World Map of Plate Boundaries

Bonnie Magura (Portland Public Schools) and Chris Hedeen (Oregon City High School)


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.

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It is primarily a classroom activity that would be appropriate from upper elementary into early high school.

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.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learners will be able to:

  • Identify different types of plate boundaries and where they are located
  • Explain the different landforms found at different plate boundaries

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Use critical thinking to determine the relationships 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 Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 6.7MB May17 18)
Maps are provided in a variety of sizes, resolutions, and with/out tectonics boundaries.
World Maps for Printing (Zip Archive 82.9MB May15 18)

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • Allow time to print out and laminate the associated files before starting the exercise.
  • Each team will need washable markers in black, blue, green, and red.


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