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Learning Objectives

  • Students will further their understanding of sediment cycling (erosion and deposition) on and off beaches.
  • Students will be able to sort and classify by size at least 3 particle (grain) sizes of beach sediment, then discuss how size relates to erosion potential by waves and wind.
  • Students will be able to list three features/attributes of a beach that determine its coastal vulnerability or erosion potential.
  • Students will be able to predict beach and dune response to climate change scenarios.

Background Information to conduct this lesson plan

  • Classroom materials: two Powerpoints, two readings, two classroom activities. One activity requires viewing a YouTube video, and an additional recommended reading; a hyperlink is provided for this reading which is an in-depth research on coastal vulnerability report by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). 
  • Beach Field Trip activity suggestions: three activities with datasheets.
  • Post Assessment Model Activity.

    These materials are referenced throughout the procedure, and are available in "Additional Resources," at the bottom of the page

Major vocabulary

Beach, coast, shoreline, barrier beach, dune,sediment, erosion, longshore transport, sediment suspension


1. Preview the full version of materials for the classroom, field trip, and post assessment activity (see the files Classroom - Beaches in Motion, Coastal Vulnerability; Field trip - Beaches in Motion, Coastal Vulnerability, and Post Field Trip - Models Beach, all in Additional Resources, below).

Determine which activities you will do with your class, collect all sediment needed for the classroom activities and possible the post assessment activity prior to starting the classroom lessons.

2. Open/print the Classroom-Beaches in Motion-Coastal Vulnerability document.

3. Read: Geology of Outer Cape Cod: http://www.coastalstudies.org/what-we-do/land-sea/outercape.htm and discuss the importance of coastline, how understanding coastal process are relevant to students lives.

4. View: Powerpoint- Beaches in Motion-Coastal Vulnerability (about 45 minutes with discussion.)

5. View: Powerpoint- Beach Zones (about 45 minutes with discussion.)

6 .Read and interpret the graphs in the document:SWASH: a New Method for Quantifying Coastal Change.

7. Classroom Activity 1 (or can be done on field trip) Sediment Classification (45 minutes): Not all the particles of sediment on the beach are "sand".Particles are named for their size according to the Wentworth Grain Size Scale.Sediment ranges in size from silt to boulders.The size and shape of the particles affects the "structure" or slope and zones of the beach which in turn affects the beaches' rate of erosion.The smaller the sediment size, the easier it is for it to be removed and transported by wind or waves.See activity plan. Sediment sorting worksheet, mineral color and density chart.

8. Classroom Activity 2: Sediment in Suspension (45 minutes with 20 minute YouTube video) - see lesson plan. Learn about wave energy and long shore transport, "Beach:A River of Sand."

9. Reading in preparation for beach Field trip Activity 1-Coastal Vulnerability Assessment of Cape Cod National Seashore (CACO) to Sea-Level Rise https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2002/of02-233/images/pdf/CapeCod_CVI.pdf The figure on page 16 page of this 23 page report pulls coastal vulnerability variables together.Students will be evaluating coastal vulnerability factors in Beach Field Trip Activity 1.Recommend the teacher preview this document and use information appropriate to the class.

10. Beach Field Trip (open the file below): Field trip-Beaches in Motion-Coastal Vulnerability. Follow the procedure-what to do and how to do it.

Ocean Beach Field Trip: Three Shoreline Change Activities (optional)

Full details are in the "Field Trip - Beaches in Motion" file below, in Additional Resources.

Location: Beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean, high energy beaches

Duration: 2 hours.Plan for a 10 minute group introduction to the beach and safety discussion, about 25 minutes each activity.

Below is a summary forthe three beach field trip activities. To view/print the full activity instructions and datasheets open the file:Field trip-Beaches in Motion-Coastal Vulnerability

Activity 1 Beaches in Motion - Investigating Coastal Vulnerability(25 min).Students identify and locate different beach and dune zones, slope, elevation of dunes or coastal banks.Compare sediment samples from each zone, identify and name sediment by size, identify minerals, discuss mineral density, evaluate erosion potential.Discuss the response of the beach to climate change predictions- increased frequency, and intensity of storms, and sea level rise.

Activity 2 Longshore Drift - A River of Sand Activity (25 min).is a group activity that demonstrates longshore drift.Longshore drift is the water transport of sediment parallel to the shoreline.The direction and movement is dependent on wind conditions, wave direction, wave energy, and sediment size.Discuss the response of the beach to climate change predictions- increased frequency, and intensity of storms, and sea level rise.

Activity 3 Sediment in Motion(25 min).Best location is a high energy beach with a sloped forebeach zones and waves. Observe movement of sediment on and off the beach, sand bar formation and location.This activity works best on incoming tides but can be adapted for outgoing tides. Discuss the response of the beach to climate change predictions- increased frequency, and intensity of storms, and sea level rise.

Post Field trip Assessment Activity (optional, recommended) 

See the "post field trip" file below in Additional Resources

How will teacher assess?

  • Students write a paragraph that relates sediment size to wave energy, and longshore transport (erosions and accretion).Students should use grain size names, zones of the beach, and other beach features.
  • Students should study and interpret the graphs, figures 1 and 2in the reading;SWASH: a New Method for Quantifying Coastal Change
  • Draw a profile of the beach and label zones and 3 other minor beach features.
  • Write a paragraph discussing why beaches have sand?Why doesn't the sand wash off the beach and just disappear off shore? ( a few hints: water pushes sand up the beach as well as pulls it of.Some water passes down through the sand after it runs onto the beach, so not as much water runs off the beach as ran on.More ideas?What role might sediment size and angulation play?
  • Compare Cape Cod's coastal vulnerability factors (high wave energy) to other geographic locations:rock-granite backed beaches, low wave energy beaches (inside a protected salt marsh or estuary, Cape Cod Bay etc.)
  • Students complete the Post Assessment Modeling Activity with realistic outcomes.

Park Connections

1.Students will visit a National Park to increase their understanding of the National Park Service mission, and that parks are part of their community.

2.Students will understand shoreline processes and predict change as managers do for decision making purposes.


Get in-depth information on Coastal Vulnerability research 



Additional Resources


Earth Science
National/State Standards:
Earth Science
beach, coast, shoreline, barrier beach, dune, sediment, erosion, longshore transport, sediment suspension

Last updated: February 6, 2018