Geodesy > Teaching Activities > Mapping Plate Tectonic Boundaries

Mapping Plate Tectonic Boundaries

Michael Kerwin
University of Denver
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This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see

This page first made public: Dec 6, 2011


This activity asks students to explore a National Geographic map showing Earth's plate tectonic boundaries. The exercise lets the students examine relationships between plate tectonic boundaries and geologic features, and asks them to identify geologic hazards associated with different plate tectonic settings. It is a useful introduction to the theory of plate tectonics and allows the students to explore both well known plate boundaries and those that may be more obscure.

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This exercise is designed for an introductory physical geology course for non-majors. With some additional information and activities, it could also be used in an introductory physical geology course for majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The student must have an understanding of the three different plate tectonic boundaries: 1. divergent margins, 2. convergent margins, and 3. transform boundaries. The student must also possess an understanding of the relationship between plate tectonics and geologic hazards.

How the activity is situated in the course

I use this activity during the first lab session of my Introduction to Physical Geology class.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

To prepare for this activity, students do background reading on Plate Tectonics from the course textbook. Students also participate in a lecture on the discovery and formulation of the unifying theory of plate tectonics, and the relationship between plate boundaries and geologic features such as volcanoes. Lastly, in lecture, students are introduced to a series of geologic hazards caused by certain plate tectonic interactions. The activity gives students practices at identifying plate boundaries and allows them to explore lesser known tectonically active regions.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I work with the student individually during the activity and then grade their answers for accuracy.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

This activity requires the following map, published by National Geographic Magazine:
The Earths Fractured Surface Map (National Geographic, 1995). ISBN 1-57262-187-7

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