Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Earth Science: Plate Movements & Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Mountain-Making

Here's our hands-on studies of tectonic plate movements, 2nd grade style.
We used:
a tray with a thin layer of chilled jello (jelly)
graham crackers for the earth's crustal plates
colored icing (green-continents and blue-oceans)

You can see LD putting the continent and ocean onto his plate (ie. graham cracker).
We read about the plates and tectonic plate movement and looked carefully at this map.  We talked about how when earth was one giant super-continent (Pangaea), India was actually tucked in close to Africa, Australia and Antarctica rather than being a part of Eurasia.  This fact is rather important as you'll see later below.

We put two crustal plates  directly onto the red "mantle."  Then I pulled the plates apart and asked the kids what they saw.  Obviously they saw the red "lava" and I talked about how new rocks are being formed all the time under the oceans (the Mid-Atlantic Ridge).  I read that section from one of our science books. As Gardner's book put it, "When two plates separate, there is a weakness in the Earth's crust. Hot magma from the Earth's mantle may come up between the plates. As the liquid magma cools, it adds new crust to the plates." (p. 32, Earth Shaking Science Projects About Planet Earth)

Next, we pushed the plates together and showed how at times the magma is forced up between the plates... ie forming volcanoes.  We looked at a map that shows the Pacific Ring of Fire (the ring of volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean region). Here's an example of the Ring of Fire.

We took two graham crackers and placed them on a plate with a bit of water.  Before they became too soggy, LD and I pushed our crustal plates (ie graham crackers) together.  This, I told him, is what is happening in India as it pushes into Eurasia.  "COOL!  Mountains!"  LD exclaimed! And do you know what mountains this would be? the tallest ones in the world?  "Oh yes, the Himalayas."  What a terrific teaching moment!
Here were some of the other activities we did for Pangaea and Plate Movement (included in our Earth Science Packet below):

Don't miss our latest plate movement activity with sponges: Earth Science: Plate Movement Activity over at our new location,

Every few years, we circle around to cover basic material again. You may be interested in the Earth Science Unit we did more recently -- and be sure to check out our Earth Science Unit Study Packet! It includes worksheets about the solar system, the layers of the Earth, plate tectonics, the ring of fire, earthquake activity and volcanoes. I also included more than a dozen hands-on activities we did with this unit including activities about plate tectonics, using a compass, earthquakes, volcanoes, instructions on how to make a shake table and more!

Find out more by visiting this post over at our new location: Earth Science Packet

Or you can purchase it by clicking on the link below: 

Once you pay for this packet, you will immediately receive a link to download this file (which will open in a browser window).  You will also receive an email from Sendowl (the service I use) TO YOUR PAYPAL EMAIL ADDRESS, which will have a link you can click on to download the Earth Science unit.  (It will say, "You can download your digital products..." with a clickable link.)  Of course, if you have any issues just email me at -- liesl at homeschoolden dot com.  You can also reach me by using the contact form on the blog or can reach me over at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page.

 Remember, you do not have to have a Paypal account to make a payment. Just click on the line that says, "Pay with a debit or credit card or PayPal credit." That gives you the option of paying with a credit card even if you don't have an actual Paypal account.
If you have any trouble with your order, please contact me (Liesl)  by email liesl at homeschoolden dot come via our contact page, by replying to the email you receive from Sendowl, or by leaving a message over at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page.


Hope you visit our new location at (the links above take you there!) or come visit us at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page. :) Don’t forget to Subscribe to our Homeschool Den Newsletter! ~Liesl

P.S. We have lots of other units. Here are the links to check those out


  1. Fantastic ideas, I just love your blog! Karen

  2. Such a great way to learn about the shifting of the earth's surface.

    Kathi Still trying to figure out science for my 3rd grader.

  3. Thanks so much for your comment on my blog. It's very nice to "meet" you, and I'm following your blog now! Your children are studying some of the same things mine have. I love these earth science activities you did. My oldest studied Earth Science last year, and I wish we had done what you did. He would have loved it!

  4. I used to work in a 3rd grade classroom as a sign language interpreter, then I adopted a deaf child and he is behind in language (he came from China where he had no exposure to anything)... I've been looking for a visual, hands on representation of tectonic plates to supplement what he learns at school, and I always look for things involving food because it seems to keep their attention better. This is genius and i can't thank you enough for sharing!!!

  5. Thanks for this idea! I linked to it in my post on Earthquake related activities for a preschool STEM class: