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Teaching Through Trade Books

Investigating Earth’s Interactions

Science and Children—April/May 2020 (Volume 57, Issue 8)

By Christine Anne Royce

The Earth has various complex and dynamic systems that are interconnected and impact changes on Earth. Some changes occur slowly while others occur quickly, and students may not be aware of all of the different components that interact. A key focal point for this month is that “changes in part of one system can cause further changes to that system or to other systems, often in surprising and complex ways” (NRC 2012, p. 180). Younger students focus on how wind and water can shape the land, which involve the lithosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. Older students focus on specific interactions between two of the spheres similar to what a young scientist does in the story.

This Month’s Trade Books

book cover

Wind and Water Shape the Land

By Nadia Higgins

Illustrated by Jia Liu

ISBN: 978-1684101214

Cantata Learning

24 pages

Grades K–2


This story uses repetitive text and music, which accompanies the book in a CD, to help students learn about wind and water’s impact on shaping the land. The impact of waves and rivers are highlighted for how water shapes the land and for how wind moves the Earth as it blows.

book cover

Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet

By Elizabeth Rusch

Illustrated by Teresa Martinez

ISBN: 978-1580895811


40 pages

Grades 3–5


This is the true story of Mario Molina who was the chemist that helped to solve the ozone crisis caused by CFCs. Through telling the story of a young man interested in science to his discovery and efforts to warn the world about the environmental issue created, the reader connects human actions to the impact on different parts of Earth’s systems.


  • Wind and Water Shape the Land
  • photos of land formations (see NSTA Connection)
  • graphic organizer poster template (see NSTA Connection)
  • “Land Shapers” student sheet (see NSTA Connection)
  • Waves Eroding Land Video (see Internet Resources)
  • wet sand (moisten the sand so that it is wet enough to stick together)
  • aluminum cake pan
  • water
  • ruler
  • river bed setup (see NSTA Connection)
  • river rocks
  • “Wind and Water Caused What” student sheet (see NSTA Connection)
  • straws
  • safety goggles

Teacher Note: Teachers may choose to increase the space available for younger students on the student sheets or use these as a template for notebooks.

Grades K–2: Wind and Water Shape the Land


Students will explain ways that wind and water shape the land over time and connect observations to real formations.


Share pictures that show sand dunes, rock formations carved by wind and/or water, a rock cliff carved by ocean waves, and overhead pictures of a meandering river (see NSTA Connection). Using one photo at a time, ask the students to first describe what they see in the photo, and after they have had a chance to describe the image, have them brainstorm what may have caused the object to look like that over time. Record their findings on the board or an enlarged poster (see NSTA Connection) so that the information can be available while they engage in this activity.

Share Wind and Water Shape the Land with the students. As you read the story, ask students to look closely at the illustrations on the pages. Engage students in the story with the following questions:

  • p. 4: Can you name ways that the land around you changes? The book mentions that wind and water help cause the changes. What is a way that the land might change when it rains?
  • p. 6: Why do you think the author states that blowing wind and flowing water are powerful forces?
  • p. 8: Which one of the pictures that we looked at earlier would help show how waves have shaped cliffs near the ocean? What do you think this cliff will look like as time goes on and the waves continue to crash against the land?
  • p. 10: How do you think sand is moved as the wind blows it? Why do you think there are rocks that the young boy is picking up in the sand? Describe the shape of the rocks and why you think wind and water may have helped shape these rocks.
  • p. 12: The picture shows a riverbed that is winding. Describe how water might change the shape of the river and help create a canyon.
  • p. 16: Why do you think the author says “coarse wind blows”? What does coarse mean and why might sand in the wind be described as coarse?

After reading and discussing the story, share the song with the students. Create a poster of the song lyrics and help the students sing along with the story.


To help students explore how wind and water shapes the land, the following can be set up as stations if the students are able to rotate through them on their own with minimal guidance; alternatively, each can be done as a single demonstration for a whole class or by groups.

Demonstration #1: Observing Wind Move Sand — Draw a six-inch circle in the bottom of an aluminum cake pan or other shallow pan and ask each group of students to pour their container of sand into a pile within the circle. Students should make observations about where the sand is in relation to the edge of the circle and the shape of the mound of sand and record them on their “Land Shapers” student data sheet (see NSTA Connection). Ask one student in each group to use a straw and blow air at the pile of sand (Safety Note: Students should wear safety goggles during this activity). Have the student stop blowing, so all students can make observations. Repeat this step three additional times with students making and recording observations each time.

Demonstration #2: Water Eroding Rock Along the Shore — Explain to the students that sometimes we need to make observations from videos as things are happening. Have the students observe the video Waves Eroding Land (see Internet Resources), which shows how waves are crashing into the land and sculpting it through the power they have. Ask students to describe their observations on their student sheet and illustrate where they think the eroded parts of the land go as the water wears it away. Using the pan of sand from the first station, provide a demonstration for the students that helps show how the land mass can be moved by water. Pile all the sand up against one side so that it looks like the shoreline. Pour water into the pan so that a half inch of water is on the bottom of the pan and up against the sand. Students then make observations about what happens to the sand when the water is not moving. While some sand will start to move away from the pile, most will not. Using a ruler that fits into the pan, push the water toward the sand with some force using the ruler so that the water hits the sand and then sloshes back in the pan. Ask the students to make observations at this point as well.

