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Moving by Leaps and Bounds-Plate Tectonics

Last Updated: Feb-17-2011

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Developed By

  Lisa Beckman
Sarah Bowman

Lesson Title

  Moving by Leaps and Bounds-Plate Tectonics

Length of Lesson

  15-18 50 minute class periods

Lesson Unit

  Earth Science






  Earth Science

Michigan Content Expectations

  E3.3A; E3.3B:E3.3C;E3.4A; E3.4B;E3.4C


  plate tectonics; sea floor spreading; mid ocean ridge; subduction; divergent boundary; convergent boundary; transform boundary;



1. For the notes:  computer, projector and screen

2. For the webquest:  laptop/computer with internet access

3. For the Cookie Subduction Lab: Oreo cookies

4. For the Model of Sea-Floor Spreading:  colored pencils, tape, scissors, glue, ruler, 2 sheets 8.5" x 11"  white paper

5. Various materials supplied by student for 3-D model




The following lesson will explain how mantle convection is responsible for the movements of plates  and take students understanding of plate tectonics and expand it to encompass the other various phenomena that occur at plate boundaries including sea-floor spreading, mid-ocean ridges, subduction zones, volcanoes and mountain ranges.  The lesson will includes how volcanoes and earthquakes are characterized as well as the impacts they have on humans.


Big Idea(s)


Mantle convection is responsible for the movement of tectonic plates causing major features and processes, such as sea floor spreading, mid-ocean ridges, subduction zones, volcanoes, earthquakes and mountains near the Earth's surface.  The distribution of volcanoes and earthquakes will help students to locate and determine plate boundaries.  The features and processess such as volcanoes and earthquakes can have major impacts on humans.


Essential Questions


1.  Why is measuring the Earth's age so difficult?

2.  Why is the liquid mantle so critcal to the movement of Earth's plates?

3.  How are oceanic plates created at the mid-ocean ridge?

4.  Why don't we have volcanoes in Michigan?

5.  Do mountain ranges grow?

6.  Why is the San Andreas Fault an ideal location for earthquakes?


Learning Objectives


Students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate the process of sea-floor spreading
  • Distinguish between the processes of forming volcanoes, mountains, earthquakes and the different boundaries at which each form.
  • Characterize how the size of earthquakes are measured.
  • Describe the impacts of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on humans
  • Explain the process that occurs when the oceanic crust meets the continental crust and how this limits the age of the ocean floor.
  • Show the process of mantle convection as it relates to the movement of the plates
  • Distinguish the location of plate boundaries based on earthquake and volcano activity?
  • Identify which Hawaiian Island is the oldest?

Summative Assessment


Students will be creating a 3-D model in which they are going to choose a minimum of 1 feature and 1 process. 

Features:  Choose 1

  • volcanoes
  • mid-ocean ridge/mountain formation
  • earthquakes
  • Processes:  Choose 1
    • sea-floor spreading
    • subduction
  • The model will also include representation of all of the following:
    • mantle convection
    • labeled plate boundary of your feature
    • direction of the plate movement of your boundary
  • The model may be made from clay, wood, foam, boxes, aluminum foil etc.  Please be creative.
  • The explanation may take the form of a podcast, movie, digital story, song/rap, storybook., comic strip, etc. 

Make sure to choose a feature and a process that you find interesting and design your model in a fashion that brings out your unique talents.  When creating your explanation choose a form that will keep you actively involved during your project.  This is a way to get the most out of what you are doing.

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Lesson Opening


Day 1

  • Prior to the start of the video handout out the KWL
  • Have the students fill in what they already know.
  • Play the video:  Greatest Discoveries with Bill Nye:  Earth Science
  • Then have the students fill in on the KWL what they want to learn
  • Saving the KWL they will fill in what they learned before the summative assessment


Only the first 50 seconds of the video will be shown to capture their attention!.

  • Next show the screencast-o-matic called "Moving By Leaps and Bounds" lesson opener, that explains the Abstract, Big Idea, Essential Questions and Summative Assessment. 

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Day 2 and 3

  1. Students will use the explore learning gizmo on plate tectonics.  Students will be able to move plates in different directions to see the impact that it has at that boundary and on the surrounding plates.  The computer will show them the type of boundary and where on a world map that boundary can be found.   
  2. www.explorelearning.com     Gizmo is called Plate tectonics

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Check for Understanding


Following the explore learning, the students will complete a 5 question assessment at the end.  If 80% of students are proficient, we will move on.

