Lesson Plan

Secrets of the Past

Student painting of Badlands geologic layers.

Overall Rating

Add your review
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
3.RI.7, 4.RI.7
State Standards:
South Dakota. Science.

Additional Standards:
4-ESS1-1. Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to support an explanation for changes in a landscape over time.
4-ESS2-1. Make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering.
Thinking Skills:
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. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.


Students will be able to describe how the Badlands rock layers were deposited over time by ancient environments. Students will match ancient environments and fossilized animals to the correlating rock layer/time period in Earth’s history. Students will be able to describe how the modern processes of weathering and erosion shape the Badlands.


Students watch a six minute ranger video about the Badlands. Teachers should check out the video transcript and the teacher answer guide ahead of time (available in the materials section of this lesson plan). Materials such as markers or colored pencils, glue or tape, and scissors could also be helpful.


Teacher will show students the “Badlands” video.


The video provides background information about the Badlands and provides context for the lesson: https://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=2A1BF55F-ABEE-758D-33317F51DACBABF2

Download Secrets of the Past video with transcript

Download Animals and Rock Layers Handout

Lesson Hook/Preview

A 6 minute video showing a ranger discussing the badlands gives a glimpse into the geological wonders of the region. Give students the Animals and Rock Layers Handout and ask them to follow along and take notes during the video.



Step 1: Ask students to raise their hand and share with the class what they learned from the video.  

Step 2: Using the teacher answer key as a reference, explain the different animals and rock layers in the handout. Start with the Pierre Shale (the oldest layer). Remind students that the shale formed from the black mud left behind by an ancient sea. Repeat for each rock layer. Have students color layers (younger students) or take notes (older students) as you talk about each page.

Step 3: Assess student understanding by having them complete the flip book assessment. Students should cut off or rip each page at the dotted line. Have students glue the proper environment strip on the top portion of the page and then match fossilized animals that could be found in the time period reflected on the page.

Assemble pages in order with the shortest page on top and the longest page on the bottom. Staple the flip book along the top edge. When complete, the pages will line up to reveal the entire Badlands rock column. Students can flip to any page to see the environment and fossilized animals from that time period.



Savannah: a grassy plain.
Fossils: the remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in petrified form or cast in rock.
Mesohippus: extinct genus of early horse.
Oreodont: extinct mammal most closely related to camels and pigs.

Assessment Materials

Student Flip Book

Students will create a flip book of rock layers on their own and identify the animals that belong to each rock layer.

Secrets of the Past Flip Book Assessment

Download Assessment

Rubric/Answer Key

Student Flip Book

Allows teacher to compare student responses to the correct responses on the answer key.

Secrets of the Past Answer Key

Download Rubric/Answer Key

Additional Resources

These resources are available through Badlands National History Association (BNHA), a not-for-profit organization established to support education efforts at Badlands National Park.

  • Fossils Tell of Long Ago by Aliki

  • Geologic Time & the History of Life: Illustrated by Animals & Plants Poster

  • Badlands: It's Life and Landscape by Joy Keve Hauk

  • Badlands Suite: Land of Stone and Light, From Field to Lab, Multiple Perspectives DVD

Contact Information

Email us about this lesson plan

Last updated: May 21, 2015