching weathering. Included in the worksheets are blank crosswords, both with and without a word bank, and a teacher answer key.
Vocabulary words included in the puzzle are chemical weathering, deposition, erosion, glacial erosion, mechanical weathering, runoff, sediment, soil, weathering, and wind erosion.
Activities for teaching weathering and erosion
If you’re not looking for weathering lesson plans and worksheets, you might be interested in some of these activities for teaching weathering. However, only some of these are weathering worksheets or made-for-you activities, and most do not have a specific weathering lesson plan to use.
1. Bill Nye the Science Guy videos
The video is more focused on erosion than weathering per se, but you could use them after teaching weathering or as a homework activity.
2. Match up activity
These worksheets by Mrs Gov’s Classroom include several different activities, including graphic organizers, vocabulary match-up worksheets, and a landform research task.
You could use them over several lessons as classroom activities, formative assessments, or revision.
3. World’s strangest formations worksheet by Flying Colors Science
This reading and worksheet activity by Flying Colors Science has ten of the world’s strangest formations. Students read about the strange landforms and answer questions about them.
There is no prior learning required to do this worksheet, and all of the information comes from the reading, so they are great for a substitute lesson or as a my-kid-was-up-all-night-vomiting-and-class-starts-in-five-minutes-help-me lesson.
4. Create activities about erosional landforms article using a ThoughtCo article
Another fun idea is to create a web quest of erosional landforms using this ThoughtCo article here. Most of the landforms shown are from the USA, but there are a few international landforms too.
If you don’t have time to create a web quest, easy ways you could also use this activity include to
- Create a BINGO game using the name of the landform with the type of landform it is
- Devise a quick choice board of activities
- Get students to research 2-3 of the landforms in more depth and report back to the class
- Ask students to read the information and create 10 quiz questions from it and then play the quiz in teams
Other useful websites or videos for teaching weathering (and other geography topics)
- Crash Course Geography videos on the CrashCourse website or YouTube
- The British Geological Society website, which also has printable factsheets, posters, and presentations on a wide variety of Earth Science topics, as well as weathering lesson plans and information
- The BBC Bitesize webpage about the rock cycle