Activities for Studying Tree Rings Online

In our science lessons article, Lessons About Earth’s Past Climates and our Feature Story, Can You Read a Tree?, we focus on how scientists use tree rings to determine past climates. It is a natural extension to have students study and analyze tree “cookies” (cross sections) or core samples themselves. But what if you don’t have access to these materials? We’ve described three web-based activities that can substitute for the firsthand experience.

Tree Ring Analysis (Grades 3-5)
In this interactive online activity, students read about how scientists study tree rings to learn about past climates.  They then complete a notebook entry about a tree sample.

Dendrochronology: Tree Ring Studies (Grades 3-5)
In this web-based activity, students explore tree-ring patterns and learn how they provide information about the environment in the past.

How Do Trees Record Time? (Grade 5 and up)
Students explore tree rings and how they help scientists learn about past climates. The activity was created for older students, but the first five steps (or pages) are appropriate for older elementary and advanced students. It may also be helpful to complete this as a whole class activity with teacher assistance.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. Jessica is an education resource specialist at The Ohio State University and project director of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears. She has taught in elementary and middle school settings. Email Jessica at

Copyright July 2011 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1034922. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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