3. Journey Through Earth

In the style of Jules Verne’s book Journey to the Center of the Earth, take your students on a walk, using sidewalk chalk to mark the boundaries between the different layers inside our planet. After you pass through each layer, tell your students about the layer of the Earth they just traveled through. This lesson was developed by Eric Muller of the Exploratorium Teachers’ Institute. Here you will find a student handout for taking notes during the walk, a teacher cheat sheet and some assessment ideas. Download a detailed lesson plan for this activity from Eric Muller’s website, originally published in The Science Teacher, September 1995.


Can name and describe the different layers in the Earth.
Can appreciate the relative thickness of the various layers relative to familiar objects such as a human being or the tallest building.

Earth's Layers: Layers not drawn to scale. Image courtesy of Jeremy Kemp.Earth's Layers: Layers not drawn to scale. Image courtesy of Jeremy Kemp.Vocabulary
Inner core
Outer core

Attachment Size
3earth_journey.doc 45 KB
earth_journey_handout.doc 27 KB
earth_journey_teacher.doc 32.5 KB

3. Journey Through Earth - Logistics

10 min introduction
35-40 min walk

Whole class


  • A copy of the Earth Journey Handout for each student
  • A copy of the Earth Journey Teacher Cheat Sheet for yourself
  • A piece of sidewalk chalk for each student

Sidewalk around 2-3 city blocks (640+ meter loop)

3. Journey Through Earth - Background

Teacher Background
The earth is composed of many distinct layers. Their identity has primarily been inferred from seismic data and from analysis of the magma welling up out of volcanoes. A table of the various layers and a brief description of each follows (this same information is provided on the Earth Journey Teacher Cheat Sheet).

Layer Actual dist. from center  Description
Inner core 

0-1200 km

(6400-5200 km from surface) 

Metal (iron and nickel)
3-5 million atmospheres of pressure
Solid – Even though the temperatures are tremendous, the pressure is also so tremendous that the inner core is squeezed into a solid state.
Outer core

1200-3500 km

(5200-2900 km from surface) 

Metal (iron and nickel)
1-2 million atmospheres of pressure
Liquid – Since there’s less pressure, the outer core can flow as a liquid and its motion is thought to generate Earth’s magnetic field.

3500-6300 km

(2900-100 km from surface) 

Rock (magma)
1 million atmospheres of pressure
Near-solid to liquid – Near the core, the mantle is a plastic solid, meaning that it is a liquid but it incredibly viscous and flows incredibly slowly. It becomes more liquid and less viscous as you move outward and the pressure decreases.
Lithosphere and crust

6300-6400 km

(100-0 km from surface) 

Rock and ocean
Very low temperature and pressure
Solid (except for the ocean)
The lithosphere forms the tectonic plates. The bottom of the lithosphere is technically still part of the mantle. Riding on top of the lithosphere is the crust, the layer we live on (between 5-70 km deep).

I structured the walk for 640 m since the calculations become very easy from the actual distances to the walk distance (and thus is easy for kids to see the relationship). In addition, if the 640 m walk is arranged in a loop, it is quite easy to fit the walk into a regular 45-50 minute period.

Student Prerequisites

3. Journey Through Earth - Getting Ready

Getting Ready

  1. Make copies of the Earth Journey handout.
  2. Make copy of the Earth Journey Teacher Cheat Sheet for yourself.
  3. Get sidewalk chalk.
  4. Pace out the entire walk to make sure your route is long enough.

3. Journey Through Earth - Lesson and Assessment

Lesson Plan
Download a detailed lesson plan for this activity from Eric Muller’s website.

Have students complete the handout during the walk or afterwards. As you describe each part of the journey, students can label the borders between each layer and describe the composition, temperature, pressure, and physical properties of each layer on the handout.

Going Further

  1. Have students build a cutaway, to scale, model of the Earth using a Styrofoam ball. Cut away a quarter of the ball and use markers to color in each layer. Draw a map (possibly showing the tectonic plates) on the outer surface. Label the model by with pins attached to a short description on paper.
  2. Study the convection cells that take place in the mantle and that (partially) drive the movement of tectonic plates. See Convection in a Pan activity.
  3. Try the “Shadows from the Core” activity from the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory and discover how the deflections of seismic waves through the Earth gave researchers clues about the different composition and density of each of the Earth’s layers.
  4. Read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (or excerpts from it). It’s a classic early science fiction novel.


3. Journey Through Earth - Standards

Grade 6
Plate Tectonics and Earth's Structure
1. Plate tectonics accounts for important features of Earth's surface and major geologic events. As a basis for understanding this concept:
b. Students know Earth is composed of several layers: a cold, brittle lithosphere; a hot, convecting mantle; and a dense, metallic core.
c. Students know lithospheric plates the size of continents and oceans move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle.