Cupcake Core Sampling

Grade Level: K-4

Adapted from Women in Mining Education Foundation Activities

This activity is ideal for a small group of students, a youth group, or a parent-child activity.


Trying to "see" what is beneath the surface of the Earth is one of the jobs of a geologist. Rather than digging up vast tracts of land to expose an oil field or to find some coal-bearing strata, core samples can be taken and analyzed to determine the likely composition of the Earth's interior. In this activity, students model core sampling techniques to find out what sort of layers are in a cupcake.



Prepare cupcakes according to package directions, but use at least three different colors of batter. Layer batter in colors in the muffin cups. Using foil baking cups and frosting will prevent the students from seeing the interior of the cupcakes, in the same way that a geologist can't see the interior of the Earth. (Tell the students that the frosting layer is equivalent to the soil.)

Provide each student with a cupcake, a straw, a toothpick, and a piece of paper. Ask the students to fold a piece of drawing paper into four sections and in one of the sections draw what they think the inside of the cupcake would look like. Ask the students how they might get more information about the cupcake without peeling the foil or cutting it open with a knife.

Someone may suggest using the straw to take a core sample. If not, show them how to push the straw into the cupcake and pull out a sample. Remember to use the straw like a drill, rotating it through the cupcake (straws can be cut to a length slightly longer than the depth of the cupcake.)

The students should make a second drawing of the cross section of their cupcake based on the information from three core samples. Each new drawing should be carefully labeled and placed in a different section of the recording paper.

Finally, the students should cut open the cupcakes with a knife to compare them to the drawings.

Hint Keep relating what the students are doing to what real life geologists do. Nobody eats until the discussion is complete!

Earth Science Week Connections

Discover the Earth Sciences

How did this activity help you to understand what geologists do? Can you think of other ways or reasons (other than looking for oil or coal) that we might learn something by drilling core samples? (Groundwater resources, for example, or deep-sea drilling in paleoceanography.)


Invite a petroleum or mining geologist into the classroom to discuss the analogy between what the students do in the coring simulation and what the scientist does in his or her job.


Did you make a "mess" when coring your cupcake? Do you think that coring rocks also produces material that has to be cleaned up? What steps can be taken to minimize the environmental impact of drilling?

Earth Science is all around you

What objects in your classroom come from petroleum products or mineral resources? Make a list of these materials. What mineral resources are found underground in your state?