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Fossils with Play-Doh Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #: AELP-PAL0200
Submitted by: Darci Lewis
Email: UPJ830@aol.com
School/University/Affiliation: University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
Endorsed by: Mr. Bernard Poole
             University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Date: September 13, 2000

Grade Level: 3, 4, 5


  • Science/Paleontology

Duration: Two 1-hour sessions Description: Students create fossil imprints using Play-Doh. Fossils are formed when Plaster of Paris is poured into the fossil imprints.

Goals: Students will enhance their understanding of fossils. Students will explore the work of paleontologists.

1. Students will be able to (SWBAT) define the word fossil.
2. SWBAT describe how a fossil is formed.
3. SWBAT explain how minerals play a part in the formation of fossils.


  • Play-Doh
  • Plaster of Paris
  • plastic fish, plants, or other animals
  • tray
  • computers with Internet access, if available

Lesson Introduction:
Being by reviewing the term extinction. Ask students, How do you think scientists get information about extinct animals? Record answers on the board. (Some possible answers may include books, remains, fossils, museums, other people, etc.) Explain to students that scientists piece fossils together, like pieces of a puzzle, to discover what life was like when dinosaurs lived. Tell students that they will be making pretend fossils today. Lesson Focus:
Lay some dog toys (or other items can be substituted) out on a table. Tell students that there was a visitor earlier in the day, but he had to leave. Have students guess who the visitor was according to the items on the table. Explain that scientists do the same type of reasoning when learning about animals that are now extinct.

Ask, Can someone tell me what a fossil is? (Fossils are the remains of skeletons and shells of animals from the past.) Discuss how fossils are formed. (When an animal died it lay where it fell, and in time its body became covered with sand and mud. More sand and mud buried it as the years went by. This slowly hardened into rock, and the bones and shells were confined in the ground. After millions of years, the bones and shells became hard and stony, or fossilized.)

Transition to the fossil imprint activity. Divide students into groups of two. Pass out the Play-Doh and the plastic figures. Students should flatten out the Play-Doh until it is about one half inch thick (depending on the size of the animals students will be making the imprints with). Then the figure should be pressed into the Play-Doh. Next, carefully remove the figure. Set the Play-Doh aside on a tray…untouched until it hardens. Pour the Plaster of Paris into the Play-Doh mold and let it dry. Gently peel out the Plaster of Paris, and the result is the fossil. [Tip: To make the fossil come out more easily, lightly spray the Play-Doh imprint with a non-stick spray before pouring in the Plaster of Paris.]

Lesson Closure:
Using the classroom computer(s), go to Zoom Dinosaurs (www.zoomdinosaurs.com). Students can go to the sections on Fossils and Paleontologists for information relevant to this lesson. After viewing the web site, students can share any new information that they learned.

Lesson Extension:
Students can write stories from a fossil’s point of view. The students can act as the fossil explaining such things as what animal it was, how it died, what happened to it when it was alive, where it was found, etc.

Assessment: Observe students’ participation during discussions and the fossil imprint activity. Stories written for the creative writing activity should be clear and accurate.

Useful Internet Resource:
* Zoom Dinosaurs
This comprehensive site has information on types of dinosaurs and addresses other topics such as extinction, fossils, and paleontologists. Teachers will find many classroom activities and print-outs.