Plaster fossils

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Plaster fossils
Age Range 5-8 (grades 1-2), 8-11 (grades 3-5), 11-14 (grades 6-8)
Group Size small (1-5), medium (6-20)
Setting indoors, outdoors
Setup Time medium (6-30 min)
Duration medium (11-30 min)
Subjects paleontology, art
Key terms dinosaurs, fossils, paleontology, craft
Materials dixie cups, plaster of paris, fossils, plaster casts
Presentation Style model

Brief Description

Students will be able to make plaster casts (copies) of real fossils.


  • Students will be able to make their own "fossils" to take home
  • Students will understand how trace fossils and fossil casts are formed.
  • Students will recognize how dinosaur footprints are formed and why paleontologists study them.

Scientific Background

Trace fossils are fossils that indicate an animal's presence or movement. Footprints are one common kind of trace fossil. Paleontologists study trace fossils to learn where animals lived, how they walked, and whether they traveled alone or in groups. Trace fossils can also help scientists reproduce specific events. For example, scientists speculate that the famous Glen Rose Dinosaur Tracks show a theropod attacking a sauropod.

This Is How You Play

  1. Write each child's name on the outside of a Dixie cup.
  2. Have each child press roughly 1" of non-hardening clay into the bottom of the cup.
  3. Explain to the children what trace fossils are and how they are formed.
  4. Have each camper select a toy dinosaur and press one of the dinosaur's feet into the clay in his or her cup.
  5. Pour roughly 1" of wet plaster over the clay in the cup. Allow the plaster to set for 30 minutes or for the length of time indicated on the package.
  6. When the plaster has set completely, remove the cup and the clay from the plaster. The clay may be reused for playing or for other projects. Throw away the cup. The plaster will have made a cast of the dinosaur footprint. Write each child's name on their fossil.


Variations for Older Students

  • Older students may want to make more complex scenes. A larger container would allow them to do this. They will also appreciate opportunities to think critically about how fossils are formed and what scientists can learn from them. Ask them to come up with ideas of what other animals might make trace fossils, and what other kinds of fossils might count as trace fossils.

Variations for Younger Students

  • Younger students will probably need more help setting up their craft. Consider setting up the cups with the clay before having students press in dinosaur feet, and having students go in small groups so that they can be closely supervised. They will also appreciate a simpler explanation of trace fossils. Try to come up with a brief, simple description of trace fossils to contextualize craft.


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