The aim of this guide is to help you get started teaching a-level geology. It was produced by a working party on behalf of the Earth Science Teachers’ Association (esta). Contents: Page

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The aim of this guide is to help you get started teaching A-Level geology. It was produced by a working party on behalf of the Earth Science Teachers’ Association (ESTA).


  1. Specifications and Contacts


  1. ESTA Contacts


  1. Paper Based Resources


  1. Specifications and Resources Available


    • OCR


    • WJEC


  1. Specimens and Equipment


  • Rocks


  • Fossils


  • Minerals


  • Maps

  • Laboratory Equipment


  • Field kit


  • Suppliers


  • Fieldwork Examples


  • Websites


  • Videos


  • Possible Laboratory Practical Activities



The Chief Examiners for both boards can be contacted via the subject officers for the relevant board. They would be more than happy to answer any queries from prospective new centres.

Membership Secretary

Mike Tuke
ESTA Membership Secretary
Old Farm House
Waterloo Farm
Great Stukeley
PE28 4HQ


Chairman (2013-15)

Pete Loader


David Bailey


Newsletter Editor

Maggie Williams

Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences,

School of Environmental Sciences, Herdman Building, 4 Brownlow Street,
University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 3GP, U.K.
Tel: (0151) 794 5190
School web page:


General Enquiries


These resources have been put into categories to enable the teacher to prioritise texts. The sections (a) to (d) are the most important of these.
(a) Recommended Class Sets – Text books:
Armstrong, D., Mugglestone, F., Richards, R., and Stratton, F. (2008). Geology. Pearson Education Limited. ISBN: 978-0-435-69211-7
Edwards, D. and King, C. (1999), Geoscience – Understanding Geological Processes, Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-68843-2

McLeish, Andrew (2001), Geological Science, Nelson. ISBN: 0-17-448221-3

Webster, David (1987), Understanding Geology, Oliver and Boyd.

ISBN 0-05-003664-5

(b) Dictionaries
Allaby, A., & Allaby, M. (1991), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Earth Sciences, Oxford. ISBN: 0192861255
Whitten, D.G.A. with Brooks, J.R.V. (1972), The Penguin Dictionary of Geology, Penguin books. ISBN: 0140510494

(c) Practical Activities
Richards, R., 2010. Geology Post 16, How Science Works. Badger Publishing.
Tuke, Mike (1991), Earth Science: Activities and Demonstrations, John Murray. ISBN: 0719549515

(d) Recommended Teacher Resources for Initial Development:
Barker, A.J. (1999), Introduction to Metamorphic Textures and Microstructures, Blackie A&P. ISBN: 0751401528
Barnes, J., (2004), Basic Geological Mapping, Wiley. ISBN: 0471960314
Black, Rhona M. (1989), The Elements of Palaeontology, Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0521348366
British Caenozoic Fossils (1990), The Natural History Museum. ISBN: 0113100248
British Mesozoic Fossils (1983), The Natural History Museum. ISBN: 0565008722
British Palaeozoic Fossils (1983), The Natural History Museum. ISBN: 0565056247
Duff, D. (1993), Holmes’ Principles of Physical Geology, Chapman and Hall. ISBN: 0748743812
Fry, Norman (1991), The Field Description of Metamorphic Rocks, Wiley. ISBN: 0471932213
MacKenzie, W.S. and Adams, A.E. (1999),  A Colour Atlas of Rocks and Minerals in Thin Section, Manson Publishing. ISBN: 1874545170

Milsom, C., and Rigby, S., (2003), Fossils at Glance, Blackwell Publishers. ISBN: 0632060476

Park, R.G. (1993), Foundations of Structural Geology, Blackie A &P. ISBN: 0751401382
Stow, D. A.V. (2005), Sedimentary Rocks in the Field: A Colour Guide, Manson Publishing. ISBN: 1874545693
Thorpe, R., and Brown, G., (1985), The Field Description of Igneous Rocks, Wiley. ISBN: 0335100406
Tucker, M. (1991), The Field Description of Sedimentary Rocks, Wiley. ISBN: 0471932817
Tucker, M. (2001), Sedimentary Petrology, Blackwell Scientific.

