Intro to Speleology: Three Great Caves of Oregon

Headline reads: "Oregon Caves a wonderland for Tourists"

Headline from the Grants Pass Daily Courier, 1919.

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Caves are a great way to engage young learners in geology and earth sciences. The study of caves is known as speleology, and those who explore caves are called speleologists. Oregon boasts a number of large and impressive caves. Furthermore, because Oregon is so geologically diverse, there are excellent examples of different types of caves, formed by different geological forces. This lesson will concentrate on three major Oregon cave systems: the Oregon Caves of Josephine County, the Lava River Cave of Deschutes County, and the Sea Lion Caves of Lane County.

Oregon Common Core State Standards

Language Arts Standards:

  • ELA.RI.4.4 Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.
  • ELA.W.4.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
  • ELA.W.4.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
  • ELA.SL.4.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Social Studies Standards:

  • Geography 4.11: Identify conflicts involving the use of land, natural resources, economy, competition for scarce resources, different political views, boundary disputes, and cultural differences within Oregon and between different geographical areas.


  • Historic Oregon Newspapers website
  • Access to the Internet
  • Computers
  • Cave types self-discovery activity sheet (all activity sheets in PDF Download)
  • Information gathering graphic organizer
  • Predictions and observations activity sheet
  • Whole group experiment observation sheet
  • Science experiment materials
    • 1 box of sugar cubes
    • Toothpicks
    • Clear plastic or glass tubs: 1 per partnership or table group
    • Spray bottles filled with water: 1 per partnership or table group
    • Modeling clay: 2 lbs. for each partnership or table group
    • Limestone rocks
    • A few non-carbonate rocks, various types
    • Water
    • Vinegar
    • Pipettes or eyedroppers
    • 3 clear jars 

Key Vocabulary

  • Speleology
  • Caverns
  • Dissolve
  • Limestone
  • Acid
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Carbonic acid
  • Solution
  • Fissures
  • Non-soluble


  • Introduction: Introduce the different types of caves, emphasizing the difference as a result of the various ways that caves are formed.
    • Have students fill out cave types self-discovery sheet (in PDF Download)
    • Lead into class discussion about the cave types
  • Some discussion questions to consider:
    • What are the earth forces that form this type of cave?
    • What kinds of rock are they usually formed in?
    • What are some typical shapes and features of this type of cave?
    • Where are some places in the world where major examples of this type of cave can be found?
  • Activity: Have students browse the following websites to identify Oregon’s caves. A graphic organizer to help students organize their information is provided in PDF Download.

Extension Activity Ideas

Activities can be modified several different ways, depending on the grade level and focus of study. Listed are activity ideas that can be adapted and extended to and for any grade level.

  • Field Trip: To provide students with even more realia, organize a field trip to one of Oregon’s famous caves. Have students make observations, and write reflections about their experiences.
Posted in Common Core: English Language Arts Grade 4, Common Core: Social Science Grade 4, K-12 Lesson Plans

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