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Lesson Plan #:AELP-PAL000
Author: Sharon Freeman, Union Elementary, OR Date: May 1994

Grade Level(s): 1, 2


  • Science/Paleontology


Many students are interested in dinosaurs at this age level so it is easy to motivate them. However, in order for them to understand the time frame and how we know this information, they need to understand the importance of fossils and how they tell us about our past.


The purpose of this activity is to teach the children how fossils help us learn about the Earth’s past.

OBJECTIVES: As a result of this activity the students will be able to:

  • tell a friend or parent who a paleontologist is and what he does.
  • explain what a fossil is.
  • explain how we use fossils to learn about the past.
  • draw a picture of a paleontologist finding a fossil.
  • make his own fossil using clay, plaster of paris, and some sort of molding object such as a shell, leaf, bone,etc.

  • Any of the numerous Science or Dinosaur books which give information about fossils.
  • Pictures of Paleontologists at work.
  • A ball of clay and a piece of 6×2 tag board per student.
  • Objects to imprint in the clay [shells, rocks, leaves, etc.]
  • A 5 pound box of plaster of paris.
  • A container and wooden spoon to mix the plaster.

  • The word paleontologist will be written on the board and a sign paleontologists at work will be placed on the activity table. Pictures will be shown of a Paleontologist at work. Students will be asked who they think a Paleontologist is and what he does. A definition will be written based on this input.
  • Samples of fossils will be passed out for students to examine. Students will be asked to discuss, within their work groups, how they think the fossils were made and why Paleontologists use them as keys to our past. The information will be shared with the class and posted on a chart.
  • Each student will be given a ball of clay and a strip of tag paper 6×2 [stapled into a circle]. The students will roll the clay out to a thickness of not less than 1 inch. Next the student will insert the paper ring so that it forms a seal. The student will select an object he wishes to make into a fossil and press it into the clay. When the student carefully removes the object an imprint is left. At this time the students can review how this might have happened in nature. Since primary students in Oregon are not allowed to work with plaster of paris, when the children go home the molds will be filled. The next morning, after reviewing their chart on fossils, the children may become Paleontologists and discover their fossils by removing the circle of paper and clay. They may have the next 5 minutes to share them with their classmates. They will be placed on the activity table until dismissal so the students can examine them during their spare time.

  • The students can read books which discuss fossils and Paleontologists and understand the content much better.
  • The students can write stories about how they discovered their fossils.
  • The students could make a time line showing when their fossils were created.
  • Children could do leaf print art by rubbing a crayon over a piece of paper which has leaves underneath it.
  • The children could have an archaeological dig by burying some chicken bones in a shoe box of unset plaster of paris. When the mold sets the children can use dull instruments and wooden toy hammers to dig for the fossilized bones.
  • A list of fossil beds and or museums that have fossil and dinosaur exhibits can be sent home to parents for further family exploration – such as: John Day Fossil Beds – Oregon; Dinosaur Monument and State Park – Wyoming and Utah; L.A. Museum of Natural History – California.

  • May 1994

    These lesson plans are the result of the work of the teachers who have attended the Columbia Education Center’s Summer Workshop. CEC is a consortium of teacher from 14 western states dedicated to improving the quality of education in the rural, western, United States, and particularly the quality of math and science Education. CEC uses Big Sky Telegraph as the hub of their telecommunications network that allows the participating teachers to stay in contact with their trainers and peers that they have met at the Workshops.