Lesson Plan

Explore the world of crystals, fossils, rocks, and caves

Caver standing next to Vega Lake
Caver standing next to Vega Lake

NPS Photo

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Sixth Grade
30 minute classes over 5 days
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
4.P.1.1 Students are able to describe observable physical changes and properties in matter. 
5.P.1.1 Students are able to define matter on the basis of observable physical properties.
speleothems, fossils, geology, cave, formations, crystals, sedimentary, limestone, dogtooth spar, igneous, metamorphic, cave popcorn, boxwork, dissolve, rocks


The lessons included in this short unit help student learn about caves, the formations found within them, and the rocks associated with them.  These are hands on activities which include the making of crystals, fossils, and rock layers.


Upon completion of the 5th lesson entitled The Formations Wind Cave students 4th through 5th grade will be able to define the word speleothem (cave formations) and describe one of the speleothems of Wind Cave and discuss how it forms.


Water is the critical ingredient in making a cave and the formations found in them. Over the years, Wind Cave has undergone many geological changes. Almost all of these changes have been caused by water. Water created the sedimentary rock in which the cave formed – limestone. Water that seeped through the rock into the cracks formed by the uplift of the Black Hills was able to dissolve the limestone creating the passageways of the cave. The different features that decorate a cave are called cave formations or speleothems; they too were formed by water. The speloeothem Wind Cave is famous for is called boxwork. Geologists believe that boxwork is older than the cave and formed when water dissolved the limestone exposing the boxwork that had been embedded in small cracks in the rock. Today, water continues to seep into the cave. As it does, it leaves behind formations such as popcorn and frostwork and stalactites and stalagmites which are rare in Wind Cave.


Park Connections

Wind Cave National Park is open all year and teachers can bring students for regularly scheduled cave tours any time. Teachers may request a program that supports a particular classroom objective for any of the cave tours.  To make a reservation for a cave tour call the park at least 3 weeks in advance at 605-745-4600.  Check the park's website for tour schedules.  The park also features an environmental education program called Connections in late April and early May.  Reservations for this program may be made early in March - call the park for more information.  


To learn more about the other caves visit the National Park's Cave and Karst Resources Management Website at  https://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/caves/

Additional Resources



speleothems, fossils, geology, cave, formations, crystals, sedimentary, limestone, dogtooth spar, igneous, metamorphic, cave popcorn, boxwork, dissolve

Last updated: January 24, 2018