Try this lesson plan and set of downloadable activities to help teach 11-14 year olds about sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks and the rock cycle

In this lesson, students use a set of cards which brings together ideas about sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks and the ways in which they are linked through the rock cycle. Students put the cards, which show different components of the cycle, in appropriate places to construct the whole cycle.

Learning objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Construct the rock cycle.

Sequence of activities


Show the completed version of the rock cycle for a short time using an OHP or a data projector. Explain to the students that they are each going to become a ’Rock cycle expert’.

Activity: stage 1

  1. Arrange the students into groups of three.
  2. Issue each group with a set of ’Rock cycle components’ cards, differentiated for high demand or low demand students, and a ’Rock cycle outline sheet’, if required:
    • For high demand students, give the ‘Rock cycle outline sheet’, plus cards cut out from ‘Rock cycle components sheet 1’ and ‘Rock cycle components sheet 2’.
    • For low demand students, give cards cut out from each of the four ‘Rock cycle components sheets’.
  3. Circulate and encourage while each group builds a correctly annotated diagram of the rock cycle by putting the cards in the correct place. You may decide that they can consult their own work on this topic to help them.

Activity: stage 2

  1. When one group believes that they have completed the task:
    • Check it.
    • If it is correct, award them the title of ’Rock cycle expert’.
  2. Ask the ‘Rock cycle expert’ group to:
    • Check the work of the next group to complete the task.
    • If it is correct, award them the title of ’Rock cycle expert’.
    • If it is incorrect, devise questions to help them improve their cycle.
  3. Give each new ’Rock cycle expert’ group the authority to:
    • Check the rock cycles of ‘not-yet-experts’.
    • Award Rock cycle expert titles.
    • Devise questions to help groups that are incorrect.
    • Proactively approach the non-expert groups remaining.


Organise a plenary in which the first ’Rock cycle expert’ group demonstrate their rock cycle, using the presentation referred to below if projection facilities are available.


Working in a small group gives students the chance to express their ideas while the element of competition to be the ‘first’ group focuses attention. The interaction between ‘expert groups’ and ‘not‑yet expert groups’ consolidates understanding and promotes self-esteem.

The plenary is an opportunity to ensure that all students recognise the standards aimed for.

Primary teaching notes

If you teach primary science, see the guidance below to find out how to use this resource.

Skill development

Children will develop their working scientifically skills by:

  • Asking their own questions about scientific phenomena.
  • Finding things out using a wide range of secondary sources of information.

Learning outcomes

Children will:

  • Compare and group together different kinds of rocks on the basis of their appearance and simple physical properties.
  • Recognise that soils are made from rocks and organic matter.

Concepts supported

Children will learn:

  • How different rocks are formed and how this gives them certain properties.
  • That the rock cycle is a continuous process.

Suggested activity use

This activity can be used as a lesson starter or plenary, depending on how much detail you want to go into. If used in this way, then the whole class can be involved, and you can use guiding questions to prompt answers.

Alternatively, you can use this activity with small groups of children to check their understanding about the properties of rocks.

Practical considerations

The practical task involves children arranging a series of cards to build a correctly annotated diagram of the rock cycle.

You will need to remain aware of the interaction between ‘expert groups’ and ‘not-yet expert groups’ to ensure that understanding is consolidated, and that the interactions result in the self-esteem of all children being promoted.