Life-Hosting Rocks

Initial Publication Date: May 21, 2013


This learning module and related laboratory exercise exposes students to the types of lithologies on Earth that host life and the sedimentary processes that formed them.

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Learning Goals

Students will be able to:
  • Recognize and identify sedimentary rocks on Earth and Mars
  • Identify sedimentary structures that provide clues as to the environment of formation (i.e. mud cracks, cross-bedding etc.).
  • Observe the expansion of clays and explain why water influences clay-rich rocks at the molecular level

Context for Use

This learning module is meant for adaptation in an introductory earth science course and/or planetary science course. Students need a prior knowledge of minerals before going through this module. Provide an understanding of grain sorting and sedimentary structures resulting from varying energy in the system (Ex: low energy = laminations; cross-bedding = higher energy system).

Description and Teaching Materials

Compiled In-Class Activities and Homework

In-Class Activity


Teaching Notes and Tips

The In-Class Activities can be utilized as homework as well. The activity is designed as such that students can effectively complete the activity at home.


Each In-Class Activity and Homework has its own method of assessment.

References and Resources

  1. Image file: Life-Hosting Rocks (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 22.2MB Jan20 14)
  2. Swelling clay-rich soil demonstration:
  3. Ripple-formation video:
  4. Laminar-flow video: