Building a Local Stratigraphic Column: A research-based assignment for an introductory course

Jennifer Hargrave, Southern Utah University
Author Profile


Students build a stratigraphic column for a pre-selected area through the compilation of a series of individual research projects. Students are required to conduct introductory field research as well as a literature search to become "experts" on a selected stratigraphic unit. In addition to a final report, students will present their information at an outcrop on an end-of-semester field trip.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This assignment is designed for a freshmen-level required historical geology course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Before beginning the activity, the students must have mastered:
- Rock identification
- Understand the processes of rock formation

How the activity is situated in the course

This project is part of a sequence of exercises culminating in a final research paper and presentation.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The concept goals for this activity are to:
- gain an understanding of simple field methods and stratigraphic analysis
- conduct research and compile results in a paper and presentation format

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The higher order thinking skills goals include scientific observation, data collection, data interpretation, and a comparison and analysis with published results.

Other skills goals for this activity

Other skills include written and oral scientific communication.

Description and Teaching Materials

This teaching module consists of a series of three activities. The first introduces the geology of the area, the second requires student research, and the third allows for the dissemination of each student's research findings.

Activity 1: Map Exploration and Stratigraphic Unit Assignment
The purpose of this activity is to introduce the students to the local geology. It works well as an assignment in a 50 minute lecture setting at the beginning of the semester. Using a geologic map, have the students explore the area using a prepared set of questions. The instructor will follow this with a discussion of the geologic history, alluding to processes and events that will be discussed in lecture during the semester, such as tectonic events and cratonic sequences. Finally, the students will choose the stratigraphic unit on which they wish to become "experts". Worksheet questions will vary with location. A sample worksheet is included below.

Activity 2: Stratigraphic Unit Research
Once each student has chosen their stratigraphic unit, the instructor will give them a handout discussing the written requirement. The student is responsible for finding a local outcrop from a pre-selected list and collecting samples for research. The final report should be a compilation of original data collection and interpretation with a literature review. Report styles can be tailored to individual preferences. A sample is included below.

Activity 3: Field Trip Presentations
A field trip is scheduled for the last lab period for students to present the results of their research. Organize the field trip stops in stratigraphic order so that the class "builds" the stratigraphic section. A summary discussion after the field trip can help tie in the concepts and tectonic processes from lecture into the local setting.
Student Handout for Activity 1 Map Exploration (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 16kB Jul23 14)
Student Handout for Activity 2 Paper and Presentation Guidelines (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Jul23 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity can be scaled up or down depending on class size and availability of accessible outcrop by assigning larger units such as formations or smaller units such as members.

This exercise can also be tied into a Sedimentology course. Using the same unit they were assigned in Historical Geology, the students can produce thin sections of their collected rock samples and complete a sedimentological analysis of the unit. This reinforces the work they completed previously and allows the students to build on their previous interpretations.


Assessment of the research paper and presentation is completed using a rubric. A sample rubric can be found at

References and Resources