Lesson Plan: Teaching Glaciology, Glaciers and Glacial Retreat, and the Cryosphere-Climate Relationship

As a high school or undergraduate Geography or Earth Sciences teacher, you can use this set of computer-based tools to help you in teaching about glaciers, the cryosphere, and related topics such as the impact of temperature and precipitation on glacial mass, glacial budgets, and glacial advance and retreat.

This lesson plan helps students learn about glaciers, and the factors that affect the movement and size of glaciers. The activity will also enable students to understand the possible impacts of climate change on glaciers and the climate-cryosphere link.
Thus, the use of this lesson plan allows you to integrate the teaching of a climate science topic with a core topic in Earth Science or Geography.


Use this lesson plan to help your students find answers to:

  1. What climatic and environmental factors affect the size and motion of glaciers?
  2.  How has an increase in global temperatures led to the shrinking of some glaciers?
  3.  What is the relationship between climate and the cryosphere?
  4.  How do glaciers provide evidence of climate change?

About Lesson Plan

Grade Level High School, Undergraduate
Discipline Geography, Earth Sciences
Topic(s) in Discipline • Glaciers
•  Cryosphere
Climate Topic Climate and the Cryosphere
Location Global (region-specific activities also provided)
Languages English (Visualization tool available in multiple languages)
Access Online
Approximate Time Required minimum 120 min (can vary)


Reading (20-30 min) A reading that introduces the topic of glaciers and their formation.
Reading Part 1
Reading Part 2
Reading Part 3
Visualization and associated activity

(~30 min)

An interactive visualization and associated activity to visualize the shrinking and growing of a glacier as a result of changes in snowfall and temperature.
Interactive VisualizationAssociated Activity
Classroom/ Laboratory
Activity (minimum 1 hr,
can vary)
A classroom/laboratory activity that uses Google Earth imagery and analysis of historical data to predict
the complete melting of a glacier.

Go to the Activity

Here is a step-by-step guide to using this lesson plan in the classroom/laboratory. We have suggested these steps as a possible plan of action. You may customize the lesson plan according to your preferences and requirements.
1. Introduce the topic through an online reading
2. Explore the topic further through an interactive visualization and associated activity Now, conduct an activity using an interactive visualization tool to help your students learn about the effects of changes in snowfall and temperature on glaciers.
  • • Download PhET’s interactive visualization tool, “Glaciers”, from https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/legacy/glaciers.
  • • Download the associated activity, “Investigating Glaciers” developed by John Judkins (Rio Rancho High School), from https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/4484?.
  • • Conduct the activity and discuss how glaciers are affected by changes in temperature and snowfall.
  • • Discuss how temperature changes caused by climate change may impact glaciers globally.
  • • Discuss how the study of glaciers can help in drawing inferences about the Earth’s changing climate.
3. Conduct a classroom/laboratory activity Next, help your students investigate the melting of glaciers through a classroom/laboratory activity, “When will there no longer be glaciers in Glacier National Park” from SERC Carleton, developed by Carol Ormand, Wittenberg University. In this activity, students will analyze and interpret historical data for the Grinnell Glacier to predict when the glacier might completely melt.
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