Student Activities

Landscaping with Wind and Water

Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade

Landforms are created by constructive and destructive forces. In Yellowstone, constructive forces include uplift, volcanic eruptions, and sedimentation from inland seas and rivers. Destructive forces include weathering and erosion. Both types can change land forms dramatically.

In this activity, students will demonstrate the destructive forces of erosion on small “mountains” and survey an area to identify evidence of erosion. 


  1. Discuss background information. Geologic Event Cards are helpful for this purpose.
  2. Divide the students into small groups. Explain that each group will create a landscape using wind and water.
  3. Have each group build a "mountain" from a pile of dirt. The dirt should include a variety of soil, sand, and rocks.
  4. Distribute an Erosion Investigation handout to each group. Allow groups access to the materials listed so they can alter their mountain with landscape changing forces.
  5. Have students follow the steps listed on the handout. As groups investigate, they may wish to record predictions and observations.
  6. Have students as an assessment draw their mountains in their journals. They should include all signs of erosion and label the cause of each eroded area.
  7. Allow students to visit landscapes created by other small groups.
  8. Ask groups to remove a large cupful of soil from their mountains. Have them reconstruct a mountain using only the remaining dirt.
  9. Instruct groups to plant trees on the mountain using toothpicks.
  10. Have students simulate a volcanic eruption by pouring the cupful of soil onto the mountain. Discuss the impact of trees and volcanic ash on erosion patterns. 

Park Connections

Erosion continues to shape the landscape of Yellowstone National Park. 

Additional Resources

Good, J.M.M., Kenneth L. Pierce (1997). Interpreting the Landscape: Recent and ongoing geology of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Moose, Wyoming: Grand Teton Natural History Association. 

Hendrix, Mark (2011). Geology Under Foot in Yellowstone. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing.

Smith, Robert B., Lee J. Siegel (2000). Windows into the Earth: The geologic story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


Download Geologic Event Cards

Download Erosion Investigation handout

Last updated: September 10, 2015