Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

This lesson plan accompanies the BrainPOP topic, Relative Dating, and can be completed over several class periods. See suggested times for each section.



Students will:

Activate prior knowledge about how and why geologists measure Earth’s age.

Identify the sequence of events that led to our understanding of Earth’s history.

Use critical thinking skills to analyze how scientists’ discoveries can influence each other.

Demonstrate understanding through creative projects, such as coding a debate, producing a mini-documentary, or building a museum exhibit.

Present projects and reflect on new understandings.



For background on the Relative Dating topic, click the Full Description link below the movie player.

The INVESTIGATE and CREATE sections of the lesson require students to use a Graphic Organizer and Creative Coding projects. Assign the Relative Dating Graphic Organizer to the class in advance of the lesson.  


Approximate time: 20-25 minutes

Begin the lesson plan by activating students’ prior knowledge and making real-life connections.  Then show the movie to introduce the topic. 

  1. DISPLAY this Anchor Question on whiteboard and read it aloud: What can we understand and learn about Earth from knowing its age?
    Tell students they will investigate this question over the course of the lesson and will return to it at the end.
  2. ACTIVATE BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE: Pairs or small groups share with each other what they know about rocks, fossils, and measuring Earth’s age.
  3. READ ALOUD the description below the movie player. 
  4. MAKE CONNECTIONS: Ask students what they’ve noticed about rocks and/or where they’ve seen rock layers, like on cliffs, mountains, in caves, etc.  Have the describe or draw their observations.
  5. WATCH the movie Relative Dating as a whole class on the whiteboard. Turn on the closed caption option to aid in comprehension.  



Approximate time: 20-25 minutes

Prompt students’ inquiry and critical thinking skills by having them find key details to build knowledge and understanding.


  1. Students open their Graphic Organizer Assignment. Instruct them to open a second window and watch the movie again.
  2. As students watch, they should take notes on the graphic organizer about each scientist’s contribution to relative dating and our understanding of Earth’s history.
    EXTRA CHALLENGE: After students complete the graphic organizer, challenge them to identify how what we’ve learned about Earth from these scientists.
    SUPPORT TIP: Help students by filling in the first scientist, Nicolaus Steno, together. .
  3. Students SUBMIT their Graphic Organizer  when they are done.



Approximate time: 45-60 minutes

Students demonstrate their understanding by synthesizing their ideas and expressing them through one or more of the following hands-on, creative projects.  They can work individually or collaborate. Remind them to use evidence from their concept maps in their creations.


  • Debate It!:  Code an debate between geologist James Hutton and a European from his time about the formation and age of Earth.
  • History of Earth Documentary: Produce a mini documentary about an important discovery related to Earth’s history from the point of view of one of the featured scientists. Narrate the documentary in first person as if from that scientist’s voice. Be sure to include how the earlier scientists’ work contributed to your discovery.
  • Name That Geologist Game: Code a game challenging players to figure out which geologist is responsible for which discovery.  



Wrap up the lesson with student presentations and a final reflection on learning.

PRESENT: Students present their completed projects to their classmates. 

WRAP UP: Draw attention to the Anchor Question again: What can we understand and learn about Earth from knowing its age?  Students answer the question using their new knowledge.


Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Lesson Plan Next Generation Science Standards Alignments