Teaching Students About Physical Geology


Physical geology is an essential subject that helps students understand the earth’s physical features, processes, and history. Teaching students about physical geology lays the foundation for comprehending Earth’s complex systems and prepares them to make informed decisions about environmental and geological issues. This article aims to provide educators with guidance on how to effectively teach students about physical geology, covering key concepts, recommended approaches, activities, and resources.

Key Concepts in Physical Geology

Plate Tectonics: Understanding the movement of the Earth’s lithosphere and its influence on geological phenomena.

Rock Cycle: Comprehending the formation, transformation, and recycling of rocks through various processes.

Earthquakes & Seismology: Studying the causes and effects of earthquakes as well as the methods used to measure seismic activity.

Volcanism: Learning about volcanic activity and how it shapes Earth’s landscape.

Erosion & Weathering: Recognizing how these natural forces contribute to shaping landforms over time.

Minerals & Crystallography: Identifying minerals and their characteristics based on their crystal structure.

Geologic Time: Grasping the concept of deep time and recognizing significant events in Earth’s history.

Recommended Approaches

Incorporating multimedia presentations that include visuals, animations, videos, 3D models can better illustrate complex geological concepts.

Encourage hands-on activities such as rock identification or growing crystals to engage students and foster a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Field trips to relevant geological sites allow students to observe real-world examples of what they’ve studied in class.

Utilize technology resources like GIS (Geographic Information System) software for exploring and understanding geographic data.

Activities for Teaching Physical Geology

Create a class debate on current controversial geologic issues (e.g., fracking or offshore drilling).

Have a mineral scavenger hunt where students identify different minerals based on their physical properties.

Set up a mock seismic monitoring station and have students analyze seismic data to locate earthquake epicenters and magnitudes.

Organize a “Geo-Olympics,” with games and competitions that test the students’ understanding of geologic concepts (e.g. tower-building using various rock types, map-reading races).

Challenge students to create a timeline of significant geological events, illustrating the vastness of geologic time.


There is a plethora of online resources available for teaching physical geology:

US Geological Survey (USGS): Provides information on various topics in geology, including research and educational materials.

National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT): Offers professional development workshops, teaching activities, and community support for geoscience educators.

EarthScienceWeek.org: A collection of resources, activities, and materials for Earth Science events.

American Geosciences Institute (AGI): Educational resources ranging from K-12 to college levels, addressing various geoscience topics.


Teaching physical geology is a crucial aspect of science education that allows students to develop an appreciation for the earth’s intricate processes and landscapes. By incorporating effective approaches in instruction with engaging activities, we can inspire curiosity about this fascinating subject in our students while equipping them with the knowledge necessary to understand and address real-world environmental challenges.

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