Fault Models for Teaching About Plate Tectonics
This short interactive activity has learners manipulate fault blocks to better understand different types of earthquake-generating faults in different tectonic settings--extensional, convergent, and strike-slip. Fault models aid in visualizing and understanding faulting and plate motions because the educator and their learners can manipulate a three-dimensional model for a true hands-on experience.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
It is best if the learners have some knowledge of the existence of plate tectonics and earthquakes. They could have had a previous introduction to the three types of plate tectonic boundaries or this activity could be used as a lead-in to learning about the boundaries more formally.
How the activity is situated in the course
As a scheduled lesson, do this activity fairly early in learning about plate tectonics and earthquakes. However, keep the fault blocks handy -- they are great to pull out at any time to demonstrate the basic types of motion: normal/extension, reverse/compression, strike-slip/shear.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Learners should be able to demonstrate and explain how different types of plate motion (divergent, convergent, and horizontal) lead different faults (normal, reverse, and strike-slip) and geologic features.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Other skills goals for this activity
Using physical models
Description and Teaching Materials
See attached file for educator notes, NGSS alignment, and student exercise.
Fault Models Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 793kB Sep2 22)
- 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
- Demo video: Using Fault Block Models
- Animation: Fault Types: 3 Basic responses to stress
- Animation: Faults, Plate Boundaries, & Stress—How are they related?
Teaching Notes and Tips
The fault blocks can be made from a variety of materials including foam, wood, and cardboard. They can also be purchased from some educational suppliers. The important element is that the fault surfaces be smooth and slide easily.
The student exercise serves as the summative assessment for the activity. Alternatively, if rock tongs are being used for a demonstration or informal interactive activity, questions and discussions with learners can help the presenter gauge the level of understanding and help address misconceptions.
References and Resources
- The activity was presented 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.
- This version of the activity was improved by ShakeAlert.
- Similar, more extensive ShakeAlert activity - Introduction to Faults and Plate Tectonics
- Original TOTLE webpage for this activity
- Contact ANGLE with questions or comments.