A Lesson Plan 
The Eight Basic Elements of the Earth

In this lesson plan, students will be introduced to the concept of an element. They will work with the idea that all the millions of substances on the earth are various combinations of only 8 elements. Students will work with the Periodic Table of the Elements and symbols of the elements. Additionally, students will present their data in the form of both bar and circle graphs.

Lesson Plan Direct Aims:

  • To introduce the names of the eight elements that make up most of the earth’s crust.
  • To give an impression of the percentages of these eight elements
  • To create different types of graphs to represent the quantities

Lesson Plan Indirect Aims

  • To give the students an experience with the Periodic Table of the Elements
  • To introduce the chemical symbols of the elements
  • Work with percents and decimals
  • Work with various types of graphs to represent the quantities

Materials needed for this lesson plan and follow-up work:

  1. Chart showing the layers of the Earth
  2. 100 marbles divided into the following colors: Note: Two options are given for demonstrating the quantities. If you want to demonstrate portions, break marbles into approximate sizes as shown. But you could also round to whole marbles as given in parentheses.
    • 46½ red (or 47) – {oxygen-46.4%}
    • 4 ¼ white (or 4) – {calcium-4.2%}
    • 2 yellow {potassium-2%}
    • 2 ½ clear (or 3) – {sodium-2.4%}
    • 2 ½ blue (or 3) - {magnesium-2.3%}
    • 8¼ silver (or 8) – {aluminum-8.2%}
    • 28 ¼ green (or 28) – {silicon-28.2%}
    • 5 ¾ black (or 6) – {iron-5.6%}
    • (1 marble of another color if using whole marbles for other elements to represent all other minor elements)
  3. Cards for each of the elements
  4. A copy of the Periodic Table of the Elements
  5. Task Cards for Follow-up Work

Lesson Plan

  • Hold up the chart of the earth’s layers and review the names of the layers: inner core, outer core, lower mantle, upper mantle, crust/lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, etc. to fit your chart.

  • Review the terminology for the lithosphere vs. hydrosphere. Equate the term lithosphere with crust.
“Did you know that the earth’s crust is made of only 8 basic ingredients? The ingredients are called elements.”
  • Show Periodic Table of the Elements.
This is called the Periodic Table of the Elements. It shows all the elements that occur in and around our planet. There are ____ elements on the chart. 92 of these elements occur naturally in the air, the water or the crust.

But even though there are 92 natural elements, only 8 elements make up most of the earth’s crust.

  • Show the container of marbles.
There are 100 marbles in this container. They represent the earth’s crust.

Do you see that there are different colors of marbles? The different colors represent the different elements that make up the earth’s crust.

  • Have the students separate the marbles into the different colors.
What do you notice about the numbers of marbles? (Some colors have more marbles than others.)

This represents the different amounts of the various elements. The red marbles represent the element Oxygen. Oxygen makes up nearly half of the earth’s crust.

  • Show the Oxygen card. (in red, to match) Discuss the number of marbles out of 100. (46¼ or 47) Compare this to the percentage written on the card.
What color has the most marbles after the red oxygen marbles? (The green marbles. There are 28 or 28 and a little piece.)

The green marbles represent the element Silicon. Silicon makes up more than ¼ of the ingredients of the crust.

  • Show the Silicon card (in green, to match) Again, discuss the number of marbles out of 100 (28 ¼ or 28) and compare to the percentage on the card.
Let’s see if you can match the other marbles with their name cards.
  • Students should be able to match these, if only by color. Check by counting and comparing the percentages.

  • Once the materials are matched, continue with the lesson plan by showing the blank circle graph. (or give a blank graph to each student)
This is a circle graph. Circle graphs are good for comparing quantities that make up a whole. Since our marbles represent all the elements that make up the earth’s crust, we can use a circle graph to make a picture that compares the various quantities.

Which section do you think represents Oxygen? (the largest section) This section can be colored red to match the red marbles that represent Oxygen.

  • Point out the Key in the bottom corner of the graph page. Review the parts of the Key and its purpose as follows:
Do you see the box in the bottom corner of the page? It is called a Key. It defines the meaning of the different colors we are using to represent the different elements. Color in the box next to the word “Oxygen” the same color as the part of the graph that represents Oxygen. (red)

Do you think you could match the sections of the graph to the different quantities? What color do you think this section should be?

  • Point to the next largest section. (This represents silicon so should be colored green.) Continue to support the students to match the sections and color in both the graph and the key.
  • Note:At this point in the lesson plan you could move away from the students as they finish this work independently. Before you move away, help the students brainstorm an appropriate title for the graph and introduce the follow-up task cards.

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