Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed Earth

Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Informative Text
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



With vivid illustrations, Buried Sunlight takes the reader back in time hundreds of millions of years to explore the question, “What are fossil fuels, and how did they come to exist?” By reading this book, students will learn how we are using the energy in those fuels to power our lives, and how burning fuels affects Earth. At the end of the book, the authors also provide many extension ideas that may be appropriate for teacher background or advanced learners.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

4-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment.

Clarification Statement: Examples of renewable energy resources could include wind energy, water behind dams, and sunlight; non-renewable energy resources are fossil fuels and fissile materials. Examples of environmental effects could include loss of habitat due to dams, loss of habitat due to surface mining, and air pollution from burning of fossil fuels.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The colorfully illustrated text will help students understand how deposits of oil, coal, and natural gas came about, how we use them, and how their use contributes to climate change. To more fully address this performance expectation, students should combine the information in this book with other resources. The book does not address many of the environmental impacts of fossil fuels, such as oil spills, strip mining, and air pollution.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This book provides background information on the phenomenon of stored sunlight. As students explore various solutions to the problem of powering our civilization, they will identify problems caused by fossil fuels, and they will consider constraints, such as costs. They will then be able to find evidence to support the development of various energy resources. Buried Sunlight could be used to give students an overview of the problem. They could then dig deeper into a variety of energy sources, jigsaw-style.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The end matter of the book answer the question, “So what will we use for energy as we shift away from fossil fuels?” Solar, biomass, hydropower, wind, geothermal, and nuclear energy are introduced, but the terms renewable and nonrenewable are not included. Through class discussion and investigating other resources, students will be able to identify renewable and nonrenewable energy and get a clearer understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of different energy sources.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
As students combine information about various forms of energy, it will be helpful to identify the effects of each form’s use. This can be more complex than it appears on the surface. For example, if you need to cut down trees to install solar panels, you lose the many benefits (habitat, carbon sink, beauty) of having the trees.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Buried Sunlight provides an engaging, age-appropriate introduction to renewable and nonrenewable energy, which is the foundation of the disciplinary core idea. As students learn about the cause and effect relationships involved in energy choices, they will obtain information that will allow them to explain the effects of different forms of energy.

  • Instructional Supports: This book engages students in authentic and meaningful learning about a topic that is important in their lives. Some of the details about photosynthesis and respiration go beyond grade level expectations, but the idea that energy from the sun can be stored as fuel should be accessible to most students. The end pages provide an opportunity to extend learning and consider solutions to the problems caused by fossil fuel use. It might be helpful to jigsaw research on different energy forms, with individuals or small groups taking on benefits and drawbacks of coal, oil, gas, solar, geothermal, wind, nuclear, and hydropower. This book does not include explicit instructional supports.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: As students read through the book they encounter several questions which may be used as an informal assessment. For example, students could discuss or write about “Where does energy come from?” or “What makes the fuels fossils?” For a written summative assessment, students could make claims about the benefits or drawbacks of energy sources and back up their claims with evidence from the text.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.