Ideas for Teaching Geologic Time Scale

Calling all geology teachers! Teaching middle schoolers about the major events in earth’s history may sound dull initially, but it certainly doesn’t have to be! In fact, I’ve made it my personal mission to find unique and exciting lesson plans to help my students understand geological events. If you’re looking for a great way to teach the history of life on earth, here are my best ideas for teaching geologic time scale.

Geological Time Scale Activities

The “Geologic Time Scale” is essential the timeline or calendar of events that have occurred within the history of the earth. This geologic timeline is broken up into different time period segments, known as eon’s. Geologists have learned a lot about the age of the earth and evolution of life by examining the fossil record. Different rock layers containing fossil evidence help tell the story of the significant events in earth’s history.

To put it simply, geology is more than just a bunch of rock units — the geological timeline is as much a history lesson about planet earth as it is a science lesson.

So…how do you make this “ancient history” exciting and engaging for your students? Here are my favorite activities and ideas for teaching geologic time scale:

Geologic Time Periods Webquest

Looking for an extension activity for your geology unit? Do you need a straightforward activity that students can complete without too much teacher assistance? Skip note taking and empower your students with this Geologic time periods webquest!

In this activity, students will be assigned a period based on their birth month. Then, students will independently research the major features of that period and create some sort of presentation (up to teacher discretion, although some one pager templates are included) to show their learning. Finally, all students will complete a graphic organizer using the information they gather from their peers.

Check it out:

Dioramas of the Different Eras

Working in small groups, students are assigned a specific geologic era (ex: mesozoic era, cenozoic era, etc.) to represent within their diorama. Together, they will build their diorama and write a paragraph explaining each of the features they chose to include within their model. Once all of the dioramas are complete, we line them up in time line order for students to complete a gallery walk through earth’s major geologic events.

Geologic Time Scale Board Games

Who doesn’t love a good game day?! For this activity, students work in partners or small groups to create their own board games. They are encouraged to use their creativity in designing their board games. They can model it off of an existing board game or create their own, entirely unique game concept! The only instruction is that their games must include the major events in earth’s history. This activity is truly where science class becomes a fun art project!

Create Your Own Jurassic Park

This has to be one of my most popular ideas for teaching geologic time scale. Truly – my students LOVED this activity! They were given the direction to “create their own Jurassic Park” themed by one of the three eras. The parks can be showcased in a variety of ways.

Students might:

  • Build a 3D model of their park
  • Create a Google Slides presentation detailing their park plans
  • Design a “park brochure” the offers a description of the park and it’s attractions

Fun tip:

Consider playing the “Jurassic Park” soundtrack in the background while your students work. It adds an extra fun element to the work day.

Geologic Time Travel Agents

This activity provides a different way for students to showcase their understanding of the concept of geologic time. They are instructed to choose (or you could assign) a specific time period within earth’s history to research. Once they’ve taken time to research and learn as much as they can about their assigned era, students will be given the task to SELL this time in history, as though it were a fantastic vacation destination.

This project makes a great oral presentation opportunity, but would also work well as a poster project or travel brochure.

Once all presentations have been made, each student will walk around the room and put their “ticket” in the time period they would most enjoy traveling to.

Large Paper Timelines

Begin by measuring out 5 meters of paper and have your students work together to construct a numerical time line from the beginning of the earth to present time.

Here are the steps they should follow:

  1. Measure out that 1 meter = 1 BYA.
  2. Measure the eras.
  3. Research and find at least 3 events per time period and measure them out.

This activity really helps with understanding how vast earths time is!

Looking for additional resources?

I’ve got you covered. In my FREE Geology Unit Guide, I offer practical suggestions and time-tested tips for teaching geologic history to middle schoolers. This unit guide will save you time, engage your students, and wow your administrators! Unit overview, NGSS standards, and a pacing guide are all included with links to relevant resources to make planning a breeze.

This free unit plan includes:

  • Enduring understandings
  • NGSS Standards
  • A brief description of all resources included in the full unit bundle
  • Suggested pacing
  • Key vocabulary with definitions
  • Additional resources

Want more?

Here’s a sneak peak of some of the additional resources you’ll find within my FULL GEOLOGY UNIT.

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