Teaching Students About the Law of Faunal Succession


Understanding the history of life on Earth is a fascinating and essential subject for students as they delve into the world of biology, geology, and paleontology. One of the fundamental concepts in these fields is the Law of Faunal Succession. The law states that fossils found in sedimentary rock layers can trace a specific chronological sequence, allowing scientists to estimate the age of a particular rock layer. This article aims to provide educators with better understanđing and teaching strategies to help their students grasp this essential scientific principle.

History of the Law of Faunal Succession

The Law of Faunal Succession was first proposed by geologist William Smith in 1796. Smith noticed that certain fossil species only appeared in specific strata (layers) of rock and did not overlap with other species in different strata. This observation led him to the understanding that fossils have a particular order in rock layers, allowing scientists to create geological timelines based on fossil remains.

Benefits of Understanding Faunal Succession 

Teaching students about the Law of Faunal Succession offers several benefits:

Develops critical thinking skills: Students learn to analyze and interpret patterns in fossilized remains, honing their analytical and problem-solving abilities.

Enhances understanding of evolution: By observing changes in fossil species over time, students gain insight into how organisms have adapted and evolved throughout Earth’s history.

Strengthens knowledge of geologic time: The study of faunal succession helps students grasp both relative and absolute dating methods used to determine the age of rocks, as well as broadening their comprehension of Earth’s extensive history.

Teaching Strategies for Introducing the Law of Faunal Succession

Engage students with real-life examples: Share images or specimens of fossils and present case studies where scientists have used faunal succession to date rock layers. Encouraging hands-on experiences will create memorable connections with the material.

Establish a concept map: Create a visual aid that illustrates the relationships between fossils, rock layers, and geologic time. This will help students to see the underlying logic behind faunal succession, and foster a deeper understanding of its purpose.

Use model-building activities: Have students construct models or dioramas of sedimentary rock layers using clay or paper, embedding different layers with model organisms or drawings of different fossils. This tactile activity reinforces the idea of how rock layers form over time and how changes in fossil records can indicate variations within an ecosystem.

Focus on problem-solving and application: Develop assignments and classroom discussions that require students to use their knowledge of faunal succession to solve real-world issues related to geological exploration, environmental conservation or archaeological research.


The Law of Faunal Succession is a significant concept in Earth’s historical comprehension, underpinning our understanding of how life has progressed over millions of years. By incorporating engaging teaching strategies that connect real-world examples with hands-on learning experiences, educators can instill a lifelong appreciation for scientific discovery in their students. Moreover, equipping them with the tools to interpret the evolving narrative of life on our planet will pave the way for further curiosity and inquiry across various scientific disciplines.

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