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The Ever-Changing Surface of the Earth - Part 1: Erosion
By Laura G. Smith
1 If you've ever had the privilege of traveling to foreign countries or even across the United States, you've certainly observed the many different landforms that make up the fascinating surface of our Planet Earth! But there's something about these landforms that is impossible to notice with just a casual glance. From the vast plains and plateaus to the rolling hills, towering mountains, and deep valleys, the Earth's surface is very gradually, but very constantly, being molded and worn down by a process called erosion.
2 Erosion happens when running water, sea waves, wind, or glaciers pick up materials from the Earth's surface and carry them to other locations. The actions of erosion and deposition work together to alter existing landforms and create new ones. Deposition occurs when silt, sand, and other materials are carried by flowing water and deposited at other places on the Earth's surface.
3 Moving water, such as rivers and streams, are the most important natural agents of erosion. Whenever it rains, water washes over the land, picks up loose soil, and carries it away. Water also washes weathered rocks (rocks altered through a process called weathering) into rivers and streams. We'll learn more about how weathering impacts the erosion process in Part 2 of "The Ever-Changing Surface of the Earth."
4 Gravitational pull plays a major role in the process of erosion and can cause huge amounts of soil or rock debris to be carried down a slope, such as in the case of a mudslide. This occurrence is referred to as a mass movement. Another type of mass movement is when certain areas of the Earth's surface are pulled by gravity and sink below ground level.
5 Gravity also naturally pulls water in rivers and streams downhill. Most of these streams carry silt, clay, and sand that are suspended in the water. Pebbles and granules are rolled, tumbled, and bounced along a stream's bed - the part of the land covered by a river or stream. All of the rocks and minerals that a stream carries are called its load. Little streams pass their loads along to bigger streams, and bigger streams pass their loads along to rivers.
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