Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > Angle of Repose

Angle of Repose

Carla Whittington and Dr. Eric M. D. Baer (derived from material originally published in Whittington and Baer, 2005)

Geology Program, Highline Community College
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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: Mar 28, 2006


In this activity students measure the maximum slope at which grains are stable (angle of repose). They explore how different properties of the sediment influence slope stability and lead to different slope failures (mass movements). The results are then used to examine the nature, frequency, timing, and causes of landsliding events in Seattle.

Students make piles from a variety of sediments and measure (either with a protractor or using basic trigonometry) the angle. They examine sediments with different sizes as well as different angularities. They also add water to the piles to evaluate its impact.

Learning Goals

Angle of repose Upon completion of this exercise, students should be able to:

Context for Use

This is a short activity we use in a variety of classes including an intro to geohazards course, physical geology, and an intro level geomorphology course. There is no previous knowledge required.
This activity can be done in an hour to two hours in an introductory class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students need to be warned to take their measurements with care and precision. If they are little off, they could have difficulty answering the questions well. Also, students tend to make small piles which increases error. (This is a terrific place to discuss error and propagation of error).

This activity requires some additional materials:

The gravel can be easily purchased at a pet shop - aquarium gravel works wonderfully. Most hardware or home improvement stores sell sand and gravel as well.

Teaching Materials

Angle of repose instructions and student worksheet (Microsoft Word 197kB Feb11 06) The complete directions for the students are here, along with spaces for them to write in answers. I have them put all their answers on one sheet of paper, which is the back page, to facilitate grading. It also allows them to keep their directions and notes for review.


I grade the submitted worksheet.

References and Resources

I highly recommend the students use trig to determine the angle of repose. The trigonometry page can be a useful resource for this.

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Environmental Science:Natural Hazards:Mass Wasting, Geoscience:Geology:Sedimentary Geology, Geomorphology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Inquiry Level: Guided Inquiry, Step-By-Step Instruction
Special Interest: Local Issue, Quantitative, 2YC:Geo2YC, Geo2YC- OLD DO NOT USE, Hazards
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14), High School (9-12)
Learning Environment: Laboratory
Quantitative Skills: Graphs, Probability and Statistics:Data Trends, Problem Solving:Equations, Arithmetic/Computation, Geometry and Trigonometry
Ready for Use: Ready to Use, Tested
Use: Illustrating concepts and ideas
Data Source: Observational Data
Geologic Setting: Earth Surface
Earth System Topics: Surface Processes:Weathering, Erosion, Mass Wasting
Quantitative Skills Activity Type: Classroom Activity, Short Activity, Lab Activity
Science Background Required: Basic scientific background required, Broadly accessible
Topics: Earth surface:Sedimentary Geology
Solid Earth Processes: Weathering/Erosion
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geomorphology, Sedimentary Geology, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Two-Year Colleges, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Hazards

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