Teach the Earth > Structural Geology > Structure, Geophysics, and Tectonics 2012 > Teaching Activities > Structural Geology Musical Chairs

Structural Geology Musical Chairs

Geoffrey Pignotta, UW-Eau Claire

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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

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 1, 2012


This is a culminating activity designed to have students interpret structures in hand sample. Enough hand samples are chosen for the number of students in the class. Students are given a short amount of time to observe all samples. Music is started and they walk around the samples until the music stops. Each student must then present a description and interpretation of the hand sample in front of them.



This is used in my undergraduate structural geology class.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Since this is a culminating activity, students must integrate much of what they have learned about structural geology to identify and interpret the unknown structure they are presented with.

How the activity is situated in the course

Culminating activity on the last lab day of the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goal is to integrate their knowledge of rock description and interpretation of geologic structures.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students must synthesize their knowledge and understanding of process in order to accurately describe and interpret the geologic structures. Many of the samples used have multiple structural elements (e.g., folds and cleavage).

Other skills goals for this activity

Oral presentation of original ideas and interpretations.

Description and Teaching Materials

The only materials needed for this activity are a suite of hand samples that contain structures that have been discussed/observed during the course and some music of instructors choice.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I usually do 2 or 3 rounds of interpretation. I choose a suite of samples for each round in advance and set up the first round of sample stations with the students outside of the classroom. When the activity begins the students enter the room and have 5-10 minutes to observe all of the samples independently without discussion among themselves. Then start the music and let them walk around the suite of samples. Stop the music and give the students 1-2 minutes to make some observations and interpretations of the sample they are in front of. Each student will then present their observations and interpretations to the class. Once finished, set up the second suite of samples and repeat the procedure.


Students present their observations and interpretations immediately and assessment occurs at the time of presentation. Accurate rock descriptions and valid and complete interpretation are required.

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