Before we dive into these fun plate tectonics activities, let’s review the basics. The theory of plate tectonics is a scientific theory central to the field of geology. This theory explains that the surface of the earth is broken into large plates that are slowly moving. These plates slide past and over one another. Their motion gradually changes the appearance of earth’s landmasses and oceans over time. Plate movement also causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions along plate boundaries.
This is a very important topic in science and a central theory in the field of geosciences. For this reason, it is Plate Tectonics is an important concept for students to understand. To help, I’ve put together this list of 8 engaging and hands-on Plate Tectonics activities and project to try out in your classroom this year!
1. Edible layers of the earth
Make a model of the layers of the earth using food! Build an edible core, mantle, and crust! There are many possibilities of foods to use.
2. Pangea puzzle
Print out a world map and cut out the continents. Try to figure out how the continents might roughly fit together to form the super continent of Pangea.
3. Plate boundaries with sandwich cookies
Create a model of the three main boundary types using sandwich cookies. Remove the top layer of the sandwich cookie (lithosphere), break it in half, and place it back on top of the crème (asthenosphere), arranged as a boundary type. This is a popular classroom activity and there are many free online guides for this activity.
4. Identify plate boundaries
Students can plot locations of earthquakes and volcanic activity using a list of coordinates and a map of earth. This can help them locate plate boundaries, especially along the Ring of Fire.
5. Volcano model
Build a model of a volcano and create an eruption using baking soda and vinegar. Discuss the tectonic plate boundary types where volcanoes are typically found.
6. Sea floor age
Read about how scientists determine the age of the sea floor using its magnetic properties. Then obtain a map showing the sea floor age (e.g., from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website). See if students can use it to determine the locations of divergent boundaries – where new oceanic crust is forming.
7. Earthquake engineering challenge
Use toothpicks and marshmallows to design structures. Then simulate an earthquake by placing the structures on a jiggling surface. Try different structures to determine which designs fare best in simulated earthquakes.
8. Wild Earth Lab’s plate tectonics curriculum
Expand on these activity ideas with my Plate Tectonics Unit set – it includes everything you need to teach the Theory of Plate Tectonics in your classroom this year. It includes worksheets, posters, activities, handouts, and flashcards – all featuring my watercolor science diagrams!
Explore more curriculum from Wild Earth Lab:
If you enjoyed these plate tectonics activities, I know you will love using my environmental science materials in your classroom!
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