World Map of Plate Boundaries
The plate tectonics mapping activity allows students to easily begin to identify basic tectonic processes on a global scale. As students become aware of plate movements, they begin to identify patterns that set the stage for deeper understanding of a very complex topic. The activity uses a simple "Where's Waldo" approach to identify tectonic symbols on a laminated World Plate Tectonic map.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
Learners should know what earthquakes and volcanoes are. This can be the introductory activity related to plate tectonics.
How the activity is situated in the course
This activity is intended to be early in the study of geoscience and plate tectonics. Rather than lecture about plate tectonics first, an instructor can give students a chance to identify patterns between plate boundaries and earthquakes, volcanoes, and landforms.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Learners will be able to:
- Determine where different types of plate boundaries are located
- Explain the different landforms found at different plate boundaries
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Identify patterns between volcano, earthquake, and landform locations and different types of plate boundaries.
Other skills goals for this activity
- Finding places and features on maps
- Working in groups
Description and Teaching Materials
See attached file for educator notes, NGSS alignment, links to supporting resources, student exercise, and answer key.
- World Map of Plate Boundaries Educator Notes and Student Exercise (Acrobat (PDF) 11.9MB Jun5 20)
Maps are provided in a variety of sizes, resolutions, and with/out tectonics boundaries.
- World Tectonic Maps for printing (Zip Archive 97.8MB Jun5 20)
- Presentation: Alaska Plate Tectonics & Geohazards (with some associated animations) - although the specific examples are from Alaska, most of the presentation is relevant to teaching about tectonics anywhere
Teaching Notes and Tips
- Allow time to print out and laminate the map files before starting the exercise. One map per team.
- Each team will need washable markers in four colors (black, blue, green, and red are the ones mentioned)
- Making sure the students clean the maps at the end of the lesson will save you time. If multiple classes will be using them in the same day, it can help to have two sets of maps so they can dry between uses.
- "Great" earthquake can be confusing to students but that is the term scientists use to describe Magnitude 8 or 9 earthquakes. The maps included here show most of the "great" earthquakes of Magnitude ~8.3 and above. A few have been omitted because there were several in the same close region and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was included even though it is only Mag 7.9, just because it is a very important US earthquake.
- If students are not yet familiar with magnitude, just telling them these are the largest known earthquakes is fine for this exercise. An activity on earthquake magnitude that can be done before or after this lesson is Pasta Quake, which uses spaghetti noodles to learn about the energy release of different magnitude quakes.
Formative assessment of student understanding can be gathered from classroom observation and discussions with individuals or small groups.
The student exercise serves as the summative assessment for the activity. Most questions have clearly correct answers. Teachers can develop a simple grading scheme for the map such as one point per correctly identified area.
References and Resources
- The resource was developed as part of the EarthScope ANGLE Educator Workshops. The associated presentation is Alaska Plate Tectonics & Geohazards.
- This activity is part of ANGLE Curricular Pathway 2: Plate Tectonic Setting.
- Other versions of similar activities
- Mapping Worldwide Earthquake Epicenters explores similar concepts related to plate boundaries using the Earthquake Browser data portal
- Investigating Plate Tectonics with Google Earth is an example of an introductory plate tectonics activity for older students. Other options are available from Teaching the Earth resources portal.
- Original TOTLE webpage for this activity
- Contact ANGLE with questions or comments.