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Anytime Lesson Plan: Rock Cycle Roundabout


In this activity, students will learn how the three types of rock are formed as part of the rock cycle and that the same forces that produce/change rocks also produce/change landforms.


In this activity, students will:

  1. Learn how the three types of rock are formed as part of the rock cycle
  2. Learn that rocks change over very long periods of time.
  3. Learn that the same forces that produce/change rocks also produce/change landforms


  • Rock Cycle Record sheet (1 per student)
  • Rock Cycle Roundabout board (1 per group)
  • Rock Cycle Cards (1 set per 4 – 6 students)
  • Small Rocks or other small objects for game pieces (1 per student), not provided
  • Optional: Rock samples (metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary types)


  • biodiversity: great variety of life forms in a given area.
  • cement (verb): to glue or fuse together.
  • core: the center of the Earth.
  • crust: the outer layer of the Earth, upon which we all live. The crust is mainly composed of igneous and metamorphic rocks and is divided into plates that move very, very slowly.
  • erosion: the process of moving weathered pieces of rocks and organic material.
  • extrusive: igneous rocks that form from lava above the surface of the crust.
  • fault: a crack in the Earth’s crust.
  • igneous rock: rock that forms from the cooling and hardening of magma and lava.
  • intrusive: igneous rocks that form from magma below the surface of the crust.
  • lava: liquid rock on the surface of the earth.
  • magma: liquid rock underneath the surface of the earth.
  • mantle: the middle layer of the Earth, between the core and the crust.
  • metamorphic rock: rock that has had its mineral composition and/or texture changed while in a solid state due to changes in temperature and pressure.
  • minerals: solid materials found in nature that are the same all over with particular chemical composition and physical properties. Minerals make up rocks.
  • pressure: the application of continuous force on an object
  • rocks: chunks of solid matter composed of one or more of the minerals that form the Earth's crust.
  • sedimentary rock: rock that forms from consolidation of small pieces of rocks
  • subduction: the process of one plate in the Earth’s crust getting forced under  another any time two plates in the Earth’s crust collide, one. This being drawn down or overridden by another, localized along the juncture (subduction zone) of two plates.
  • weathering: the chemical alteration and mechanical breakdown of rocks during exposure to air, moisture, and organic matter



  1. Print out Rock Cycle Roundabout board (1 per group)
  2. Print out Rock Cycle Records (1 per student)
  3. Print Rock Cycle Cards double-sided, cut out, and stack face-up (1 set per group)
  4. Set aside game pieces (1 per student)
  5. Divide your class into groups of 3 to 6


Teacher’s Note: This activity requires some prior knowledge of the three types of rocks involved in the rock cycle: sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic. If students are not familiar with how these rock types are formed, review the information presented in the Teacher Background. If possible, show students specimens of each rock type.


  1. Distribute the Rock Cycle Roundabout, Rock Cycle Records, shuffled and stacked Rock Cycle Cards and game pieces to small groups of 4 to 6 students. 
  2. To begin have each group member place their game piece on any of the three rock types on the Rock Cycle Roundabout.
  3. One player pulls a card from the deck and reads the “How do you change?” clue on the back to the person on his or her right. That person then needs to try to guess what their rock becomes.
  4. If the person guesses correctly, then they receive a point (point system is optional). If s/he guesses incorrectly, then the reader may poll the rest of the group. Once the guesses have been made the reader will provide the answer. If no one guessed correctly, then the reader gains a point.
  5. Regardless of whether the player guesses correctly and regardless which rock type they turn into, the player will move their game piece to that correct rock type and place a tally mark in the appropriate box on their Rock Cycle Record.
  6. Once this process is complete, the next student will take a turn as the clue reader. The game will continue until all of the cards have been used or when the teacher deems appropriate to stop. If one group finishes before the other groups you can challenge them to come up with their own cards to test each other on.
  7. Once all of the groups have completed the card game, pick three students to read out loud one of the cards that they received.  After each reading, ask the class how many years they think it would take for that specific rock transformation to happen. After they’ve had a chance to predict, model drawing a geologic timescale of those occurrences on the board.
    • Transformation 1 (change to igneous) You are part of a dry lake bed. Suddenly, a flaming meteorite from space smashes into you! You are melted from the impact with the hot space rock and flung through the air where you cool and harden.Transformation Time: 10 minutes
    • Transformation 2 (change to sedimentary card) A glacier slowly flows over you, crushing and dragging you. As you get ground into tiny pieces, you become cemented to other rock particles. The glacier passes over and leaves behind clusters of these cemented particles. Transformation Time: 10,000 years
    • Transformation 3 (change to igneous) Get buried under sediment on the ocean floor. Get forced under (subduction) the North American continent, towards the center of the Earth. Slowly melt from the heat of the Earth’s mantle. Get forced up and harden in the cold water. Transformation Time: 100 million years
  8. Discuss geologic time with your class. Typically the transformation of one type of rock to another takes on the order of millions of years, if not hundreds of millions of years, if not billions of years.
  9. Now have your students look back through their own Rock Cycle cards and draw, write or create a timeline based on what happened to their own rock throughout the game. Because the transformations in each stack of card were randomized, each student in a group would have changed rock types in a different sequence, with some students landing more often on one type than another.