If less than 80% of students are proficient, they will remediate using The Earth Floor website for a different explanation on the topics discussed, with assistance as needed for guidance.



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Day 4:  Lesson starter-Ballad of the San Andreas with lyrics handed out to students.  Practice song as a class.

Handout Plate tectonics boundary handout and have students identify if the boundary is a divergent, convergent or transform plate boundary. 

Use Prezi of plate tectonics to show the students an overview of different boundary types including links that show a visual of the specific boundaries. 

When finished with Prezi the students will go back to the plate boundary handout to see if they need to make changes to their document. 

Day 5: Students will receive a handout called, Moving by Leaps and Bounds, that contains background information on plate boundaries, that is a review for some students, and will help to remediate for those students who either didn't have this information in previous years, or didn't master.  Students will use the reading strategy "Talking to the Text" to read through the handout and take side notes.  We will then take time to explore the differences in the 3 boundary types.  As a class we will discuss how they had talked to the text and help to solidify comprehension for all levels of students.

Day 6:  Guided Explanation: Students with difficulty reading can use Vozme or Readplease for help with reading.

Students will be completing a webquest that shows them diagrams and explains the various subduction zones and how they contribute to mountain and volcano formation.  It also includes transform boundaries and formation of earthquakes.  It also discusses mid-ocean ridges and the formation of the Atlantic Ocean through sea-floor spreading.  Students are guided through an explanation of how mantle convection is responsible for plate movement in the plate tectonics theory.  http://www.moorlandschool.co.uk/earth/tectonic.htm

Day 7 & 8:  Lecture Burst with tiered notes

A lecture burst will be presented to the students called, "Don't Break the Plate",  with explanation of subduction zones and their influence on volcano formation.  They will also learn how mid-ocean ridges play a key role in sea-floor spreading and their role in the formation of the Atlantic Ocean.  Key points will be identified at the beginning of notes and an inclusion of a blank slide will be used as a place for a hands on activity.  Following the lecture burst we will use turning point clickers for a formative assessment to check for understanding.

  1. Lecture burst called:  Dont Break the Plate.
  2. There will be 3 levels of the notes to meet the various needs of our students--a full outline version, a highly supported version and a fully typed version.
  3. Include the diagram at http://geology.com/nsta/convergent-plate-boundaries.shtml to show a simulation of how the volcanoes are formed at subduction zones. 
  4. During the lecture students will simulate the boundary types using a milky way bar broken in half to simulate 2 tectonic plates (edible plate tectonics)
  5. Blank slide during lecture burst where we will do Cookie Subduction lab in which students use an oreo to re-create the process of building continents through accretion.
  6. The lecture burst will end with a short Formative assessment over the material for the day using turning point clickers. This allows for immediate feedback in areas where kids may not have complete understanding or to alleviate any misconceptions.

 Day 9

  1. Students will be given "plate tectonics important terms" which is a list of important terms from this unit and will have the option to do one of the following:
    • Use the vocabulary pyramid for each of the terms
    • Use quizlet.com to create a set of notecards, print cards and play the vocab games to gain better understanding.
    • Write a fictional story using all of the terms.  Highlight all the vocabulary words in the story  and include an illustration.

Day 10 & Day 11 Starter for the class-Use seisvol to show the distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes that are located along plate boundaries and specifically the "Ring of Fire"

  1. Students will be given assignment "GeoPatterns" from Project Earth Science:  Geology NSTA.  Students will be able to see the occurance of patterns in nature such as earthquake distribution, World earthquake distribution is not random, Earthquakes and other geologic phenomena--such as volcanoes, trenches, mid-ocean ridges, and mountains--cluster along plate boundaries. 

Day 12 & Day 13

  1. Student will now focus thier attention on volcanoes and the plates and the type of rock that will be found at the boundary.  They will be doing an activity calld "Volcanoes and Plates" from Project Earth Science:  Geology, NSTA.  They will investigate the relationship between the type of volcanic activity and related plate boundaries 


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Check for Understanding (2)


Check for understanding will take place during our lecture burst when we use a clicker formative assessment at the end of the lecture.  This will be checking for understanding of the information presented to them over the past 3-5 days.


Extended Practice


Students will be creating a model of sea-floor spreading that will allow them to manipulate the model to see the formation of new crust at the mid-ocean ridge and the subduction and subsequent melting, or recycling, of oceanic crust in the subduction zones bordering continental crust.

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Students will share the summative assessments with the class.