(e) Recommended Resources for Further Development:
Anderton, R., Bridges, P.H., Leeder, M.R. and Sellwood, B.W. (1979), A Dynamic Stratigraphy of the British Isles – A study of crustal evolution, Chapman and Hall. ISBN: 0412445107
Clarkson, E.N.K. (1998), Invertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution, Harper Collins. ISBN: 0045600104
Cox, B., (1995), Fossil Focus: Ammonites, British Geological Survey.
Cox, B., and Penn, I., (2000), Fossil Focus: Brachiopods, British Geological Survey. ISBN: 0852723466
Doyle, P., (1997), Understanding Fossils, John Wiley. ISBN: 0471963518

Molyneux, Stewart (1999), Fossil Focus: Trilobites, British Geological Survey. ISBN: 0852723385

Montgomery, Carla. W. (1994), Environmental Geology, WCB. ISBN: 069715811X
Open University (1983), The Geological History of the British Isles, Open University Press. ISBN: 0335161405
Press, F. and Siever, R. (1986), Earth, W. H. Freeman and Company.

ISBN: 071671776X. Now in its fourth edition with a CD-rom and internet links.

Price, M., (1995), Introducing Groundwater, Chapman and Hall.

ISBN: 0412485001

Raymond, L. A. (1995), Petrology: The Study of Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic Rocks, WCB. ISBN: 0697001903
Rigby, S., (1997), Fossils – the story of life, British Geological Survey. ISBN: 0852722842
van Rose, S., (2000), Catastrophes – time’s trail of destruction, British Geological Survey. ISBN: 0852723547
van Rose, S., and Mercer, I. F., (1999), Volcanoes, The Natural History Museum. ISBN: 0565091387
Skinner, B.J., Porter S.C. and Park J. (2003), The Dynamic Earth, John Wiley. ISBN: 0471451576. Includes CD-ROM and Internet links.

Stanley, Steven, M. (1989), Earth and Life Through Time, W. H. Freeman and Company. ISBN: 0716719754

Waltham, A.C. (1993), Foundations of Engineering Geology, E & FN SPON. ISBN: 0419248706
Wilkinson, I., (1999), Fossil Focus: Plants, British Geological Survey. ISBN: 0852723237
Wilkinson, I, Rigby, S., and Zalasiewicz, J. (2002), Fossil Focus: Graptolites, British Geological Survey. ISBN: 0852723903
Wilkinson, I., and Scrutton, C., (2000), Fossil Focus: Corals, British Geological Survey. ISBN: 0852723490
Woodcock, N. (1994), Geology and Environment in Britain and Ireland, London: UCL. ISBN: 1857280547
Woods, Mark (1999), Fossil Focus: Bivalves, British Geological Survey. ISBN: 0852723288
The books were currently in print when this booklet was produced:

(f) Out of print resources:

The following resources are out of print but could still be available second hand (try bookshops or the internet), from libraries or neighbouring schools. They are all still valuable to have on your shelves.

Atherton, M. & Robinson, R. (1981-1982) Study the Earth. Vol. 1: Water at Work;

Vol. 2: Rocks and Earth History; Vol. 3: Useful materials from the Earth; Vol. 4: Air and Earth. London: Hodder and Stoughton

Copley, Peter (2003), Talk to your science department – using Physics equipment to teach Geology, TES vol 28 no ¾

ESTA 1990-92. Science of the Earth Units (for Key Stage 4) (14-16)

(These maybe downloaded from the ESTA website)

1 Will my gravestone last?

2 Earthquakes - Danger Beneath Our Feet.

3 Fluorspar - Is it worth mining?

4 Building Sedimentary Structures.

5 Waste and the Hole in the Ground Problem.

6 Nuclear Waste - The Way Forward?

7 Neighbourhood Stone Watch.

8 Moving Ground.

9 Groundwater Supplies.

10 Astrogeology and the Clues on the Moon.

11 The Water Cycle - A Natural Recycling Process.

12 Which Roadstone?

13 The Geological Timescale.

14 Who's for a Hot Tight Squeeze in Inner Space?

15 Rock Power! Geothermal Energy Resources.

16 Earth's Patchwork Crust - An introduction to Plate Tectonics.

17 Cool It! Liquid magma to solid rock.

18 Salts of the Earth.

19 The Day the Earth Erupted - Volcanoes.

20 SOS - Save our Sites: Earth Science Conservation in Action.
Fisher, J. & Harley, M. (1988), Earth Science fieldwork in the Secondary School Curriculum, Peterborough: Nature Conservancy Council (English Nature) 36 pp.
King, Chris (1992), Sedimentology Book 1: Processes and Analysis, Longman. ISBN: 0582022002
King, Chris (1992), Sedimentology Book 2: The Depositional Environments, Longman. ISBN: 0582085071

National Curriculum Council (1993), Earth Science for Primary Teachers. An INSET Handbook, York: NCC Resources Unit.

