Mountain Building (6-12)


This teaching box focuses on mountain building as a tool for teaching some of the essential concepts typically covered in middle and high school Earth science curricula: mountain formation, erosion, rocks, minerals, the rock cycle, faulting, folding and deformation of the crust, as well as plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes. It reinforces the concept that mountains have a history and that it is possible to use clues from the shape, composition, and location of the mountains to discern that history.

The unit provides teachers with a complete curriculum unit on Earth science supported by a wealth of background resources and student activities. It includes a Student Journal (requires Adobe Reader) in which students record their observations, data, and reflections as they progress through the study of the composition and formation of mountains and how they change over time. Please note that we have also provided a Teacher Guide to the Student Journal which provides suggested answers.

From the menu at left you can access details about the supported concepts and standards, lessons with activities organized into teachable units, and a section describing the online resources used in the box for ready reference.

Goals of the teaching box

These activities have been presented in a way as to emphasize the process of science – how evidence is gathered and applied.

Appropriate for


Time requirements

Teachers can select a suite of lessons that best suits their classrooms. The entire unit can be covered in as few as 18 class periods and could be expanded to as many as 22 class periods.

Student web page

To avoid having students type in lengthy URLs to access online resources, we have developed a student web page for this teaching box, entitled Mountain Building Student Web Page. This page has direct links to each of the resources students need to use within the lessons in this teaching box. We recommend that students bookmark this site for easy access.


Students should have a basic understanding of plate tectonics. Students review this through the interactive online module: Plate Tectonics : A Continuous Process. Students should also have a basic understanding of latitude and longitude and can review this through the Latitude and Longitude activities.

Technology requirements

Computers with Internet access
Quicktime software
LCD projector recommended
Adobe Reader to open .pdf files

Concepts and Standards

View concepts and standards associated with the lessons, (or use the Concepts and Standards link at left.)

Online resources

View a list of resources used in the lessons (or use the Online Resources link at left.)



Lesson 1. Why do mountains look the way they do?

This serves as an introductory lesson in which students are introduced to mountains and how they are shaped.

Lesson 2. How to Make a Mountain

This lesson consists of four activities.

  1. Investigating Shape : Students investigate how the shape of mountains can vary and how that shape provides evidence about their origin and history.
  2. Folded Mountains : Students investigate compressional forces that cause rocks to bend (fold) and break (faulting).
  3. Fault Block Mountains : Students investigate forces that cause sinking or rising of huge blocks of the earth's surface relative to the neighboring blocks.
  4. How Thick Is It: Viscosity and volcanoes : Students investigate viscosity and how it affects the shapes of volcanic mountains.

Lesson 3. Erosion: What Goes Up Must Come Down

In this lesson, students discover that mountains erode at different rates and form different shapes as a result of their underlying composition.

Lesson 4. Rock Composition and the Rock Cycle

This lesson consists of two activities.

  1. Rock Types: Students compare different rock types and determine distinguishing characteristics of the three types of rocks.
  2. Rock Cycle Journey : Students participate in a kinesthetic activity that serves to familiarize them with the rock cycle

Lesson 5. Location and Setting: Plate Tectonics and Mountains

This lesson consists of three activities.

  1. Map It! Students use latitude and longitude to map a series of mountains in order to see where they are located on a world map.
  2. Plate boundaries and mountain formation : Students compare mountain location with maps showing seismicity and plate boundaries in order to determine tectonic influences.

Lesson 6. Mountain Histories: A Culminating Activity

Students develop an informatory caption for each of the mountains based on what they have learned in lessons 1 through 5.

Authors of this teaching box

This box was created during the summer of 2005 as part of a pilot project by the following professionals from the San Francisco Bay area of California:

  • Anne Monk, Teacher - Katherine Delmar Burke School
  • Deborah Trimble, Teacher - St. Charles School, San Francisco Archdiocese
  • Peg Dabel, Teacher - Adams Middle School, West Contra Costa Unified School District
  • Matt d'Alessio, Scientist - United States Geological Survey


Contact DLESE support with questions or comments.

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