Earth's Surface Features

Jessica Smay (developed with Karen Kortz)
San Jose City College
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  1. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

    This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

    • Scientific Accuracy
    • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
    • Pedagogic Effectiveness
    • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
    • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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  2. This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see

This page first made public: May 16, 2008


This Lecture Tutorial is designed for students to work on in groups after the students have learned about basic surface features and how they relate to planets in general. The tutorial is designed to help students look at these simple features and realize that they are not independent features, but instead are related to the planet as a whole.

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Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students need to recognize different surface features and determine what processes were necessary for their formation.

How the activity is situated in the course

Students in groups complete this 10-15 minute Lecture Tutorial activity after a short lecture on the topic during class. There are usually three or four of these types of activities each week.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students should be able to describe the processes that form different features on a planet, and then relate how those features can give information about that planet.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Critical thinking, formulation of hypotheses

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in groups, writing

Description of the activity/assignment

Students work in pairs on this worksheet and strengthen their background knowledge by identifying different features in photographs of Earth's surface. Then to build on this base, the students need to determine the key processes that form each of the features. To address a common misconception, students read a debate between two hypothetical students and need to determine which student is stating the scientifically correct idea. The project is summarized by a question posed about the features on a hypothetical planet.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Lecture Tutorial worksheets are designed to help student confront their misconceptions, but generally they are not graded. Rather than grade the Lecture Tutorials, exam questions covering that material are used as assessment.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Kortz, K.M., Smay, J.J. and Murray, D.P, 2008, Increasing Learning in Introductory Geoscience Courses Using Lecture Tutorials, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 56, in press.