Introductory Courses > Activities > Identifying Plate Tectonic Boundaries for a Virtual Ocean Basin

Identifying Plate Tectonic Boundaries for a Virtual Ocean Basin

Stephen Reynolds
Arizona State University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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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: Jul 16, 2008


Students observe an ocean basin and two continental margins to identify possible plate boundaries and predict where earthquakes and volcanoes would occur. They also draw the boundaries in cross section.

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Introductory physical geology course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

General understanding of the physical characteristics of different types of plate bounadaries and the tectonic activity (e.g., earthquakes) that accompanies each type of boundary

How the activity is situated in the course

Done early in the semester, as an in-class activity or as homework


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Character of plate boundaries; tectonic activity that accompanies each type of boundary; how to depict plate geometries in cross section

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Synthesis of ideas about plate boundaries

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in groups and using geologic terms to describe the earth (if done as in-class, small-group activity)

Description of the activity/assignment

Students observe a virtual ocean basin and two adjacent continental margins. From the characteristics of the sea floor and adjacent land, students infer where plate boundaries might be present. They then predict where earthquakes and volcanoes might occur. Finally, they draw their inferred plate boundaries in cross section.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Whether students can identify the boundaries, correctly locate earthquakes and volcanoes, and properly show the plates in cross section.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

from Reynolds, S.J., Johnson, J.K., Kelly, M.M., Morin, P.J., and Carter, C.M., 2008, Exploring Geology: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Dubuque, Iowa, p. 72-73.

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