Lava Layering: Making and Mapping a Volcano

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In this activity, learners discover how geologists use stratigraphy, the study of layered rock, to understand the sequence of geological events. Learners use baking soda, vinegar, and different colored play dough to model how "lava" flows. This lesson plan includes background information, play dough recipes, student worksheets, and an optional volcano mapping extension activity.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 1 paper cup, 100 ml (4 oz.) size, cut down to a height of 2.5 cm
  • 2 paper cups, 150-200 ml (6-8 oz.) size
  • cardboard, approximately 45 cm square (other materials may be used: cookie sheet or box lid)
  • Play dough or soft clay - at least 4 fist-size balls, each a different color
  • tape
  • spoon
  • baking soda (4-10 spoonfuls depending on number of flows)
  • vinegar, 100-150 ml (4-6 oz.) depending on number and size of flows
  • paper towels
  • marker or grease pencil
  • optional food coloring to color the vinegar if desired, 4 colors; for example, red, yellow, blue, green
  • Student Sheet, Lava Layering - Part 1 (pgs. 19-20)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Processes
      • Volcanoes and Plate Tectonics
    • Earth Structure
      • Rocks and Minerals
    • Earth, Moon and Sun
    • Earth's History
      • Geologic Time
    • Solar System
      • The Moon
      • The Planets
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Office of Human Resources and Education - Education Division and Office of Space Science - Solar System Exploration Division, NASA


  • Public domain, ,