  • Use a geologic map of California to facilitate closing discussions and explore the regions’ own geologic processes. Discuss questions such as:
    • Where are most sedimentary rocks found and why do you think that is?
      • Sedimentary Rocks are found where water is currently located or was located. For example the Central Valley used to be a large lake and ocean waves break down rocks.
      • Igneous Rocks formed where volcanoes and magma pushed through the earth’s crust and caused rocks to melt and reform. This has happened on the eastern edge of the state.
      • Metamorphic Rocks formed where other rocks were caught between colliding tectonic plates and/or growing mountains.
    • What type of rock base does your city sit on?
    • What type of rock do you think the earth under your city will change into next? Why do you think that is?


Online Animations

The Rock Cycle; Prentice Hall & Pearson, May 2010 http://www.phschool.com/atschool/phsciexp/active_art/rock_cycle/index.html

California Plate Tectonics and Sea Level Changes; Educational Multimedia Visualization Studio, UC Santa Barbara,  http://emvc.geol.ucsb.edu/downloads.php#RegionalTectGeolHist


Blobaum, C. 1999. Geology Rocks!: 50 Hands-On Activities to Explore the Earth. Charlotte, VT, Williamson Publishing Co.

Parker, S. (1997) Rocks and Minerals (Eyewitness Books). New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc.

Skinner, B. 2004. Dynamic Earth. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc: UK. 

Von Noordon, D. (ed.) 1997. Rocks and Minerals (Eye Wonder ). New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc.

Books in Spanish

Rosinsky, N.M. (2003) Las Rocas, Duras, Blandas, Lisas, y Ásperas. Mankato, MN, Picture Window Books

Symes, R. (1997) Rocas y Minerales (Eyewitness Series in Spanish). New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc.


California Content Standards

Grade Four

Earth Sciences

  • 4a. Students know how to differentiate among igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks by referring to their properties and methods of formation (the rock cycle).
  • 5a. Students know some changes in the earth are due to slow processes, such as erosion, and some changes are due to rapid processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.
  • 5b. Students know natural processes, including freezing and thawing and the growth of roots, cause rocks to break down into smaller pieces.
  • 5c. Students know moving water erodes landforms, reshaping the land by taking it away from some places and depositing it as pebbles, sand, silt, and mud in other places (weathering, transport, and deposition).

Investigation and Experimentation

  • 6a. Differentiate observation from inference (interpretation) and know scientists' explanations come partly from what they observe and partly from how they interpret their observations.

Grade Six 

Earth Sciences

  • 2a. Students know water running downhill is the dominant process in shaping the landscape, including California’s landscape.

Grade Seven

Earth Sciences

  • 4a. Students know Earth processes today are similar to those that occurred in the past and slow geologic processes have large cumulative effects over long periods of time.
  • 4c. Students know that the rock cycle includes the formation of new sediment and rocks and that rocks are often found in layers, with the oldest generally on the bottom.
  • 4e. Students know fossils provide evidence of how life and environmental conditions have changed.



The Earth, our rocky planet, is very active. As you are reading this volcanoes are erupting and earthquakes are shaking, mountains are being pushed up and are being worn down, rivers are carrying sand and mud to the sea and huge sections of the Earth's crust called tectonic plates are slowly moving - about as fast as your fingernails grow.

Rocks are made out of minerals. The building blocks of minerals are elements and compounds. When the minerals on Earth combine together we get rocks (just like when you combine ingredients you get cookies). The process by which rocks are formed is called “The Rock Cycle.” The Rock cycle is driven by plate tectonics. Due to the driving forces of plate tectonics rocks do not remain in equilibrium and are forced to change as they encounter new environments.

Different rocks can be made by the same minerals and so geologists classify rocks is based on how they form.  As with the water cycle and other natural cycles, the rock cycle does not occur only in one direction. Instead, depending on what conditions a rock is subjected to, it can transform into any of the other rock types. A rock can even re-form as the same type of rock. Below is an explanation of the different alterations that each rock type can undergo.

Igneous rocks form from hot molten rock produced by volcanic activity on Earth.  Geologists classify igneous rocks according to the types of minerals that they contain, and according to the size, shape, arrangement, and distribution of the minerals. Within the igneous rock formation category, two important subtypes exist.  Extrusive igneous rocks are formed through cooling and hardening on the Earth’s surface.  Some examples of extrusive igneous rocks are obsidian and basalt.  Intrusive igneous rocks then are formed through a slower cooling that takes place underneath the surface of the Earth’s crust.  An example of intrusive igneous rocks is granite.

Igneous rocks can either be weathered (broken down into smaller pieces) and compacted into sedimentary rocks or they can be subjected to heat and pressure causing them to become metamorphic rocks.

Sedimentary rocks are formed by mineral and rock fragments that settle out of water, glaciers, or that collects through the action of wind.  The weight of the collected fragments along with the mineral-laden water creates a way for these fragments to cement together to create one solid rock body.  There are three important types of sedimentary rock formations.  Clastic rocks are those like conglomerates, breccia, shale, and sandstone that are made up of pre-existing rock fragments smashed together, creating new rock types.  Organic rocks were once living organisms that decomposed after their death and created rocks through their remains.  Some organic rocks are limestones and coal.  Chemical rocks are created from the minerals in water that are left behind after water evaporates.  Chemical rocks include halite (salt) and gypsum.

Sedimentary rocks can be subjected to heat and/or pressure causing them to change form and become metamorphic rocks or causing them to melt and erupt as igneous rocks. 

Metamorphic rocks are any type of rock that has been transformed by heat and pressure.  Therefore, a metamorphic rock could have once been either an igneous or sedimentary rock, but through heat and pressure has been changed into a completely different type of rock.  For example, shale, a sedimentary rock, becomes shale as a metamorphic rock.  Granite becomes gneiss, and chalk becomes marble.  Metamorphic rocks may be transformed again into different metamorphic rocks.

Metamorphic rocks can be weathered (broken down into smaller pieces) and compacted into sedimentary rocks or they can be subjected to heat and/or pressure causing them to melt and erupt as igneous rocks.

Some places in the world, more igneous rocks are formed, while in others more metamorphic rocks are formed, while still others will have more sedimentary formation. The same processes that change rocks also produce geographic formations like mountains, valleys, plains, etc. This variation affects other aspects of ecology and enhances the world’s biodiversity. So not only does the rock cycle provide us with lots of different rocks it also helps to produce different environments. In one part of the world, such as the Ring of Fire, there might be lots of igneous activity, resulting in faults, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc. In another part of the world the forces that produce metamorphic rocks may also produce uplifted mountain ranges. And in other parts, sedimentary rocks may indicate the presence of great bodies of water nearby.


The simplest way to understand the rock cycle is to follow one rock through the various transformations. First, imagine lava from a volcano cooling into an igneous rock. Over time this igneous rock can be weathered from wind and rain, which transform the igneous rock into small bits of rock. These weathered pieces of rock (sediments) are carried away by wind and water and then deposited. After deposition, they can be compacted and consolidated into sedimentary rock.  Over time, tectonic activity can cause the sedimentary rock to be buried deep in the earth.  The pressure and heat from within the earth can change the composition of the rock, turning it into a metamorphic rock. This metamorphic rock can continue to be buried even deeper and eventually can become so hot that it melts into magma. The magma can then erupt as lava from a volcano and cool as an igneous rock. The cycle begins again.


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