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The Earth's Major Systems

The Earth's Major Systems

Author: Emily Akers

California 5th Grade Standards Addressed in this Tutorial:


  • ESS2.A: Earth Materials and Systems
    Earth’s major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans). These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth’s surface materials and processes. The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather. (5-ESS2-1)


  • W.5.8 Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.
  • RI.5.7 Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.

Learning Goals:

  • Students will be able to explain the concept of a "system" as it applies to the Earth.
  • Students will be able to identify the Earth's four major systems. 
  • Students will be able to discuss examples of how the Earth's systems interact.
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The Earth has four major systems, the geosphere, the biosphere, the hydrosphere, and the atmosphere. All together, these four systems make an integrated system, meaning they all interact with and impact each other. Through their interactions, the systems can make changes to the Earth's surface materials and process, and can impact the lives of the organisms that live on Earth.


  • Watch the two videos to learn about the four different Earth Systems. Feel free to watch them multiple times or pause and rewind to take notes. 
  • Click the "About Earth Systems" Link to read a little more about each of the four systems and feel free to explore the website to learn more about any sphere that interests you.
  • Lastly, you may work on the "Making North America" Interactive. There are more detailed instructions on how to access the activity under its link. The activity will give you a way to explore some of the ways in which the Earth's Systems interact with and effect each other.
  • After you feel that you understand these materials, you may answer the quiz questions. At the bottom of the page, there is a link to Google Forms where you will type out your response to a short answer question that will ask you to combine some of the things you have learned. Feel free to draw upon the sources in this tutorial to provide evidence for your response. 

The Geosphere & Biosphere

The Hydrosphere & Atmosphere

The Earth as an Integrated System

About Earth Systems

Click the link above to read a little more about the Earth's systems and how they work together. Also watch the quick embedded video on the page.

Along the top of the page, you will see links to each of the spheres, you may click them to read more about any of the spheres that interest you (but it is not required). 

*Note: This source will also mention the Cryosphere. This is a subset of the HydroSphere. 

Source: "About the Earth as a System". (n.d.). My NASA Data.

The Systems Interacting

"Making North America" Interactive Map

These interactive activities will illustrate some of the ways that the Earth's systems influence each other. Just remember the four major spheres in these cases: when the activity mentions water, when it mentions land/rocks/etc., when it mentions the air/gas, or when it mentions living things on Earth. You should know which spheres those correspond to! This activity will also show you some of the ways that scientists study these concepts (and others) in the field.

  • Click the link Above. 
  • It will ask you to type a username and click "Launch" in the middle of the preview picture (requires Flash). 
  • After an introduction, the video will give you several options. Select "Expedition" (you may chose to explore the other links if you want).
  • "Expedition" will give you three "trek" options. You may choose the one that seems most interesting to you (you can work through more than one if you choose).

    Source: "Making North America". (n.d.). PBS.

    The Big Question: Short Answer Response

    Explain what a system is. Use at least two of the Earth's major systems and explain an interaction between them to help illustrate your answer.

    Click here to submit your response on Google Forms.


    Potential Student Response:

    A system is a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent parts that work together to form a complex whole. The Earth has four major systems that comprise the integrated Earth system, meaning all four systems work together and effect each other. An example of two of the Earth's systems working together is the hydrosphere and biosphere. The hydrosphere provides the water to sustain the living things within the biosphere such as plants and animals.