Demonstration #3: Water Can Shape Rivers — Using a different, larger shallow pan, pack the tray full of different types of soils including clay, soil, sand, and small pebbles (see river bed setup directions; see NSTA Connection). Once the tray has been set up, ask students to make observations about the land from an overhead perspective, which is similar to the picture they observed in the Engage section. Slowly add water to the “river” so that it trickles down the path that has been carved. Once water has been stopped, ask students to make and record observations on the student sheet. Pour water on the path several more times, increasing not only the amount of water that is moving through the river bed but also how fast the water is moving (increase the tilt of the tray).


Bring the class back together and engage in a whole-group discussion about their observations. Involve the students in a discussion where they are asked to use their observations to explain their answers around the following points.

Demonstration #1: In this demonstration, you observed what happens when wind blows sand. What happened when the straw was used to blow air on the sand? What do you think would happen to the sand if you blew harder? Describe what happened to where the sand was in relation to the circle as more wind hit the pile. Which of the land formation pictures do you think this demonstration represents? What do you think would happen if wind continued to blow this sand pile over time?

Demonstration #2: The video and demonstration used water to move sand or part of the land away. Based on your observations of the video, do you think this happened quickly or slowly? Why? What happened when water moved faster against the sand in the tray when you pushed it? How was this different than when water wasn’t moving and touched the land?

Demonstration #3: Describe what you observed when water moved down the river formation that was made in the tray. What happened as more water started to move down the path of the river? Was there a difference in the amount of land that moved when the water moved faster or slower?

After discussing each of the three separate demonstrations, ask students to explain how wind and water moved the land and how each is similar to the original landform photos.


Hand the students some smooth river rocks and ask them to make observations about the rock they have. Record their observations on their “Wind and Water Caused What” student data sheet (see NSTA Connection). Students then create a drawing that illustrates one way their rock became smoothed over time. Have students share their illustrations with members of the class and explain their reasoning.


Students demonstrate their initial understanding about how different land formations might form in the Engage activity as they discuss the pictures. By making observations during the demonstrations and connecting those observations to the photos, students begin to connect how wind and water may change the land and that wind and water can be powerful forces. Students extend their understanding that wind and/or water can erode land and smooth rocks by illustrating a possible way that a river rock became smoothed down.

Grades 3–5: Understanding Interactions


Students will research a topic that shows how two different spheres of the Earth interact.


Begin by showing students a picture of the different spheres of the Earth (see NSTA Connection) and asking them what they think is studied or explored in each of the five spheres. Discuss the different spheres with the students and ask them to identify how something in one sphere might connect to something in a different sphere. For example, if there is too much moisture in the atmosphere and clouds form, it might rain. This could impact the biosphere by providing needed water for plants, or it could impact the hydrosphere. Another example is man’s impact on the oceans, which would be something in the biosphere (man) impacting the hydrosphere (ocean). This second example is important to mention since the story that will be used focuses on an impact made by man.

After students have had a chance to discuss different impacts that occur between spheres on the Earth, share with them the story Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet, stopping at the following points for discussion.

  • pp. 3–9: Describe ways that young Mario explored science areas. What was the main sphere he was researching as a young boy?
  • pp. 10–15: What science area did he begin to explore after his aunt brought him more equipment? One of the items that Mario observed was the use of chemicals to make life “cheaper, better, and easier.” What was a concern that Mario had about using all of the chemicals in products?
  • pp. 16–21: Up through this point, Mario had looked mostly at the biosphere, the life that lived there, and how chemicals impacted it. What new sphere (atmosphere) did he start to wonder about when a new chemical was found in the atmosphere? What were some of the important things the atmosphere did that helped protect humans? Why was Mario now worried about what was happening in the atmosphere?
  • pp. 22–27: Mario became an advocate for trying to stop the use of some chemicals that hurt the atmosphere. What were some of the ways he tried to share the information he had? Another scientist discovered that a hole was forming in one layer of our atmosphere due to the chemicals we used on Earth. What two spheres were interacting at this point and how?
  • pp. 28–31: What were some things that were the result of Mario explaining the science and communicating it to people?


  • Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet
  • picture of Earth’s spheres (see NSTA Connection)
  • “Spheres” student data sheet (see NSTA Connection)
  • “Positive Points About the Spheres” sheet (see NSTA Connection)
  • “Stamp Template” sheet (see NSTA Connection)


Begin by connecting the idea that Mario first explored the biosphere, which is where humans live, and then connected what man was doing to how it was affecting the atmosphere. Have students generate a list of ways that different spheres interact with each other. Using the “Spheres” student data sheet (see NSTA Connection) have them draw lines showing where and how the connection happens. Possible topics are provided in the teacher section of that sheet as well. Present the following prompt to the students and ask them to complete the section of their student data sheet on their selected research topic.

