Teaching about Fossils

Teaching about Fossils

Fossils are a favourite topic of students. For younger students in particular the connection to dinosaurs is a big attraction. Giving the opportunity for students to study fossils works well after the Second Great Story. 

By studying fossils children gain further evidence that life on Earth was different in the past and have the opportunity to develop their ideas of things changing over time.  

We want students to understand that 

  • Fossils provide a record of life on earth
  • Fossils are made when living things are preserved from natural decay - most things do decay normally so fossils are the exception rather than the rule.

Under those big ideas we can provide learning opportunities to break those big ideas down

  • At a very basic level: fossils are from the past, fossils are the preserved parts of living things
  • At a slightly higher level: many living things from the past are no longer alive so fossils tell us about them, fossils are usually found in rocks (they are not rocks though), living things rot away unless something preserves them.

Making fossils is a concrete way of helping students understand the process that it takes for fossils to form. 

It is a common misconception of children that the actual bone or tree or leaf is enclosed and the fossil is the bone or leaf therefore demonstrating and experimenting with fossils helps students understand the difference.

One way you can do this is by making play dough or modelling clay. 

Find some natural objects and demonstrate to students how fossils are made. 

In the picture below I have pressed the leaf down really hard so that you can see the veins of the leaf. This is a good idea to explain clearly so students understand how we can know so much about animals and plants that lived in the past.


Montessori 6-12 students are introduced to the different times of earth such as 

Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic. After students have some understanding that fossils come from the past you can introduce that certain fossils come from certain eras and we know this because of the type of rock we find them in. 

This activity is a way to both show some different fossils of different eras and introduce students to living things of the past. 

The 3 part cards help students learn about individual living things of the past

This can be a great jumping off point for students to study about life of the past. My early life research interactive notebooks could be helpful and help students learn features of the animal/fossil and where it is placed in history.


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