PaleoPortal Lessons  

Paleoenvironment Booklet

Author: Lisé Whitfield

Overview: In this lesson, students will use information about rock types and fossils found in a particular state to make inferences about the paleoenvironment of the location throughout Earth's history. Students will produce a booklet with information about the paleoenvironment during each Period, as well as an illustration of the location during that time.

Lesson Concepts:

Grade Span: 6–12


Advance Preparation:

Spend some time navigating through The PaleoPortal to familiarize yourself with the organization and information on the site. If time is limited, you may want to prepare the blank booklets in advance of the activity to speed things up.

Time: Depending on the level of your students, you may be able to assign much of this work as homework. Thus, the lesson could take a minimum of one class period, and a maximum of three class periods.

Grouping: Students will work alone for this assignment. Students requiring further assistance may work in pairs to decrease the workload.

Vocabulary: paleoenvironment, fossil, taxonomy, igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary, paleontology, geology, invertebrates, vertebrates, protists, bacteria, fungi, plants, trace fossils


  1. Begin by asking the class "What kinds of things would you look for to try to find out what the environment was like thousands of years ago where you live?" Record answers on the board and if necessary, lead students to think about different types of plant/animal fossils and rock types. Encourage them to explain why finding fossils or rocks would assist them in learning about their environment through time. Conclude the brief discussion by telling students that they will be using such clues to create a timeline of environmental change from the Precambrian to the present in the form of a booklet.
  2. Direct students to The PaleoPortal. Have them click on the "Exploring Time and Space" section of The PaleoPortal homepage. Once there, they can click on the state of most interest to them (examples may include the state they live in, a state a relative lives in, or a state they would like to visit).
  3. After having clicked on a state, ask students to use the interactive timeline on the right hand side to explore and begin taking notes on the environment in each available time period. Their notes should include information about fossil types, rock types, and any other relevant paleoclimate information. Make a point to have students differentiate between paleoclimate claims that are supported by specific evidence (such as rocks or fossils) versus statements unsupported by such information. The "Paleoenvironment Booklet Notes" worksheet may help students organize their notes for this task. Also, encourage students to explore links to additional website resources listed below the descriptive paragraph.
  4. After completing the notes on each period, students should continue on to the "Fossil Gallery" and at the bottom of the page, make sure they select "Any Taxonomic Group," "Any Period," and their specific state, then click "Go." This will take them to the images of all fossils found in the state from all time periods. Note that some states will have more images available than others. It may be wise to have a brief discussion about why this is if it seems to confuse students (i.e., erosion, weathering, inadequate conditions for initial fossilization, or simply a lack of images submitted to The PaleoPortal).

    Students should click on each individual image to get a larger view, as well as information about what time period it was found in (centered underneath picture) and what type of organism the fossil is (top left hand corner of picture). This information should be added to their notes under "Fossils Found." The goal is for students to determine generally whether the organisms found are land or sea-based and if possible, to determine generally what type of climate that animal would have lived in (i.e., warm versus cold). These are inferences that should be noted in the "Implications for Paleoenvironment" section of their notes.

  5. Finally, if time permits, students can click on the "Famous Flora and Fauna" page and see if there is further information on a well-known assemblage in their state that may allow them to gather more supporting evidence for their paleoenvironment notes.
  6. During the student's search for information and/or during the next step (#7) you should look over their notes to ensure that they have grasped the main idea and are able to make logical inferences about the paleoenvironment of their chosen location based on fossil and rock finds.
  7. When the students have completed their information search, they should begin to make their booklets. Though there are several ways to create a blank booklet with various supplies and time available, the least expensive and quickest is to simply have students take seven unlined pieces of paper in a stack, fold the stack directly in half, and staple several times close to the fold. This will give them a simple booklet.
  8. Tell students to create a title page with their name as the author; something to the effect of "The Paleoclimate of Wyoming" by John Doe. They should then label each set of facing pages with the time period name, starting with the inside of the title page (i.e., "Precambrian" would go on the first set of facing pages). Finally, they should spend ample time creating an illustration of the environment during that time period on one side of each set of facing pages. Be sure students realize that they are not drawing the entire state, but rather their idea of what a particular place, such as the location of their house, looked like during that period. They should include details such as plants and animals present and water features or lack thereof. They should be referring to their notes throughout this process.
  9. On the blank page facing their paleoenvironment illustration, the students should write a brief paragraph describing what the paleoenvironment was like during that time period and what evidence they found to support their idea, including fossil types and rock types.
  10. Complete the lesson by having students share their booklets with the class, either informally, or as a more formal presentation.


  1. More advanced students may compare their state choice to a neighboring state, focusing on what the evidence is in each state that would support claims about paleoclimate. To challenge them further, encourage them to think critically about what evidence they would need to prove an unsupported claim about paleoenvironment in one or both of the states. If students are particularly advanced, you may also suggest that they then do some further research to determine whether that evidence can be found.
  2. More advanced students may also compose more detailed descriptions of their paleoclimate, along with more comprehensive supporting evidence by including information from other web resources and/or booklets and journals.
  3. For students who complete their research and notes early, encourage them to explore the links to other websites about the geology of their chosen state. These can be found at the bottom of the page after clicking on a specific state.

Posted September 21, 2006

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