Allow students time to brainstorm with their partner to generate ideas, and then ask the pairs to share their ideas with the entire class. Once students have had a chance to select a topic, ask them to research the topic and develop answers to the following questions:

What is the topic you are going to research? How does that topic impact two spheres? What are the two spheres?

Similar to how Mario informed other people, develop a paragraph that will help inform people about the impact of your chosen topic. Also, using the image that is on the TV in the picture on page 30 as an example, create a picture that shows the relationship.


Set up the classroom to look like a news studio so that students can report their findings, similar to Mario and his partner. Ask each student pair to share their research and their picture with class members. Questions to assess student learning about the topic include:

What topic did you research and what sphere would you say that topic or event belongs in and why?

Explain the connection between the two different spheres and why it is important to understand.


One of the ways that the public can be informed about important environmental issues is through the U.S. Postal Service stamps. For example, the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp set in 1970–1971 that proclaimed “Save Our Cities,” “Save Our Soil,” “Save Our Air,” and “Save Our Water.”

Have students consider ways that Mario helped protect the Earth through understanding science and sharing his findings. Ask students how they would share information about the importance of each sphere. Ask them to brainstorm four positive things that each sphere contributes to life on Earth and record them on the “Positive Points About the Spheres” sheet (see NSTA Connection). Next, ask them in teams to develop a set of stamps or stickers similar to what the post office does to provide information related to how each sphere of the Earth helps humans to live. Students can use the “Stamp Template” sheet (see NSTA Connection) that can then be used to assemble a sheet of stamps about the topic.


Students begin to discuss what each of the different spheres are and what makes up each before being asked to determine how events or objects cause interactions between two spheres and the impact of those interactions. Through research on a topic, student pairs identify both positive and negative effects of the interactions and then report it, similar to Mario in a news report.

Finally, students are asked to expand their thinking to identify four positive aspects of each sphere and how each contributes to humans living on Earth.

Christine Anne Royce ( is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and retiring president of NSTA.

Connecting to the NGSS K–2: Wind and Water Shape the Land

The chart below makes one set of connections between the instruction outlined in this article and the NGSS. Other valid connections are likely; however, space restrictions prevent us from listing all possibilities.

The materials, lessons, and activities outlined in the article are just one step toward reaching the performance expectation listed below.



Performance Expectation

2-ESS2-1. Compare multiple solutions designed to slow or prevent wind or water from changing the shape of the land.

Science and Engineering Practice

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Classroom Connection: Students develop and explain an illustration that represents a possible way that a river rock has been smoothed over time.

Disciplinary Core Idea

ESS2.A: Earth Materials and Systems

Wind and water can change the shape of the land.

Classroom Connection: Students make and record observations during different demonstrations to represent how wind and water shape the land.

Students participate in singing a song about how wind and water are forces that change the Earth.

Crosscutting Concept

Stability and Change

Classroom Connection:  Students discuss photos of changes made by wind and water to explain the impact of these forces.


Connecting to the NGSS 3–5: Understanding Interactions

The chart below makes one set of connections between the instruction outlined in this article and the NGSS. Other valid connections are likely; however, space restrictions prevent us from listing all possibilities.

The materials, lessons, and activities outlined in the article are just one step toward reaching the performance expectation listed below.



Performance Expectation

5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

Science and Engineering Practice

Developing and Using Models

Classroom Connection: Students construct mental and pictorial models to show how two different spheres of the Earth interact with each other.

Students generate a list of how humans benefit from each sphere and create a stamp to illustrate the benefit.

Disciplinary Core Idea

ESS2.A: Earths Materials and Systems

Earth’s major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans). These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth’s surface materials and processes. The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather.

Classroom Connection: Students research a topic of their choosing that makes connections between the interaction of two spheres.

Students explain how man’s use of chemicals on the Earth impacted the atmosphere.

Crosscutting Concept

Systems and System Models

Classroom Connection: Students identify the five different spheres of the Earth and how they can be interconnected through events.

Connecting to the Common Core State Standards

This section provides the Common Core for English Language Arts standards addressed in this column to allow for cross-curricular planning and integration. The Standards state that students should be able to do the following at grade level.

English/Language Arts

Reading Standards for Informational Texts K–5 – Key Ideas and Details

  • Grade 1: “Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.”
  • Grade 4: “Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.”

Writing Standards K–5 – Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • Grade K: “With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.”
  • Grade 4: “Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.”

Writing Standards K–5 – Text Types and Purposes 

  • Grade K: “Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.”
  • Grade 4: “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.”

Speaking and Listening Standards K–5 – Comprehension and Collaboration

  • Grade 1: “Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.”

Speaking and Listening Standards K–5 – Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

  • Grade K: “Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional details.”
  • Grade 3: “Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.”

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use is one of the standards for language. This particular standard is across grade levels: “Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade [appropriate] reading and content.” Furthermore, the Common Core for ELA provide a standard related to the Range of Text Types for K–5 where it indicates that students in K–5 should apply the Reading standards to a wide range of texts to include informational science books.


National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers (NGAC and CCSSO). 2010. Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC: NGAC and CCSSO.

National Research Council (NRC). 2012. A framework for K–12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Waves Eroding Land Video

Earth & Space Science Physical Science Teaching Strategies Elementary

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