6 • Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics w/Disovery Education

Note: Lesson Plan and worksheets in MS Word and/or pdf format can be downloaded below.

Created by: Kelly Knotts
Grade Level: 6
Target Discipline: Science

Title: Continental Drift and Plate Tectonic Exploration through Discovery Education
Revision Date: June 24, 2009

  • Students will better understand the effects of plate tectonic movement.
  • Students will better understand what/where the major tectonic plates are.
  • Students will investigate, deduce, and explain why major U.S. earthquakes near plate boundaries (transform)
  • Students will investigate, deduce, and explain what the Ring of Fire is and why so many volcanoes/earthquakes occur in that area (plate boundaries – convergent, transform)
  • Students will recognize and appreciate the movement of earth’s plates is constantly occurring and will continue to occur and change the shape of the Earth’s surface

Essential Question:

Why do earthquakes and volcanoes occur/form where they do?


Students will use hands-on learning to better understand the location of tectonic plates and what their constant movements cause.  They will do so by initially viewing a Discovery School video that summarizes the units lessons.  Through teacher-guided discussions using Internet sites and activities and student explorations on the Internet, students will come to learn that earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountains are the result of plate movements and not random occurrences.


1. Prior to viewing video, ask students:
1. Do you know if there have been any earthquakes in this area?
2. Do you think an earthquake is likely to occur in the future?  Why or why not?
3. Are there signs of past volcanic activity in the area?  If so, where?
4. Do you think future volcanic activity is likely? Why or why not?
5. Suggest reasons for the mountains around here and all of New England/MidAtlantic.
6. Earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain formation all have a common cause.  What might that be?

2. Hand out question sheet (See handout) for students to answer after watching video.  Preview questions with students.

3. View video: Discovery Education’s “Continents Adrift: An Introduction to Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics” – Need speakers for students to hear video!!  Runs approx. 20 min.

4. After video students write out answers on question sheet.  Share responses.
1. What did you learn about plate tectonics?
2. Who first proposed the theory of plate tectonics?
3. What does the theory state?
4. What scientific evidence supports the theory?
5. How do plate movements affect geological events on the earth’s surface?
6. Are you aware of any areas of earth that are particularly affected by plate movements today?

5. Students research major tectonic plates of the world.  (Provide paper copy for any not allowed to use computer)  Students answer questions on handout.
    What are the names of the major tectonic plates?
    Which plate carries the United States?
    Which plates are adjacent to (next to) that plate and could have an effect on it?

6. Students visit website below (or print copies) and answer questions on handout.
    Earthquake Hazards Program: The Top Earthquake States

    Students answer:
1. Which state experiences the most earthquakes?
2. Which state comes in second?
3. Which states experience the fewest earthquakes?
4. Which states experience none?
5. How many earthquakes were recorded in Connecticut?
6. What is the relationship between plate tectonics and earthquakes?

7. Using Web or print resources, students research Ring of Fire in preparation for class discussion and write answers on handout.
The Earth’s Ring of Fire
Savage Earth
USGS: Active Volcanoes, Plate Tectonics, and the Ring of Fire

Where is the Ring of Fire?
Why is it called the Ring of Fire?
What geologic events occur here more frequently than any other place on Earth? Why?
How is this geologic activity related to plate tectonics?

8. Students and teacher read article “Why Should Continental Drift Matter to Me?” together and answer questions together or independently.  Need to print article!!
No longer at: http://kids.earth.nasa.gov/archive/pangea/conclusion.html

Why does the shape of the earth’s oceans and continents continue to change?
What is happening to the Atlantic Ocean?  The Pacific?
What continent will eventually connect with Europe?
Why will the Himalayas increase in height?
In what direction is the west coast of the United States (specifically California) moving? About how long will it take for California to collide with Alaska?
In 200 million years or so, what continent will be within easy reach of our Pacific coast?

9. Assessment:
a. Imagine you are a scientist who must provide support for their theory of plate tectonics.  In a written report, summarize the supporting evidence you have found through fossil evidence as well as exploration of the ocean floor and the Ring of Fire region.  You may supplement your report with sketches, drawings, maps, etc.
b. Prepare and present a report/demonstration that describes and illustrates one type of tectonic plate movement.

Evaluation of student work
3 = Student conducted all required research and gathered requested info; was attentive and highly engaged in class discussions, prepared well written report and/or oral presentation that demonstrated clear understanding of topic.

2 = Student conducted most of required research and gathered sufficient info; participated in class discussions; prepared a written report and/or oral presentation that demonstrated adequate understanding of topic.

1 = Student conducted less than half of  required research, gathering insufficient info for discussion; participated minimally in class discussions, prepared an inadequate report and/or oral presentation.

Resources Needed:
  • SmartBoard
  • Laptop computers for student to use
  • High speed Internet Access
  • Subscription to Discovery Education Science
  • Websites listed in description of AE
  • Student question sheets listed in description of AE

Prior Learning Required:
  • How to access the Internet from a school computer and open search engine application (Firefox, Safari, etc.)
  • Why tectonic plates move
  • Types of plate boundaries (convergent, divergent, collisional, transform)

Adaptations for Special Needs Students/ELLs:
For computer time, special needs students and ELLs will be partnered with a classmate who is proficient with computer use.
Modified questioning sheets and responses

Teacher Notes and Reflections:
Unit taken from Discovery Education Science sight.
Unit takes about four 40-45 minute periods.

State Technology Framework:
  • Content Standard 2: Information Processing - Finding information
  • Students will understand and demonstrate information skills and strategies to locate and effectively use print and non-print resources to solve problems and conduct research.
  • Content Standard 3: Information Processing – Evaluate and use information
  • Students will apply information from a variety of sources and formats using evaluative criteria to interpret ,analyze, organize and synthesize both print and non-print material
  • Content Standard 4: Application
  • Students will use appropriate information and technology to create written, visual, oral and multimedia products to communicate ideas, information or conclusions to others.
  • Content Standard 5: Technology Use
  • The student will operate and use computers and other technologies as tools for productivity, problem solving and learning across the content areas.

Local Curriculum Connections:

Ashford Science Curriculum:
Grade Level Topic: Earth Science
Text connection: Earth Changing Surface
Science and Technology Connection: How has technology improved our understanding of the Earth’s processes?
Ashford Technology Curriculum:
Use technology to create documents or projects designed to communicate thoughts, ideas or stories
Use simulation programs in conjunction with content curriculum
Use technology to find, evaluate, organize and reorganize information
Basic navigation within an Internet site unassisted
Use information gathered through electronic media in a report
Location of appropriate Internet sites
Use Internet vocabulary

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