Activity Details




Students will learn

  • To appreciate the role of Geology in their lives.
  • That knowledge gained through scientific study and research advances our understanding of how to better utilize resources and protect the environment.



  • Clay, to represent the rock that undergoes metamorhosis
  • Large sieve or strainer, to strain water
  • Rolling pin, for making clay sheets
  • 1 cup water, for pouring over the clay balls and sheets.



  • Makes clay balls about 1 inch in diameter and set them in a sieve.

Tip:The clay balls represent the sand grains in sandstone.

  • Pour 1/2 cup of water through the sieve.
  • Observe how quickly the water passes through the "sandstone" layer.
  • Then remove balls from the sieve and use a rolling pin to press the balls into a sheet of clay.

Tip:The sheet of clay represents metamorphic quartzite. In nature, this change (metamorphism) from sandstone to quartzite is the result of intense pressure created when masses of rock collide.

  • Lay the sheet of clay in the sieve.
  • Pour 1/2 cup of water on top of the clay sheet.
  • Observe how the compression of the sandstone grains into metamorphic quartzite altered the ability of the rock to let water pass through (that is, its permeability).
  • Discuss why the permeability of rocks is important (for example, allowing fluids such as water or petroleum to flow through layers of permeable rock and be trapped below impermeable layers).

Teacher Notes


Tips and Tricks:

The Southern Appalachian Mountains

  • Spanning a vast area from Virginia to Georgia, the Southern Appalachians are some of the oldest mountains on Earth.
  • Molded and shaped over eons by volcanism, erosion, glaciation, and other geologic forces, these mountains are known worldwide for their unusual beauty and rich biological diversity.


  • A 25-minute USGS film, The Southern Appalachians: A Changing World, describes how geologic events that took place millions of years ago influenced the landscape, climate, soils, and living things that are seen in the Southern Appalachian Mountains today.
  • This film was prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service.
  • View the film online at:

Teacher’s Guide

  • An accompanying 16-page Teacher's Guide summarizes the film and includes seventeen suggested activities and discussion topics to enhance viewing.
  • Download free at:


  • A companion 23-page booklet, Birth of the Mountains: The Geologic Story of the Southern Appalachian Mountains by Sandra H.B. Clark, looks at the major stages in the development of the mountains and their landscape.
  • It shows where evidence can be seen today for each stage and gives examples of how the past affects human history and our lives today.
  • Download free at:

Geologic Map

  • A double-sided map, Geology of the Southern Appalachian Mountains (Scientific Investigations Map 2830) by Sandra H.B. Clark ; Graphic design by Linda M. Masonic and edited by Elizabeth D. Koozmin, was first posted in December, for classroom and public use.
  • This product consists of a geologic map draped over a shaded-relief background, photographs of interesting geologic features, diagrams of tectonic plate movement, and much more.
  • Sites featured in the other publications are shown on the map.
  • Download free PDF files of both sides at:

To Purchase

  • These products can also be purchased online through the USGS Store at
  • The current prices can be obtained from the store.
  • DVD formatof The Southern Appalachians plus Teacher’s Guide [product #206041]
  • VHS formatof The Southern Appalachians plus Teacher’s Guide [product #112293]
  • Booklet- Birth of the Mountains [product #112296]
  • Map(folded) - Geology of the Southern Appalachian Mountains [product #208803]
  • For more information or to place orders by phone, please contact USGS Science Information and Library Services (SILS) at 1-888-ASK-USGS (1-888-275-8747) or


  • The video “The Southern Appalachians—A Changing World” was created for students who live in the Southern Appalachian Mountain region and for visitors to the region.
  • The video shows how the landscapes that we see today developed over millions of years and how they continue to change.
  • The goal is to help students appreciate the role of geology in their lives by showing the relation between the history of the Earth and life in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
  • “A Changing World” also shows how knowledge gained through scientific study and research advances our understanding of how to better utilize resources and protect the environment.
  • The synopsis of the video “The Southern Appalachians—A Changing World”  (See pages 1 to 7 of the Teacher’s Guide - the related activities and discussion topics are designed to provide guidance and ideas for teachers to expand upon the viewing of the video.

Note:Selection or adaptation of the resources listed above as also the activities or topics themselves is the prerogative of the teacher.

List of 17 activities and discussion topics:
Activity 01.   Geologic Time
Activity 02.   Plate Tectonics
Activity 03.   Observation Of Local Rocks
Activity 04.   The Life Of A Rock
Activity 05.   Delta In A Jar (Teacher Demonstration)
Activity 06.   Making A Sedimentary Rock Shoreline Sequence
Activity 07.   How Did That Shell Get Way Up There?
Activity 08.   Thrust Faults And Geologic Windows (Teacher Demonstration)
Activity 09.   Making Metamorphic Rock
Activity 10.   Permeability Of Sandstone Vs. Quartzite (Teacher Demonstration) – The current activity
Activity 11.   Bedrock, Erosion, And Landforms
Activity 12.   Biodiversity
Activity 13.   Effects Of Acid On Plants
Activity 14.   Lessons From The Past
Activity 15.   Applications To The Present
Activity 16.   The Cherokee Removal
Activity 17.   Geology In The News



This activity is adapted from:

  • Science Education Handout February 2010:
  • Teacher's guide accompanying the USGS film, The Southern Appalachians: A Changing World prepared by Sandra Clark, Elizabeth Romanaux, Dona Brizzi, and Jennifer Thomlin:
    Published in the Eastern Region, Reston, Va.
    Manuscript approved for publication September 28, 2001


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