The Rock Cycle and Earth Processes

A Carolina Essentials™ Activity

Total Time: 30-45 minutes

Prep: 30 mins | Activity: 30-45 mins

Earth and Space Science


Middle School


This is an introductory activity that relates earth processes to the rock cycle. Students construct a rock cycle model based on rolls of a geological process cube. The rock cycles generated using the cube should be unique to each group or student, just like rocks in different places go through different processes depending on local weather, climate patterns, and plate movements. A rock cycle is rarely as simple as textbook diagrams portray. Weathering and deposition, temperature, and pressure interact to modify rocks over time.

Essential Question

How are rocks formed and altered through the cycling of earth’s materials?


Carefully observe the rock samples provided by your teacher. What patterns do you observe? What hypotheses can you propose about how the rocks were formed?

Activity Objectives

  1. Create a model to describe how the cycling of earth’s materials forms and alters rocks.
  2. Determine and explain the energy source for each cycle process.

Next Generation Science Standards* (NGSS)

PE MS-ESS2-1. Develop a model to describe the cycling of earth’s materials and the flow of energy that drives this process.

Science & Engineering Practices

Developing and Using Models

Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS2.A: Earth’s Materials and Systems

Crosscutting Concepts

Stability and Change

Safety & Disposal

Wear safety glasses and use a high/low temperature glove for removing melted candy from the microwave.



Upload or copy the student activity sheet. Construct a process box for each group using a 4” × 4” box. One of each of the following processes should be written on each side.


  1.  Subducted into an ocean trench (melted)
  2.  Wind weathering removes the surface rock layer
  3.  Folded and compressed to form a mountain
  4. Compacted and heated by a meteorite
  5.  Additional sediment deposited by a flood
  6.  Ejected as lava from a volcano (add a melted candy to existing rock)

Change processes if desired to better match your locale and the processes students can observe in the region. You can also add the time it takes for a particular process to occur to the sides of the cube. Candy may be disposed of in classroom trash and boxes may be reused.

Student Procedures

  1. Unwrap one candy piece and flatten it so that it covers the plastic dish bottom.
  2.  Add a single layer of sprinkles and press gently into the candy layer.
  3.  Add a second candy layer on top of the sprinkles. This is your beginning rock.
  4.  Sketch the beginning rock.
  5.  Roll the geologic process cube and alter your rock as the top process indicates.
  6.  Sketch the altered rock and identify the rock type.
  7.  Continue steps 5 and 6 until you have rolled the geologic process cube at least 5 to 8 times or the number directed by your teacher.
  8.  Record all data in the table below.

Teacher Preparation and Tips

Prepare the geologic process cubes for each group.

Discuss with students that each roll of the cube represents a period of time. If you wish, you may place a length of time on each process on the cube and then have students add the time for their rock cycle.

Review with students the difference between warming (candy will be very soft and pliable) versus melted (candy will be liquid).

Data and Observations

Analysis and Discussion

  1. Explain what type of rock you initially created.

    Sedimentary—2 layers of sediment (candy), held together by one layer of cement (sprinkles).

  2. Explain whether every type of rock was present in the rock cycle activity.

    Student answers will vary.

  3. Draw and label a model rock cycle that matches your activity data. Label rock types, geologic processes, and the sources of energy for the processes the rock underwent.

    Model should match student data, which will not look like a typical book model.

  4. Compare your rock cycle to at least 2 of your classmates’ rock cycles. Explain how they are alike and different.

    Student answers will vary.

*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of, and do not endorse, these products.

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