National Curriculum Council (1993), Earth Science for Secondary Teachers. An INSET Handbook, York: NCC Resources Unit.
Peers, R. (1993), A/AS Geology. Supported Self Study, Hatfield, ASE
Peers, R. (1993), Fieldwork Pack, Sunderland, Northumberland County Council

Education Dept. (10, Grange Crescent, Stockton Rd, Sunderland SR2 7BN).

Watson, J. (1983), Geology and Man - an introduction to applied earth science, Allen and Unwin. ISBN: 0045530017

(g) Related General Reading For Teachers:
Baxter Stephen (2003), Revolutions in the Earth (James Hutton and the True Age of the World), Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN: 0297829750
Binding Paul (2003), Imagined Corners: Exploring the World’s First Atlas, Headline Book Publishing. ISBN: 0747230404
Bryson Bill (2003), A Short History of Nearly Everything, Doubleday. ISBN: 0385408188
Courtillot Vincent (1999), Evolutionary Catastrophes: The Science of Mass extinction, Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0521891183
Crichton Michael (1995), The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Arrow. ISBN: 0099240629
Cutler, Ian (2003), The Seashell on the Mountaintop, William Heinemann. ISBN: 0434008575

Fortey Richard (2004), The Earth: an intimate history, Harper Collins.

ISBN: 000-570114

Fortey Richard (2000), Trilobite! Eyewitness to evolution, Harper Collins. ISBN: 0002570122
Gould Stephen Jay (2000), The Lying Stones of Marrakech (Penultimate reflections in natural history), Jonathon Cape. ISBN: 0224050443
Harris Robert (2003),Pompeii, Hutchinson. ISBN: 0091779251
Lewis Cherry (2002), The Dating Game – One man’s search for the Age of the Earth, Cambridge Univ Press. ISBN: 0521893127
McIntyre, Donald, B. and McKirdy, Alan (2001), James Hutton: The Founder of Modern Geology, National Museums of Scotland Publishing Limited. ISBN: 1901663698
Monks Neale and Palmer Philip (2002), Ammonites, National History Museum. ISBN: 0565091697
Osborne Roger (1999), The Floating Egg, Episodes in the making of geology, Pimlico. ISBN: 07126-66869
Walker Gabrielle (2003), Snowball Earth, the great catastrophe that spawned life, Bloomsbury. ISBN: 074756051
Winchester Simon (2001), The map that changed the World, Viking/Penguin. ISBN: 0670884073
Winchester Simon (2003), Krakatoa, the day the World exploded, Viking/Penguin. ISBN: 0670911267

(h) Other Resources For Teachers:

King, C. (2010). The planet we live on – the beginning of the Earth Sciences.

Published electronically for free download on the Basic books in Science website at: 183pp.

There are two examination boards that produce specifications for Geology AS and A2 level; namely OCR and WJEC. Both specifications contain the QCA Core Content, so there is overlap in some places. However, the interpretation of these core statements is different in the two different exam boards, allowing choice to the teacher establishing a new A level.
The online specification can be found at:

A summary of key documents related to the Geology specification can be found at:

Details of possible field localities with associated paperwork including marking schemes are available from OCR, just contact Nikki Edwards for details. Nikki can also be contacted about details of training events for OCR.

Specimen assessment materials are available at:

Other OCR teaching materials can be supplied by contacting Nikki Edwards, the Subject Officer for Geology. A selection of online support can be found below:

Each Scheme of Work and set of sample Lesson Plans is provided in:

  • PDF format – for immediate use

  • Word format – so that you can use it as a foundation to build upon and amend the content to suit your teaching style and students’ needs.

The Scheme of Work and sample Lesson plans provide examples of how to teach this unit and the teaching hours are suggestions only. Some or all of it may be applicable to your teaching.

The key to the symbols used in these support materials is shown on page 12.


Geology H087: Global Tectonics F791

Suggested teaching time:

8 hrs


Module 1: Earth Structure

Topic outline

Suggested teaching and homework activities

Suggested resources

Points to note

1.1.1 An overview of planetary geology and ideas for the origin of the solar system

  1. Describe the overall structure of the solar system including gas giants and terrestrial planets with a dense inner core, and current theories of its origin and age.
  2. Describe how space exploration has contributed to knowledge of the geology of the Earth's moon, Mars, Venus and the asteroid belt.

  3. Describe the different types of meteorites as iron, stony and carbonaceous chondrites.

  4. Describe the evidence for impact craters caused by asteroids and meteorites colliding with the Earth and other bodies in the Solar System.

  5. Describe how volcanic activity has been identified on the moons of Jupiter, especially Io, as well as on Mars and Venus.

  6. Explain how the age of the Earth and other planets can be determined by radiometric dating methods.

    • Practical activity: Use planet info cards and corridor spacing exercise to produce scale model. Use the scale model to illustrate the difference in the two groups of planets.

    • Use scale models or graphs of planets in the solar system to illustrate the difference in scale of the two groups of planets.

    • View animations to view the formation of the solar system. and

    • Students research Olympus Mons on the internet and compare with other planets.

    • Practical Activity: Use sand and different objects dropped from a height to simulate impact craters.

    • Discuss composition of meteorites.

    • Introduce the concept of radiometric dating. Use coin tossing to represent the ideas of half lives.

    • Model solar system or materials to make display of solar system.

    • Information about half lives from OCR text book, p. 274, and p. 2 – 5.

    • Book, ‘Lunar Geology’, or ‘Moon, Mars and Meteorites’ published by the Geological Museum.

    • Tray of sand, preferably two colours in two layers. Drop ball bearings or larger spheres to simulate impact craters. Different coloured ejecta should be visible around the impact site.

    • Use link to access National Geographic solar system and space videos.|1008200725 and

    1. Emphasise that students need not memorise tables of data about the planets.

    2. Teachers can refer to the following

1.1.2 Build up a cross section knowledge of the internal structure of the Earth

  1. State the depths of the main layers of the Earth: inner core, outer core, mantle, asthenosphere, continental crust and oceanic crust.

  2. Describe how the thickness of the crust varies under continents and oceans.

  1. State the depth of the discontinuities: Lehmann, Gutenberg and Moho.

  2. Describe the nature of these discontinuities and the changes that occur at them.

  3. Describe the probable composition of each of the layers of the Earth: inner core, outer core, mantle, asthenosphere, continental crust and oceanic crust.

    • Use models to show the scale of the different Earth layers. Use animation to introduce and make links with earthquakes.

    • Practical activity: Use a light source and a beaker of water to illustrate refraction of seismic waves by the liquid outer core to form shadow zones.

    • Practical activity: Use plasticine or other active medium to make models of the crust and mantle.

    • Draw the main layers of the Earth with associated data.

    • Construct a table to locate the positions of the different discontinuities. Explain that discontinuities are a change in composition, temperature and state.

Starter / plenary ideas:
    • Use mini whiteboards and timed responses to test understanding of Earth structure.

    • Construct card sort exercise with numerical info and terms.

    • Model, or cut away diagram of the Earth’s interior. Apples can be used as an analogy.

    • Video, ‘’Open University – Into the Earth – the Earth’s internal structure’.

    • Beaker, water, light source.

    • Plasticine.

    • Prepared laminated A4 sheets with Earth outline (structure).

    • Card sort.

    • Use OCR Geology textbook, p.6 – 7.

Past paper questions:

Jan 07 q. 1

Jun 06 q. 3 c

Jan 06 q. 2d

May 05 q. 1

Jan 04 q. 1

May 03 q. 4

Jan 03 q. 3

Jan 02 q. 5a

    1. Emphasise the importance of being able to draw fully labelled diagrams.

    2. Teachers can refer to the following resources for information.

1.1.3 Understand the asthenosphere and lithosphere within the Earth and their role in plate tectonics

  1. Describe and explain the nature of the asthenosphere as a rheid, plastic layer with 1 – 5% partial melting. Describe how this layer can be identified using P and S waves and its role in plate tectonics.

  2. Describe the lithosphere as a rigid, brittle layer made of part of the crust and upper mantle that is divided into plates.

    1. Practical Activity: Partial melting can be illustrated by the melting of chocolate in chocolate chip cookies. (Use microwave).

    2. Explain how partial melting of rock alters its characteristics.

    3. Practical Activity: DIY “potty putty” made from sodium tetraborate (borax) and PVA glue as an analogue for the plastic asthenosphere.

    4. Show animations of P and S wave movement through the Earth (see earthquakes section).

    5. Discuss the difference between the terms lithosphere and asthenosphere.

    • Chocolate chip cookies, microwave.

    • Use OCR Geology textbook, p. 7.

Past paper questions:

May 05 q. 1

May 03 q. 2d

    1. Emphasise the importance of being able to draw fully labelled diagrams.

    2. Emphasise the meaning of the terms crust, lithosphere, mantle and asthenosphere.

    1. Teachers can refer to the following resources for information.

1.1.4 Understand how the internal structure of the Earth can be inferred using direct evidence.

  1. Explain how evidence from rocks seen in deep mines up to 5 km below the surface or deep boreholes up to 13 km below the surface can be used as evidence for the composition of the crust.

  2. Explain how rocks brought to the surface by volcanic activity – in kimberlite pipes as mantle xenoliths – provide evidence of mantle rocks.

  3. Explain how ophiolites and rocks exposed by erosion, provide evidence for the structure and composition of oceanic crust.

  • Students prepare powerpoint presentations about mantle xenoliths and / or ophiolites.

  • Use info from flash animation to introduce kimberlite pipes.

  • Compare density and composition of mantle rocks with surface rocks. (See section 1.1.5).

  • Practical activity: Study peridotite, gabbro and different types of dolerite as an introduction to ophiolites.

  • Students look at case studies of Troodos (Cyprus) and Lizard (UK).

Starter / plenary ideas:

  • Students use website to
    produce puzzles -

    these can then be swapped for others to complete.

    • ICT facilities.

    • Rocks – peridotite, gabbro, dolerite.

    • Use OCR Geology textbook, p. 8 – 9.

Past paper questions:

May 05 q. 1d

May 02 q. 5a

Jan 01 q. 5a

    1. Teachers can refer to the following resources for information.

1.1.5 Understand how the internal structure of the Earth can be inferred using indirect evidence.

  1. Explain how the variation in P and S wave velocities can be used to identify layers within the Earth.

  2. Explain how the properties of P and S waves result in shadow zones which can be used to determine the state and depth of the inner and outer core of the Earth.
  3. Explain how the density of the whole Earth and the rocks at the surface can be used to infer the density of the core and mantle rocks.

  4. Explain how stony and iron nickel meteorites from within the solar system can be used to infer the composition of the mantle and core.

    • Introduce earthquake waves, with the idea of completing this in more depth later.

    • Practical activity: Use a light source and a beaker of water to illustrate refraction of seismic waves by the liquid outer core to form shadow zones.

    • Practical activity: Use eureka cans to calculate density of surface rocks. Compare with real data.

    • Analyse data about density from website:

    • Students use information from website and evaluate its meaning. Summary of important points then teacher led.

    • Discuss variation in meteorite composition and density. Compare with the structure of the Earth.

Starter / plenary ideas:

    • Construct odd one out lists of the properties of different parts of the Earth.

    • ICT facilities.

    • Print out of density and property data.

    • Eureka cans, various rock types (eg gabbro, granite, peridotite, various nickel and iron ores.

    • Prepare odd one out lists.
    • Use OCR Geology textbook, p. 10 – 11.

Past paper questions:

May 08 q.2c

May 05 q. 1e

Jan 05 q. 4

May 04 q. 1

Jan 04 q. 1c

May 03 q. 4

May 02 q. 5a

Jun 01 q. 3

Jan 01 q. 5a

    1. Teachers can refer to the following resources for information.

1.1.6 Know about the Earth’s magnetic field.

  1. Describe, and explain the probable origin of the Earths magnetic field.

  2. Describe palaeomagnetism in rocks and magnetic reversals.

  3. Describe and explain the variation of magnetic inclination with latitude.

    • Practical Activity: Use a bar magnet, iron filings and plotting compasses as an analogy of the Earth’s magnetic field.

    • Discuss remnant magnetism (palaeomagnetism).

    • Describe the origin of the Earth’s magnetic field as the dynamo effect.

    • Practical activity / demo: construct model to show dynamo effect.

    • Show videos about geomagnetism from the USGS education website.

    • Use animation showing magnetic reversals to introduce the topic.

Starter / plenary ideas:

    • Brainstorm ideas as to why the magnetic inclination varies with latitude.

    1. Bar magnet, iron filings and compass / compass clinometer.

    2. Dynamo effect - solenoid (coil of wire), magnet, ruler, voltmeter, leads.

    3. Use OCR Geology textbook, p. 12 – 13.

Past paper questions:

May 08 q. 1a

May 05 q. 2b

Jan 03 q. 4b, c

May 02 q. 4b

Jun 01 q. 2

Jan 01 q. 2

Jan 99 q. 4 c

    1. Teachers can refer to the following resources for information.*session*id*key*=*session*id*val*

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