Lesson Plan

Deep Time and You

3 billion year old granulite (white rock) at Echo Crater

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.


This lesson will help students attempt to grasp the immensity of geologic time and students will begin to recognize the changing nature of Earth through the creation of timelines showing significant events in Earth's history and their own lives. By the end of the lesson students will be able to construct a timeline and they will begin to comprehend the magnitude of geologic time.


The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, a number too large for people to conceptualize. If we were to shrink the Earth down to the size of a basketball and compress those 4.5 billion years into a few hours we would be able to observe radical changes. Continents would race around the globe, sink beneath the sea, rise up again, smash into other continents, build mountains, and erode back into the sea. Volcanoes would continually erupt and then quickly be weathered away. An astounding array of life would evolve and most of it would pass into extinction seconds later. Asteroids would occasionally slam into Earth. Indeed, the Earth would look like an extraordinarily dynamic little sphere before us.

But from our reference point, change of this magnitude is hard to appreciate. Yet if we begin to grasp the immensity of geologic time, we can begin to recognize the changing nature of Earth.


Prepare and gather the following materials:

  • Adding machine tape (3 or 4 inches wide by about 100 feet)

  • Pencils, pens, crayons

  • String or yarn

  • Use of a large indoor wall while your class is studying about Craters of the Moon


Shows a sample student timeline and sample general timeline.

Download Sample Timelines

Lesson Hook/Preview

Do Now: What are some of the most significant events that have happened in your life so far? Make a list.


Students will construct time lines using adding machine tape. Completed time lines will be displayed on a wall for reference during the weeks you are studying Craters of the Moon. In subsequent Cultural History and Ecology units, new time lines will be added to the existing ones on the wall. Time lines of different scales will be linked together with string or yarn to show temporal relationships.  (See examples in materials section)


Step 1. Create a Personal Timeline

Have students make a timeline describing events in their own lives:

  • Give each student a strip of adding machine tape about two feet long.

  • Have them draw a straight line down the length of the tape.

  • On the right side have them write "present."

  • If the student is 10.5 years old, have them write "11 years ago" at the far left side of the tape.

  • Then, let them divide the time line up into 11 equal increments.

  • Finally, have them fill in significant parts of their life with text and pictures. Label it "Your Name's Timeline." See Student Timeline Example.

Step 2: Create an Age of Earth Timeline

Have the students make a timeline showing the age of the Earth.

  • First, discuss the size of a billion. Quiz the students on what they were doing 10, 100, 1,000, etc. seconds ago. Let them guess; then tell them how long the time was in minutes, days, or years. They will be astounded at the size of a billion:

  • 10 seconds ago?

  • 100 seconds ago?

(1.3 minutes)

  • 1,000 seconds ago?

(16.7 minutes)

  • 1,000,000 seconds ago?

(11. 5 days)

  • 1,000,000,000 seconds ago?

(31.7 years)

  • Tell them the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

  • Cut as long a piece of adding machine tape as your wall will accommodate.

  • Have 2-3 students affix the time line near the bottom of the wall (other time lines will go above it) and mark off 5 equal lengths. Label the marks from left to right "5 billion years ago," "4 billion years ago," and so on. Label it "Earth's Timeline."

  • At the 4.5 billion year old mark, write "the Earth is formed." Divide the most recent billion year division into 10 equal, 100,000,000 year increments.

  • Later, your class can add more information to this timeline.

Step 3: Create a Craters of the Moon Timeline

Have students make a timeline showing events at Craters of the Moon.

  • Assign several students to cut a timeline about 15 feet long and divide it into 15 equal parts. It should be marked 15,000 years ago, 14,000 years ago, . . . present. Label it "Craters of the Moon Timeline." Place it two or three feet over the Earth's Timeline with right sides aligned. Allow enough room in between the strips for a "Life Time Line" you'll do later.

  • Other students should make the following labels on separate small pieces of paper (illustrated if they wish) and when completed they should tape them at the appropriate place to the Craters of the Moon Timeline.

  • 2,000 years ago

Broken Top

  • 2,100 years ago

Blue Dragon Flow/Indian Tunnel

  • 2,200 years ago

Trench Mortar Flat

  • 6,000 years ago

Big Cinder

  • 7,400 years ago

Grassy Cone

  • 12,000 years ago

Sunset Cone

  • 2,500 years ago

North Crater

  • 6,000 years ago

Big Cinder Butte

  • 6,600 years ago

Silent Cone

  • 2,100 years ago

Big Craters

  • 1,500 years ago

Triple Twist tree on North Crater flow started growing




  1. timeline: a way of displaying a list of events in chronological order, typically a graphic design showing a long bar labelled with dates alongside itself and usually events labelled on points where they would have happened.

 2. geologic time: a system of chronological measurement that relates stratigraphy to time, and is used by geologists, paleontologists, and other Earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships between events that have occurred throughout Earth’s history

Assessment Materials

Assessment Questions: This can be done as a class discussion or teachers can use these questions to create a simple worksheet. Answers are in parentheses:

  1. How old is the Earth? (4.2 Billion Years Old)

  2. What do we look for to provide evidence of the earth’s geologic past? (Rocks and fossils contained within them.)

  3. What is the benefit of creating a geologic timeline? (It provides us with a graphical representation of when crucial geologic events occurred.)

  4. Why is it important to understand when geologic events occurred? (Student answers will vary: Understanding how and when geologic processes took place help us understand their relationships with other living things, the fossil record, and gives us a more complete picture of the surrounding landscape. It helps us better understand how the ecosystems we see today evolved over time and were influenced by changing geology.


Additional Resources

Geologic Summary for Teachers

Geologic Summary for Students

Geologic Terms Glossary

Analogs: What is Craters of the Moon Like?

Contact Information

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Last updated: December 13, 2017