The Earth and its Changes

Students examine the different factors that influence change—physical, geographical, societal, and political—, what causes these changes, and ways to reduce the risks associated with the changing earth.

This unit has been archived. To view our updated curriculum, visit our 4th Grade English Language Arts course.

Unit Summary

In this fourth grade science and social studies course students explore different factors that influence change—physical, geographical, societal, and political. In unit 1, students begin their exploration of this change by building an understanding of the different ways the earth changes, what causes these changes, and different factors that can reduce the potential risks associated with the changing earth. Students will begin by building an understanding of what the earth is made of and the different forces that create and shape landforms. Students will then explore earthquakes and volcanoes and analyze different strategies for reducing the impacts of both. Students will be challenged to debate and critique different solutions and defend why one solution may work in one environment but not another environment. One of the key goals of this unit, in connection with other units in the sequence, is to help students develop the critical-thinking skills necessary to propose a solution to a problem and then analyze the potential outcomes of that solution. 

The texts in this unit were chosen because of their wide variety of text features, content, and accessibility. Over the course of the unit students will read texts that are very technical and rely heavily on text features, diagrams, and illustrations, as well as texts that are written as informational narratives. Students will be challenged to think about the structures the authors use to help the reader interact with and learn the content. Additionally, students will learn the importance of referring to specific details from the text and using those details to explain and teach back the newly learned material. This unit serves as the foundation for building strong reading habits and routines and setting high expectations for text consumption. Clear teaching points and models should be included in the unit to help students build a deeper understanding of how to actively read and annotate informational texts for key ideas, text features, and vocabulary. This unit also serves as the launching point for strong discussions. Students will frequently be challenged to debate questions from the text; therefore, strong habits of discussion need to be introduced over the course of the unit.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • What is the earth made of? What causes the earth to change? 
  • Where and how do earthquakes occur? What effect do they have on the environment? 
  • Where and how do volcanoes occur? What effect do they have on the environment? 
  • What hazards do earthquakes and volcanoes create? How can those risks be reduced? 
  • What solutions can we create as humans to lessen the effects of natural disasters?

Writing Focus Areas


Informational Writing Focus Areas

  • Makes a correct claim that connects to the topic and shows understanding of the text
  • Refers to one text-based detail from the text
  • Uses a strong paragraph structure (one paragraph)
  • Uses a variety of paragraph structures depending on information (cause and effect, pros and cons, boxes and bullets, description, problem and solution, etc.)
  • Uses domain-specific vocabulary

This unit has two main focuses. The first focus is on establishing the routines and expectations for a strong writing-about-reading culture. In third grade, students wrote daily in response to the text and received targeted Focus Correct Area mini-lessons. The expectations in fourth grade are similar; however, students will need reminders on the expectations and purposes of daily writing about reading. 

The second focus is on brainstorming and writing strong informational paragraphs. This unit will serve as the foundation for all informational writing for the remainder of the year. Therefore, it is incredibly important that these writing skills are taught and reinforced with specific, targeted feedback. Over the course of the unit students will practice using boxes and bullets, cause and effect, and sequence brainstorming templates to gather notes from a text. Determining key ideas from the text while brainstorming is foundational for writing a strong, focused paragraph. Without being able to determine what is important and how ideas are connected, students will not be able to draft strong claims that can be supported by details. Therefore, this unit places a large emphasis on brainstorming. After learning how to create strong brainstorms, students will learn how to use definitions, cause and effect and sequence details to support a claim. Students will also learn how to craft complex sentences that describe the relationships between events. 

This unit provides a series of anchor lesson in which students are introduced to key strategies and skills. The strategies and skills should be reinforced during daily target task writing as well as during longer writing projects.



Literary Terms

chronology, description, cause/effect, problem/solution, pros/cons


nonliving, minerals, elements, rock, igneous, sedimentary, fossils, metamorphic, weathering, erosion, soil, crust, mantle, outer core, inner core, landforms, deposition, gradually, lithosphere, plates, boundaries, earthquake, destruction, fault, plates, seismograph, Richter scale, magnitude,  catastrophic, immeasurable, debris, dormant, accumulates, emerge, obliterated

Content Knowledge and Connections


  • Identify and describe different types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic)
  • Describe forces that create landforms and forces that shape landforms 
  • Explain the difference between weathering and erosion
  • Explain that the earth is made up of many layers (crust, mantle, core) 
  • Explain the movement of crustal plates
  • Describe key details about earthquakes: 
    • Explain what causes earthquakes and how earthquakes are related to volcanoes 
    • Explain the importance of a fault
    • Describe how a seismograph and the Richter scale are used to measure intensity of an earthquake
  • Describe key details about volcanoes: 
    • Describe volcanoes, magma, lava, and lava flow
    • Determine the difference between active, dormant, and extinct volcanoes 
    • Explain what happened when Mount St. Helens erupted
  • Explain how mountains are formed 
    • Volcanic
    • Folded mountains
    • Fault-block mountains
    • Dome-shaped mountains
  • Identify Mount Everest and describe the challenges of climbing Mount Everest
  • Identify and describe strategies for reducing the impact of natural disasters. 

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards