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John Muir: glaciers

Subject area: Social studies, literacy

Experiences and outcomes: LIT 3-05a, LIT 3-09a, SOC 3-07a, SOC 4-07a, SOC 3-14a, SOC 4-14a, SOC 3-12a, SOC 4-12b

The aim of this lesson is to discover how the Scottish landscape has been shaped. John Muir was one of the first people to conclude that the major landforms in Yosemite Valley, California were created by glaciers and not a major catastrophic event. During the Ice Age, glaciers and ice sheets covered much of Scotland and carved out deep u-shaped valleys with steep sides containing ribbon lakes.

Before you begin, ask your class to look through the John Muir graphic novel and read the section The Wild Man Who Changed the World up to page 103.

Show your class the downloadable PowerPoint presentation made by Creative Scotland called Key Glacial Features. The slides show photographs of a glacier, an arête, a pyramid peak, a deep u-shaped valley, a corrie and a tarn. Explanations can be found about how these features were formed on the information sheet Glacial Features Explained, which you can use as you go through the slides.

Now split your pupils into pairs and provide them with copies of the worksheet Discovering Glaciers and ask them to think about the meaning of the word ‘glaciation’ and then get them to write down their own definition of this word on their worksheet.

Answers to ‘Glaciation’ could include:

A glacier is a large, slow-moving river of ice, formed from compacted layers of snow(this will open in a new window) that slowly deforms and flows in response to gravity(this will open in a new window). The processes and landforms caused by glaciers and related to them are glacial (adjective(this will open in a new window)); this term should not be confounded with glacial (noun(this will open in a new window)), a cold period in the glacial period(this will open in a new window). The process of glacier growth and establishment is called ‘glaciation’.

Source: dictionary definition

Write the above answer onto the board and ask your class to amend their answers to fit with the ‘dictionary definition.’

Get your pairs of pupils to join together to form a group of around four and give each group a particular glacial feature, then instruct them to prepare a presentation for their classmates on how their glacial feature was formed.

They should discuss together how their feature was formed then allocate one of the group to prepare notes, another to draw supporting illustrations, another to label these illustrations and the remaining pupil(s) to present their findings to the class.

Reflecting on learning

Had learners considered how their natural landscape had been created?

Learners can:

All of the information covered in this section has been provided by Education Scotland.

Further work

Research a current glacier that is retreating, e.g. the Muir Glacier. Calculate how much it has changed with time – consider why this is happening and introduce the topic of climate change.

Useful resources

Show your class The Glaciers of Yosemite National Park(this will open in a new window) on YouTube.