Resource Type
Completion Time
About 1 period
Middle School and Up
Download and Share
Cami Dalton
Student page with Station “cards” cut for each station.
1 copy of the Student “score card” and follow up questions for each student
6 dice (one die per station)
Earth Science
Earth System, Structure, and Processes
Climate Change


By rolling a die, students will simulate a molecule of carbon’s movement with in the carbon cycle. This is a fun, active way to introduce students to the carbon cycle and/or to review the cycle and identify carbon sinks and sources.

Students experience the carbon cycle as CO2 molecules or as stored carbon and travel the path of various carbon sources (plants, animals, ocean, soil, atmosphere, fossil fuels) in a journey over time. The process helps them to make connections about carbon, CO2, and climate change.


  1. Students will describe the various components of the carbon cycle and understand that carbon cycles naturally through living and non-living parts of the Earth system in a complex way.
  2. Students will describe a possible path of stored carbon or a CO2 molecule might take on it’s way through this cycle.
  3. Students will describe the role of plants in this cycle.
  4. Students will classify processes, organisms and environments in the cycle as carbon SOURCES or carbon SINKS.

Lesson Preparation


Proteins, Carbohydrates, Nucleic Acids and other molecules essential to life on earth contain carbon. Carbon is present in the atmosphere as a gas. (CO2) Carbon is also present in the ocean and fresh water as dissolved CO2. Carbon is in rocks, animal shells and plants. Without carbon, there would be no life on earth! Carbon does not stay in one place. It is constantly moving. This movement is referred to as the carbon cycle.

The movement of carbon through various aspects of the natural environment is the focus of much scientific research. Global warming and climate change can be attributed to the increased amount of heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide.

Students must know about CO2 and understand how carbon moves through earth’s environment in order to appreciate the complexity of climate change. In addition, since anthropogenic influences impact how much carbon is reintroduced to the active carbon cycle, students should recognize that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, contributes to climate change.

Warm up:

Prepare students by showing them one of the interactive charts, power points or videos from the internet resources listed/linked below.


  1. Make copies of Carbon Cycle Score Cards (one per student) and Post -activity question page (one per student)
  2. Prepare station cards by making a large written label (and/or draw or cut out magazine pictures) for each of the six stations: Atmosphere, Plants, Ocean, Soil/Rock, Fossil Fuels, Animals.
  3. Use these labels to set up 6 stations around the room.
  4. At each station, put a die and the station section cards designated for that station.


  1. Tell students that they are going to be carbon molecules moving through the carbon cycle. Categorize the places carbon can be found into these stations: Atmosphere, Plants, Animals, Soil, Ocean and Fossil Fuels. Point out the areas of the room that are labeled with each station.
  2. Divide the class into six groups. Give each student a score card on which to record his/her movements around the cycle. Have each group begin at a different station.
  3. Explain how to move around the room. (You will need to decide if you want them to work in pairs, individually or as a team) At each station, students roll the die and read the statement corresponding to the number on the die. On the Score Card, record the station/stop, what happens to them (as a carbon molecule) and their next destination.
  4. Students stay at the station /stop until you call out “CYCLE”. They then move to the next station as directed on that paper.
  5. When a student, team or group has completed 10 -12 stations and recorded the information on the carbon cycle score card, they may begin to complete the work page of follow-up questions. Encourage or facilitate discussion and team work for steps #2 and #3.
  6. Ask students to share stories of their “journeys” and experiences. Discuss the storage and movement of carbon through the cycle and roles of each aspect of the cycle. Define and identify the sinks and sources.
  7. Allow more time for students to complete their own diagram, carbon cycle description, identify sinks and sources in their journey and answer questions in step #3. (This written work may need to be done as homework or in another class session.)


  • Write a brief story from a carbon molecule’s point of view that describes it’s journey through the carbon cycle.
  • Create a bar graph using the data collected. The bar graph should represent the number of times the carbon molecule (student) was at each station.
  • Ask each group to discuss, research and prepare a brief presentation that answers one of the questions in step #3.


Windows to the Universe - Carbon Cycle
Carbon Cycle Image
SlideShare - Carbon Cycle
SlideShare - Carbon Cycle (Teach)
NEO K12 - Carbon Cycle


  • Individual participation in game, group work and discussions
  • Careful completion of score card
  • Carbon cycle diagram and answers to follow-up questions
  • Possible written reflection in science notebook answering prompt such as: What do you know now about carbon/carbon cycle that you didn’t know before? What do you wonder or want to find out more about?

Author / Credits

This activity is an adaptation of “Water Wonders” from Project Learning Tree; Pre K-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide, page 188. Thanks to Lilly Goodman, Project Wild/Project Learning Tree instructor, for sharing her version with me.

Cami Dalton created this lesson plan as a capstone project for the 2015 teacher training course entitled: Climate Change: Seeing, Understanding, and Teaching, held in Denali National Park. The course is facilitated by the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS) in partnership with Alaska Geographic and the National Park Service.

File Attachments

  • Student Score Card worksheet
  • Student Follow-up questions worksheet
  • Station Sections- Description page

Standards Other


National Science Standards:
Strand 2.1—The Earth as a Physical System
A) Processes that shape the Earth
B) Changes in matter
C) Energy

Alaska State Standards/GLE:
GLE (10) Relating the global carbon cycle to global climate change.