Teaching Ideas for Plate Tectonics

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Some ideas for teaching plate tectonics

Exercises and experiments

  • Modelling
    Make a model of the earth's structure (crust, mantle, core) from clay, a styrofoam ball, etc.

  • The egg and the earth
    Besides both starting with the letter 'E,' what else do these things have in common?
    Immediately before the class, soft boil the egg so the yolk is still slightly uncooked. You want the egg to still be warm for the project.

    • Feel the egg. It's warm like the earth. It's also oval-shaped like the earth. (The earth is a flattened sphere.)

    • Roll the egg to crack the shell. The shell is like the earth's crust; the cracks in the shell are like the plate boundaries dividing the earth's plates.

    • Remove the shell and examine the interior: The white of the egg is like the earth's mantle. The yolk is like the earth's core. If the egg was soft-boiled, the yolk should still be a bit runny, similar to the liquid inner core.

  • Puzzles
    Print out copies of the Pangea image and plate boundaries image from below. These can be mounted on styrofoam board and then the plates cut out like pieces of a puzzle.

  • Hotspot track
    Take an overhead (or other clear piece of plastic paper). One student holds one edge. A second student holds the opposite edge. Both are standing up. A third student is sitting on a chair between them holding an uncapped marker. The first two students are controlling (i.e., moving) the 'plate' (the overhead); the third student is the 'hotspot.' The third student holds the marker pointing upwards and does not move it. (It's a stable hotspot.) The first two students guide the overhead over the hotspot, touching the overhead to the marker the whole time. The marker will leave a trail or track on the overhead, representing the plate's motion within respect to the hotspot.

  • Tsunami experiments can be found at: