Science - 2018-19

5.7 d - Earth Structure

The student will investigate and understand how Earth’s surface is constantly changing. Key concepts include

d)  the basic structure of Earth’s interior;

  • describe the structure of Earth in terms of its major layers (crust, mantle, outer core, inner core    Bloom's Level:   Knowledge
  • describe how Earth's interior affects the surface   Bloom's Level:  Understand

e)  changes in Earth’s crust due to plate tectonics;

  • apply basic terminology to explain how Earth's surface is constantly changing  Bloom's Level: Apply
  • differentiate among the three types of plate tectonic boundaries (divergent, convergent, transform)  Bloom's Level: Analyze
  • explain how the plate movements relate to the changing surface of Earth and the ocean floor  Bloom's Level:  Understand / Apply 
  • compare and contrast the origin of earthquakes and volcanoes Bloom's Level: Analyze
  • compare and contrast how earthquakes and volcanoes affect Earth's surface   Bloom's Level: Analyze

Adopted: 2010


Earth's geological features have changed over time.

The rock cycle has an impact on the physical characteristics of the Earth.


  • Rocks have properties that can be observed, tested, and described. Composition, grain size and textural features, color, and the presence of fossils help with identification. Classification keys (5.1) can aid this process.
  • Rocks move and change over time due to heat and pressure within Earth and due to weathering, erosion, and deposition at the surface. These and other processes constantly change rock from one type to another.
  • Depending on how rocks are formed, they are classified as sedimentary (layers of sediment cemented together), igneous (melted and cooled, e.g., lava and magma), and metamorphic (changed by heat and pressure).
  • Scientific evidence indicates Earth is ancient — approximately 4.6 billion years old. The age of many rocks can be determined very reliably. Fossils provide information about life and conditions of the past.
  • Scientific evidence indicates that Earth is composed of four concentric layers — crust, mantle, outer core, and inner core — each with its own distinct characteristics. The outer two layers are composed primarily of rocky material. The innermost layers are composed mostly of iron and nickel. Pressure and temperature increase with depth beneath the surface.
  • Earth’s thermal energy causes movement of material within Earth. Large continent-size blocks (plates) move slowly about Earth’s surface, driven by that thermal energy.
  • Most earthquakes and volcanoes are located at the boundaries of the plates (faults). Plates can move together (convergent boundaries), apart (divergent boundaries), or slip past each other horizontally (transform boundaries, also called strike-slip or sliding boundaries).
  • Geological features in the oceans (including trenches and mid-ocean ridges) and on the continents (mountain ranges, including the Appalachian Mountains) are caused by current and past plate movements.
  • Rocks and other materials on Earth’s surface are constantly being broken down both chemically and physically. The products of weathering include clay, sand, rock fragments, and soluble substances.
  • Materials can be moved by water and wind (eroded) and deposited in new locations as sediment (deposition).
  • Humans have varying degrees of impact on Earth’s surface through their everyday activities. With careful planning, the impact on the land can be controlled.


In order to meet this standard, it is expected that students will

  • apply basic terminology to explain how Earth’s surface is constantly changing.
  • draw and label the rock cycle and describe the major processes and rock types involved.
  • compare and contrast the origin of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.
  • identify rock samples (granite, gneiss, slate, limestone, shale, sandstone, and coal), using a rock classification key.
  • make plausible inferences about changes in Earth over time based on fossil evidence. This includes the presence of fossils of organisms in sedimentary rocks of Virginia found in the Appalachian Mountains, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain/Tidewater.
  • describe the structure of Earth in terms of its major layers — crust, mantle, and outer core and inner core — and how Earth’s interior affects the surface.
  • differentiate among the three types of plate tectonic boundaries (divergent, convergent, and transform) and how these relate to the changing surface of Earth and the ocean floor (5.6).
  • compare and contrast the origin of earthquakes and volcanoes and how they affect Earth’s surface.
  • differentiate between weathering, erosion, and deposition.
  • design an investigation to locate, chart, and report weathering, erosion, and deposition at home and on the school grounds. Create a plan to solve erosion and/or deposition problems that may be found.
  • describe how people change Earth’s surface and how negative changes can be controlled.


Appalachian mountains - a look at rocks exposed in today's Appalachian mountains reveals elongate belts of  folded and thrust faulted marine sedimentary rocks, volcanic rocks, and slivers of ancient ocean floor strong evidence that these rocks were deformed during plate collision.

boundary - place where two tectonic plates exist

classification key - using characteristics such as composition, grain size, texture, color and presence of fossils, scientists use these characteristics to identify rocks by name

coal - a sedimentary rock; composed of the remains of plant material

composition - what the rock is made of

convergent boundary - plates which move together

crust - the outer layer of the earth; smallest layer

deposition - to place in a new location

divergent boundary - plates which move apart

earthquake - movement of the Earth's crust due to a release of energy; usually found along transform boundaries

 erosion - materials MOVED by wind and water

 fault - a crack in the Earth's crust; typically form the boundaries between Earth's tectonic plate

fossil - the remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in rock; provides information about life and conditions of the past

gneiss - a metamorphic rock with a banded structure; typically coarse-grained and co

grain size - particle size; the diameter of individual grains of sediment

granite - a coarse-grained igneous rock; thought to be one of the main components of continental crust; used in countertops & building monuments 

human impact - ways that humans change Earth and affect the natural balance of life; examples, more farmland needed decreases the number of forests which changes amount of oxygen, habitats, etc.,exhaust and emissions from transportation and industry have fundamentally changed our atmosphere; oceans, lakes, and rivers suffer from our pollution and overfishing; humans' impact on Earth is not always harmful though; parks and wilderness areas allow human use while preserving natural habitats.

igneous - rock which has been melted and cooled; lava and magma are cooled

inference - a tentative explanation based on background knowledge and available data

inner core - center of Earth, made of very hot metal that takes a solid form; densest and innermost layer

iron & nickel

lava - the molten (liquid) rock expelled by a volcano during an eruption

limestone - a type of sedimentary rock which forms in shallow water; made into crushed stone for use in roads and to make cement

magma - molten (liquid) rock material that occurs below Earth's surface; when it erupts onto the surface it is known as "lava".

mantle - largest of the earth's layers; located below the crust

metamorphic - rock type which is created by extreme heat and pressure

mid-ocean ridges - caused by current and past plate movements; plates move apart; divergent plate boundary

mountain ranges - caused by current and past plate movements; formed by volcanoes and uplift of the earth's crust.

outer core - composed of molten (liquid); it contains iron, and when it flows it generates a magnetic field; this is the source of Earth's magnetic field

Ring of Fire- an area where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean

rock cycle - a continuous process by which rocks are created, changed from one form to another

sandstone - a sedimentary rock composed of sand-sized particles

sediment - solid material that is moved and deposited in a new location; can consist of rocks, minerals, remains of plant and animals ranging in size from a grain of sand to a boulder

sedimentary - layers of sediment cemented together over time

shale -a sedimentary rock that is made up of weathered clay or mud; typically breaks into thin flat pieces; used in paving stones, to make decorative rock walls and make bricks

 slate - a metamorphic rock formed from shale; used in roofing and flooring

 strata levels or layers

tectonic plates - large sections of the Earth's surface that shift

texture - the feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface or substance (rock)

thermal energy - is the energy that comes from heat

transform boundary (sliding/strike slip)

volcano - opening or vent in the Earth's crust through which lava, steam, ashes, are expelled.

weathering - to wear away/break down rocks so they can be transported away

Updated: Sep 20, 2017