Teacher Extensions

Caves and Caverns

Grade Level: 8th


Guiding Question


            How do caves form?


Illinois State Standards


STATE GOAL 11:  Understand the processes of scientific inquiry and technological design to investigate questions, conduct experiments and solve problems.


A.  Know and apply the concepts, principles and processes of scien≠tific inquiry. (LS)




            11.A.3a  Formulate hypotheses that can be tested by collecting data.

  11.A.3c  Collect and record data accurately using consistent measuring and

recording techniques and media.

            11.A.3d  Explain the existence of unexpected results in a data set.

            11.A.3f  Interpret and represent results of analysis to produce findings.

  11.A.3g  Report and display the process and results of a scientific investigation.


STATE GOAL 12:  Understand the fundamental concepts, principles and interconnections of the life, physical and earth/space sciences.


E.  Know and apply concepts that describe the features and processes of the Earth and its resources.


   12.E.3a  Analyze and explain large-scale dynamic forces, events and processes that affect the Earthís land, water and atmospheric systems (e.g., jet stream, hurricanes, plate tectonics).


Process Skills Targeted


The students will be using a number of process skills in this lesson. They will be using all of the following process skills; observation, experimentation, collaboration, measurement, recording, analyzing, evaluating, and sharing. During the experiment demonstration they will be observing changes throughout four days. The will be measuring and recording the growth of the Stalactites and stalagmites that will be forming during this lab. During the second part of this lesson the students will be creating caves of their own. During this lab the students will be trying to create a model of how caves form using the materials provided to them. They will be collaborating with their group members and analyzing the methods that they used to create their caves and evaluating how affective their cave method was. Lastly they will be sharing their groupís ideas and thoughts with the other students in the class as they present their poster boards to the class with their own results.


Integration with other Disciplines


               This activity allows students to use Mathematics and Social Studies skills integrated with the science curriculum.  For math, students will be using measurements to measure the stalactites and stalagmite growth. In the discipline of social studies, students will be shown images of various caves and caverns looking at the physical characteristics of well-known caves, where stalagmites and stalactites form.


They will also be using QSI method.  This is where students are guided towards a general question which in our case would be; how are caves forms?  Then they are allowed to test their questions with the material present in the lab. Lastly they will be concluding their results in a presentation format.


Required Materials For Demonstration


- Epson Salt     

- Mason Jars

- Water           

- Ruler in centimeters

- Yarn             

- Lab worksheet for recording results

-Weights down the yarn in the bottom of the glasses
- Calcite sample


Required Materials for Lab Experiment



- Small Glad ware Soup containers (one per group)

-2 lbs Modeling Clay

-1 large bag of Sugar cubes

- One 26oz box of Morton Salt

-Poster board (1 per group of 4)





            In front of the class I will do a demonstration of how stalagmites and stalactites form. This experiment will take four days. Each day the students will make observations and record the progress of the stalagmites and stalactites growth. From this experiment the students will be learning how stalagmites and stalactites grow in a cave. In the second part of this lesson students will be conducting their own experiment with the material listed above on day four to explain how caves form. They will also be presenting their project with a poster board where they will have interpreted their results.


Background Materials


Basic Knowledge

        Types of weathering

        Ground water processes

        How caves form

        How stalactites form

        How stalagmites form

        Basic Glossary terms (which can be found on Glossary link)




Basic Cave diagram







Here is a diagram of what the setup should look like in the demonstration.

fault line





How to Conduct this Lesson


The First Day: Introduction to Stalagmites and Stalactites


            The first day of class will begin with a demonstration in front of the class. I will intrigue the class by not saying anything. Just by doing the set up for the experiment. This is the hook, they will be very curious about what is happening and I will have their focused attention. I will be following the lab from the link above to make stalagmites and stalactites with Epsom salt and water for the demonstration. Once the lab is set up I will have them make observations about the setup and what they see. This should take about 20 min. I would recommend that this lab starts on a Thursday so that Friday you could continue to record observations and then hopefully they would have some growth for them to measure on the following Mondayís class.


The Second Day:


The class will record and observe any changes that may occur. During this time I will also assign the students into groups of four. These groups will be their groups for the cave lab. This should also only take about 15 minutes.


The Third Day:


            The students will again make observations and we will measure the growth of the stalactite and stalagmite as a class. They will record their results. After looking at our homemade stalactites and stalagmites we will then have a student generated discussion about what we have created where they are and where they form etc. Through this discussion you can get a good understanding of the studentís background knowledge. This should take about 30 minutes. From the discussion we want to transition to questions that the students have about this subject.

I will then write some of the questions on the board. Picking one of the questions in which we could test in a lab setting. The Guiding that I want my students to ask is how do caves form? Along the way I will be guiding their questions until we hit that one on the head So that the question is student generated. Once their question has been selected I will then show the materials I have selected for this lab and ask them to tell me how caves form. The students are to generate their own method to figure out their question from the materials given to them. From this point on the students will be broken into their groups and working on their lab trying to test how caves form. While the students are conducting the experiment I will be walking around to each group, making sure everyone is staying on task and answering any questions that might arise. This should take about 45 minutes.

Our goal of the lab is to use the sugar or salt in the bottom of the glad ware container and then use the clay on top and make holes with the toothpicks into the clay. The clay acts as the soil and the sugar and salt acts like the limestone deposits and once the toothpicks make the holes water can then go under the clay ďgroundĒ and start to dissolve the sugar and salt through dissolution. Just like caves are formed.


Fourth Day:


            This will be the last day for the students to record the growth of the stalagmites and stalactites as a group. Once the class has measured, recorded their results and observed any changes they will then be working on the final conclusion to their cave lab. Then need to gather all final results and will be given one poster board per group. They will be presenting these the following day.  The poster board should have drawings numerical data and the results of their experiment. How they started out why it didnít work and what did work to change their original ideas. But most importantly then need to express their thoughts on how caves form. This should take about 30 minutes.




            Each student will turn in their recording sheet and that will be used for individual grading. I will also look at each groupís poster board to see if the students showed their understanding of how caves formed and what they have learned as they share and present with the class. Once the students have completed their presentations I will show them samples of calcite and how it reacts to Hydrocloric acid.

Here is the observation sheet and grade rubric






Name______________                                                 Group members________________








Growth of Stalactite

Growth of Stalagmite













Remember thing you should be observing are color, shape, size. Also write down what you predict is happening overall. Predict any changes you think are going to occur.




Day 1 Observations and Predictions:








Day 2 Observations and Predictions:








Day 3 Observations and Predictions:












Poster Board Rubic












Presented poster board well contributed a lot.


Presented poster board but only contributed a little to the presentation.


Did not present.







Always participated in all activities.


Participated sometimes but not always.


Did not participate.



Poster board




The poster board was creative and colorful with pictures and expressed correct concept of caves.


Good poster board but lacking concept or design.


Did not complete.














Understands how caves form and purpose of lab activity and how it connects and relates to natural caves.






Somewhat understands how caves form but still unsure caves how the experiment connects with natural caves.







Still has trouble grasping how caves in nature. And really didnít understand experiment even after presentations.





Lesson Plan Word Doc.