Earth Science Lab: Sand Dunes Lab

In this Earth Science Lab, students are able to demonstrate models of sand dunes, their predominant wind patterns, and the approximate angles of repose.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Time: 1-2 class periods.

Materials you will need:

  • Enough sand, a little water to make the sand moist, ruler, a computer, a beaker, Sand Dune Lab Sheet

Pre-Discussion Procedure:

  • I first discussed erosion by wind.  The Glacier, Gravity, and Wind Erosion Google Presentation can be found here.

    • Deflation, abrasion, saltation, creep, suspension, haboobs,

    • Techniques for slowing wind erosion down

    • Deposition by wind, loess, sand dunes, dune migration

    • Other types of wind erosion features such as desert varnish and cross bedded sandstone (sand dunes in the rock record.)

  • I discussed the importance of knowing the direction the wind is blowing and how scientists can use it in the rock record to determine dominant wind patterns.

  • I did not actually discuss the different types of sand dunes.  The lab is setup so that students will explore these.

Star Sand Dune Type

Lab Procedure:

  • The lab is detailed on the actual Sand Dune lab sheet for students.

  • Students grabbed their science tray full of sand, a ruler and a cup.

  • They then proceeded to fill out the lab sheet.

  • Each dune needs to be modeled, so when they were finished their model I had them raise their hands so I could visually see it.  I asked these questions.

    • Which type of dune is modeled?

    • Which direction is the wind blowing?

  • I also discussed with each group the importance of slope on their model.  Most students had really steep slopes.

Barchan Sand Dune Type

Teacher Reflection:

  • I went to a science conference and learned that “touch turns on the brain.”  I asked myself how I can turn on their brains with this lab and decided that I would let them create models of the five different types of sand dunes.

    • I asked a few students if playing in the sand and building the actual model helped at all, and received positive feedback.  When given a quiz with images, they did quite well detailing the direction of the wind and know what type of dune they were observing.

  • On the lab sheet, I have the question about how tall can some dunes get.  Some of the dune heights were not readily found on their internet searching.

  • I put the question about countries on the lab sheet, trying to do some cross curriculum with geography.  I think next year I am going to add a blank tiny world map in the space and have them mark where in the world the sand dunes actually can be found.

  • My original goal was to have students apply “wind” to the sand to create their dunes, but blowing on the sand required too much force to really form a dune.  I then had students moisten the sand and just shape them into each type of dune.  This worked much better.

  • The ruler and the beaker were used mainly as shaping tools to help students create the sand dune type model.

Longitudinal Sand Dune Type


  • I felt the lab went well.  I was a little worried about getting sand everywhere, but that didn’t really happen.  Students stayed on task and as they demonstrated each sand dune model, I was able to critique their angles and assess whether or not they understood the direction of sand dune migration.